doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

The “P” in PLN

So, I got tagged in this provocation from Paul McGuire on Saturday afternoon.  As bad luck would have it, I was in the middle of a huge day of yard maintenance, cleanup, winterizing, and so much more.

The best I could do at the time was fire off a reply on my phone that it would take more than 140 characters to dig deeply into it.

But, that didn’t stop the above participants from jumping in and firing off their thoughts, suggestions, and wisdoms on the thoughts.  It’s a very thorough discussion and hits all over the map and touches on so many important issues.  Well played, folks.

With the new reply format that Twitter uses, I was notified every time that someone shared their thoughts.  As I write this, it’s really early on Sunday morning and I’ve just spent the past hour or so getting caught up on the topics and thought that I’d put my own down here.

I immediately gravitated to this mode of learning.  I think that, for the most part, I was ready and looking forward to something like this.  As the only Computer Science teacher in a school, I was left to my own devices for professional learning for the most part.  Sure, there were the occasional board provided professional development days but often the day was spent on some generic topic and, even when it was subject specific, Computer Science was often an afterthought.  Not pointing fingers, but it’s reality.

But when you think about it, just being a singular subject-teaching person within a school doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily isolated.  Even in a big department like English or Mathematics, you do have a group to discuss topics with but it can lead to the same old discussions, issues, and echoes from the past.  Interestingly, the conversations inevitably lead to things other than the subject area – it gets to governance of the school and student issues, something that everyone has in common.

When the concept of being able to discuss issues of the day with people who weren’t burdened with world crushing issues like a shorted period day on Tuesday when I had planned for a full-period assessment, it made so much sense.

In the beginning, and I suspect even today, when you talk about a PLN and talking with someone half a world away, not everyone is appreciative of the power.  There are the eye rollers and nay-sayers.  And, of course, the politics.  I can even recall the battle that I had to face to get Twitter unblocked within the board.

As I wade my way through the messages from this discussion, it’s interesting to note that there are some of the same issues being revisited.  There are powerful statements about the power that a PLN can generate.  There are also caveats and an identification of the blockers that stop this from being completely successful.

While the discussion is all over the map, I can’t help but notice and identify the “P” in the term PLN – Personal.

I know that it may be a small picky point to some but for me, I think it’s everything.

When you attend a board professional learning event, there’s no question about how it’s handled.  You show up on time, get the board-supplied coffee, and the rest of the day is spent on schedule with a scheduled departure time.  Things are done – until the next time.

In so many ways, learning with online folks is the antithesis of the traditional professional learning model.  Here, YOU determine the time you want to engage.  YOU determine the topics you wish to explore.  YOU decide when to turn off the noise.  YOU determine which links, videos, or blog posts shared are of interest. YOU decide where you need to grown and learn.  YOU decide just how deeply you need to dive to fully understand.  YOU decide who your presenter or folks for a group discussion will be.  YOU decide when someone is just a puppet for edu-babble and ignore them.  YOU decide when to turn the computer off.

In fact, it’s a model that honours your position as a professional.  You’re learning at your pace and have things catered to your needs.  You can elect to learn something absolutely, completely new with no alignment to board standards or goals.  You can learn just for the sake of learning.  Where else can you do that?

There will always be the opportunity learn the mechanics of how to operate the board’s new attendance system.

Isn’t this a large part of what professional learning should be?  When you go about the business of learning, you need to make sure that you focus on the “P”.

Oh, and lest I forget, Happy Thanksgiving Day.


3 responses to “The “P” in PLN”

  1. It’s been a good dive into this open learning work we do over the past few days.

    Certainly we ‘own’ our learning when we are connecting with other educators far and wide.

    For me, the “P” is also for “Professional”. As educators, we model online behaviour for others, including students. There are ways to engage in deep learning openly online by asking good questions and protecting the privacy of those we work for and with. There are ways to challenge system-level thinking without being overtly hostile.

    As we all learn to co-exist in a connected world, and to leverage these tools to improve the learning for kids, we will need to renegotiate our hierarchical structures and thinking from the CEO to the classroom level.

    Knowledge is not the currency any more – that ship sailed long ago – and we have to rethink systems that still work as though it is. In our flat world, it takes systems time to adjust and we need to encourage that process, not just build walls and hold grudges – the very things that disrupt those foundational connections.

    But you are right, the power is in the “personal”. We make decisions about who we connect with, and how we behave online.

    And we are all still learning, always learning.


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