THE BLOG

The Power of PLNs

02/04/2014 01:38 pm ET | Updated Apr 04, 2014

I can't think of a more exciting, opportunity-laden time in the profession of Education than right now. The innovative pedagogy, reflective practices, and voices for feedback have re-imaged learning for students. What's even more astounding is that the classroom practitioners, teachers, who are leading this revolution have been able to see beyond their own experiences. Here's what I mean. Most teaching and learning episodes are really just replays of how the teacher encountered the knowledge or skill that is a part of that day's lesson. And this isn't a criticism, but more a pragmatic function of how the brain conveys experiences. The mentality of "I learned this way and you will too" has been around for millennia.

That mentality though has gotten our country to the condition it finds itself today, because the sentiment of that thinking works both ways. It works for the attitudes and skills we find beneficial to society, but also the ills of society so many individuals seem never to escape. To create a populace that truly has access to transformative learning, it requires someone, or a group of someones, to break this cycle and garner a view outside the limits of his/her own experience. This is extremely difficult to do. How can we know what we don't know? How can we experience what we never experienced? And even more difficult, how can we 'unexperience' what we have experienced?

But there are a group of teachers attempting to do just that. They have come to the understanding that the classroom experience from their youth will not serve the youth of today. They have come to the understanding that the collective genius is stronger than the individual. To both undo past experience and discover the unknown, teachers are coming together to share, collaborate and reflect in ways and in numbers that are truly unprecedented.

Amazingly, social media is the driving force behind much of this collaboration. Teachers are taking to Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and many other emerging tools to break the silos of professional isolation. For so long, teachers have really worked in seclusion from the other practitioners in their schools and only recently have we begun to see teachers demand a new level of the profession that demands interaction, sharing, and feedback. Compounding this problem are the limits of geography, and this desire for professional discourse becomes extremely difficult.

This is where social media has filled a void in our profession. Social media has provided the opportunity for education professionals to overcome the barriers of space and time to discover, engage, and inquire with individuals all across the globe. The power of the Professional Learning Network (PLN) has empowered individual teachers to seek and discover global solutions to complex local problems. The learning and growth of the teacher is no longer dependent upon the school or the district to 'deliver' to the teacher, but instead an individual can now identify areas of growth and create his/her own path to that learning. The impact on students is staggering because once a teacher comes to value the power of the PLN, then the classroom begins to resemble the larger world as well. Students in the classroom are empowered to own their learning as well.

The potential of social media to be the infrastructure for professional learning is immense. Currently there are Twitter 'chats' or discussions that take place virtually around the clock and are organized by region, state, grade level, subject, course, and even speciality. Whatever you are curious about and want to learn more about, there's a Twitter chat for that. If there isn't one in existence, you are only a couple of Tweets away from creating a crowd and starting your own chat.

In an effort to share experiences and help to know what we don't know, a group of teachers will be presenting at New York City's Social Media Week. The panel discussion will highlight the potential of social media as a learning tool for both teachers and students, but also discuss what's still needed from the edtech field to help bridge these gaps. The goal is share positive stories of teachers and classrooms that are engaged in process of seeking better solutions. Details for the event can be found here. If you are in the area, please plan to attend and continue this amazing conversation.