What if the conversation had no bounds? What if we could talk about what we do with the people at our own campus and with kindred spirits across the country when we needed them, not just in those snatched seconds between classes or while we wolf down a sandwich at lunch? If, as a teacher I admire likes to say, “the smartest person in the room is the room,” then how fortunate are we that the “room” of our professional learning doesn’t have any walls?
A few years ago the notion of a Professional Learning Network (PLN) daunted me. How could I, a site administrator with enough responsibilities to fill my time (and maybe more) and with a few great people on my own campus (but hardly enough to qualify in any way as a “network”) put together a group of creative and interesting professionals who could (and would) support my own practice? Sure I’d phone friends who could offer advice. We’d exchange ideas and even proof each other’s written work (using that old technology: email), but this wasn’t a coherent group, and wasn’t anything like the think tank I’d imagined a PLN should be.
And then I got past the idea that it took a special kind of educator to be online, and that I wasn’t one of them. I put aside the anxiety of not being “techie enough” and took a leap. I decided to be one of the educators who was connected.
Actually, it wasn’t as quick as that. For me, joining the online world of education took some time, a few stumbling steps, and finally a recognition that I wasn’t going to throw a switch and change my world. Connecting online, just like connecting in person, takes effort, energy, and a positive spirit. And a bit of time.
I started with Twitter.
A friend and fellow site administrator mentioned the possibilities Twitter offered and I invited a Teacher on Special Assignment (ToSA) out to show me the basics. He was patient and funny, and gave me a couple of resources to help answer my questions, even as he laughed and said: “Just try it!”
I did, tweeting a couple of photos of campus life to start, and then going about deciding who to follow. Remembering my Shakespeare (“Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast”), I did a little more each day.
People smarter than me stressed the importance of engaging with others; lurking is a fine way to start on Twitter, but doesn’t build a PLN. At first I was uncertain about replying to tweets I liked, but I found that the “conversations” they started …no, I’ll take the quotation marks off that… the conversations they started (they were conversations) were fantastic. All of a sudden I was able to get (and occasionally offer) advice or inspiration to an assistant principal in Marin County, a librarian in Baltimore, and a teacher in Escondido. These weren’t people I’d met in person, but they were engaged, engaging, and people like me who love working in education.
I also learned how important it was to create content. Sometimes this was a graphic or a link to an article. Ultimately it helped to inspire my blog. I’ll be honest, I’m still figuring out this part of my professional life, but I feel like it’s something that I hope might help spark some thinking and discussion. …or maybe it’s just therapeutic.
As I recognized how much information and inspiration was out there I began trying new things: joining an edchat, replying to tweets that spoke to me, and going to an edcamp at the suggestion of folks I’d been following on Twitter. At the end of last year I even tried my hand a moderating an edchat for our district and was wowed by the response.
Dubious at first that Twitter could lead to such meaningful connections, I’ve been won over by the reality of how much this little blue bird has to offer. And…
Whether at edcamp or face to face with teachers and fellow administrators who I interact with on Twitter, the line dividing online and real world has blurred as I’ve had opportunities to continue conversations started on Twitter with people over coffee or as we sit together around a table with other professionals.
Twitter (or any online system of connecting with others) doesn’t ever replace in person discussions, but it does provide opportunities to connect that broaden the conversation on this magical enterprise we call education. It takes away the constraints of time and makes geography irrelevant to interaction.
I’m still working on how best to learn and grow both online and off, but the concern I had just a few years ago, the worry that I wouldn’t find a group to connect with has been replaced by an optimism that while I’ll never be the smartest guy in the room, I’m part of something greater: a room without walls, big enough for anyone to join the discussion.