Lets Bring PLNs into Professional Development

A recent two day professional development session opened my eyes to the strengths and weaknesses of how public education currently runs professional development sessions. 

Professional Destruction

I’m not the first to say this, but professional development is a waste of time. Well, at least in its current state. Why? The problem is two-fold.

  1. Teachers genuinely interested in learning new concepts are limited by time, resources, and venue.Even the most efficient sessions fall short in allowing teachers the time to explore real classroom applications for their new found concepts. Once they begin to brainstorm, most of the resources available at the PD session are long gone, unless they took notes or shot video. Even if a teacher develops a great approach, the venue is limited since no test classrooms are available to try these new approaches on. Where are the teachers who have already attempted these ideas? What were their successes or failures? All of these answers are unavailable at PD sessions since most are limited to individual school districts.
  2. Teachers are forced to attend sessions they have no interest in or are given at the wrong time of year.Common teachers. I know some of these sessions are boring, but some of you act the same way students do and then complain about the students being unfocused! Surfing the web, correcting papers, or texting is the new, passive way to express boredom. To be fair, several teachers I talk to express frustration when they attend a PD session that would be more helpful in the September then June, but many teachers are at the mercy of their district’s schedule.

Rethink Professional Development: Develop a Personal Learning Network

Let’s remove the barriers of time and space that limits our traditional avenues of learning and begin to promote the idea of developing personal learning networks for teachers to remain current and share their experiences with other professionals.

“You know, a bunch of us will be retiring soon. All of our years of teaching, what will come of them? I think this Twitter could be a great way for veteran teachers to share their knowledge with the next generation!” – veteran teacher at a recent PD session

Obviously, professional development is here until renegotiated by teacher unions, but if a personal learning network was developed by each teacher in a district sessions could be more meaningful. PLNs can improve PDs by allowing teachers to remain connected to current educational trends and topics, ultimately allowing them to begin and continue a dialogue without session restraints.

Benefits of a PLN

  1. explore personal educational interests
  2. connect with other professionals from around the world
  3. inexpensive way to obtain relevant and up to date information
  4. collaborate with others
  5. find new and novel approaches to learning
PLNs and the Connectivism Learning Approach
PLNs tie into the idea of connectivism. Connectivism argues that technology has changed society and, therefor, the way individuals learn. Continuing to isolate previously discovered learning theories will not be able to accurately reflect the changing ways we discover, produce, and explore knowledge.

Principles of connectivism: (from Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age)

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
Gone are the days of teachers who are the gatekeepers of knowledge! As information changes people need to be able to be informed and adapt to change. People not only learn through connectivity. but they learn information relevant and current. PLNs can become the foundation for PD sessions through relevant and current information being discovered online and applied in face-to-face meetings. Teachers would be saving themselves from sitting through introductory information and finally be able to roll up their sleeves and get to experiment!

Getting Started: My 2 Essential Apps to Begin Developing a PLN

Twitter can connect you with teachers, administrators, advocates, and professors in real-time. Check out Twitter4Teachers.com to find other teachers on Twitter or join a #edchat discussion on Tuesday nights to explore different educational topics! Connect with others and begin sharing your thoughts in 140 characters or less.
Google Reader collects RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds for you to read. Most newspapers, bloggers, and social media sites have an RSS logo  where you can access their feed. Google Reader saves you time in surfing a number of websites and allows you to bundle like-minded topics into folders (read education articles in one place and your sports articles in another). For Apple users, I highly suggest using Reeder. You can find Reeder in the Mac App store and perfectly ties together with your Google Reader account.

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