So what is it that has the potential for such great impact on educators and the educational system? What has the power to inspire, push ones thinking, and make a difference? What opens up global connections and an opportunity to be a part of the collective voice in education? The answer is simple, yet highly complex and deep – a virtual PLN or personal learning network.
Every day, I reflect on how lucky I am to be a connected educator and to have stumbled onto this vast network of educators, research, and resources. My journey started approximately five years ago with a desire to become technologically literate. I immediately turned to the web to start my research. Of course, there were many informative articles and companies advertising or explaining their products. But the real learning occurred from blogs written by other educators or educational technology specialists. One blog in particular was the tipping point for the start of my virtual PLN.
Early on in the journey, I routinely visited 2-3 blogs specifically focused on technology integration. I learned and gathered information about many different technology tools and how other educators were using these in classrooms across the US. This gave me a much needed base of information to begin integrating these into the student learning environment. But as I continued to interact and follow more teacher blogs I realized that this environment offered a whole lot more than just “information.”
What I found was a complex educator network or online professional learning community based on the spirit of learning, collaboration, reflection, and a desire to not only better themselves personally but education as a whole. This was not a flat system of information exchange but a deep, complex and dynamic system of professional development and support for educators called a personal learning network (PLN). Even more surprising was that much of this was occurring via Twitter.
A very basic definition of a PLN is the entire collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information and who contribute to your knowledge and understanding of topics in your field and beyond. This is certainly not a new concept-we all have learning networks. Yet virtual PLNs offer much more because of the opportunity to interact globally and in many cases, real-time. Virtual PLNs are an excellent example of leveraging the power of technology to enrich, extend and globalize learning – with immediate impact on teachers but permanent impact on our students and education.
As you become more involved in the system, you realize the power lies in the relationships and connections, the spirit of give and take, the unyielding support, a desire to contribute to the world-wide voice in education, and daily passion and inspiration. I can unequivocally say that developing a Twitter PLN has been the most impactful PD I’ve had in 26 years of education and contributed to major areas of growth in my personal, professional and classroom life.
Through a virtual PLN I have the opportunity to network and connect with educators world-wide. This is a powerful element of a virtual PLN. Historically, education has been and to some extent continues to be a very closed-thinking system and profession. As we interact in our schools or districts, our thinking, problem-solving, decisions, and change can be very limited. There’s little opportunity to hear, process, or learn from the perspective of others. In the virtual world those barriers do not exist. I interact with educators – classroom teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, and education thought-leaders – world-wide on a regular basis. Thankfully, my understandings, beliefs, and thinking gets challenged, altered, and broadened on a daily basis.
Virtual PLNs offer personalized learning for teachers. It’s not about pre-planned professional development designed to teach the masses and disseminate information quickly and efficiently. It’s about ones needs, interests, and passions. It’s about long-term growth, reflection, and change. Most importantly- it’s about purpose and inspiration. The true spirit of an educator is one that both teaches and learns. A teacher can’t possibly express the joy and opportunities of learning if they are not active learners. Teachers need to ask the same things of themselves that they ask of their students every day – learn, set goals, accept feedback – positive or negative, take risks, reflect and grow. A virtual PLN provides all of this and – it’s FREE!
What really made the difference for me personally were the opportunities I had to be inspired, lead, and take risks. I now maintain a professional blog that gives me an opportunity to share what I’m passionate about and reach educators world-wide (http://educationvisionleadership.edublogs.org). I attribute this and many other accomplishments to my network. As a matter of fact, two recent accomplishments have direct correlations to my PLN. I will be taking on the role of Teacher Technology Integration Consultant. Right now, it’s a part time position but I’m confident that it will blossom into much more and become a critical element of the curriculum department. The position allows me to make impact as a teacher leader and address what I’m passionate about: teacher education, leveraging the power of technology to transform the learning environment, and personalized learning for our students.
The second accomplishment may never have happened without the power of the Twitterverse. As a matter of fact, a tweet I made was the beginning of the movement to have the first EdcampOU (Oakland University) on October 27, 2012. Edcamps (or “unconferences”) are a unique participant-driven PD movement sweeping the nation. This model is built on the same thing that fuels a PLN: collaboration, connections, inspiration, and growth. Because of the vast network and system of connectedness, my tweet reached a member of the Oakland University staff and a Lake Orion administrator. This quickly blossomed into a ripple of excitement and action and led to collaboration between educators in the field, the Oakland University Educational Leadership Department, and the Galileo Leadership Academy. Within in three weeks of the original tweet, the team assembled and the event was planned. We are thrilled to be moving forward. We are now looking forward to the 2nd EdcampOU on 10/26/13. We’ve tripled the attendee list with members of the state Board of Ed attending and participating in a Q and A Forum.
For years, teacher voice and leadership has been absent from critical decisions and change efforts. Teachers did not necessarily have a professional guild to support them in their growth and development. Educator PLNs provide both of these opportunities. Many thought-leaders in education, educational organizations, policy-makers, and the US Department of Education are turning to Twitter and virtual interactions as they endeavor to give educator’s voice and transform education. Routinely engaging in dialogue, discussion, and learning via Twitter or other elements of a virtual PLN is giving educators voice and a boost in our professionalism. This movement has the power to transform education in your corner of the world as well as across the nation.
Sounds complex, right? Not really. All you need to do is take the leap, start making connections, and “growing” your PLN. It does take commitment and nurturing. What you get out of it is what you’re willing to put in. The power of a PLN does not lie in simple consumption of information. True change and transformation will occur when you contribute, reflect and grow, and ultimately lead.