It’s been a few days since John Pederson posted this Tweet, but I’ve been thinking about that phrasing a lot ever since. It’s pretty obvious that as my professional life has changed, my interest has been moving away from classroom practice more toward individual learning and how we help educators understand the potentials of these spaces for their own learning first and their teaching second. The shift has been deepened by my work with Sheryl in PLP, but it’s also rooted in the continued frustration I have with a) the pace of even a coherent conversation about systemic change and b) teachers resistance to looking inward before moving outward when considering these shifts. (See these two posts and subsequent discussions for context.) While we have debated the “tools first” approach on the periphery, I’m still convinced that while we need an understanding of tools to make the connections, the personal shift around those tools drives the pedagogical shift. It’s difficult to understand the impact that online learning networks and communities can bring (and their potential downsides) without being a part of them.
So when John Tweeted “Community building is the new professional development” it really resonated, because it suggests that unlike most so-called pd that schools offer, getting our heads and our practice around this is a process, not an event. It’s learning, not training. (I cringed a couple of weeks ago when a principal said “Wow, our teachers are going to need a lot more ‘training.'” Ugh.) It’s not something we can “deliver” in a four-hour PowerPoint-like session. As Linda Darling-Hammond suggests, “…teachers need to learn the way other professionals doâ€”continually, collaboratively, and on the job.” If that’s not a description of what I see most of us doing in these spaces I don’t know what is. Somehow, by luck or hard work or a combination, those of us who are taking advantage of the affordances of learning in online communities and networks have found a way to invest the time, not in big chunks in a physical space classroom but in as-needed, passion-driven, hour-here-fifteen-minutes-there learning flow that relies on the interactions of many learners, not on the expertise of any one person. And it’s in knowing how to effectively navigate those interactions where the value lives, not in effectively navigating the tools.
Our continued emphasis on tools in pd misses that larger point, obviously, because the power of the Read/Write web is not the ability to publish; it’s the ability to connect. Broken record, I know, but tools are easy; connections are hard. And so the question becomes how to best help educators realize these potentials in the learning sense first. Because at the end of the day, community building has to become an integral part of what we do in our classrooms with our students, as well. We have to be able to model those connections for them and understand them in ways that are meaningful to our own learning practice.
The challenge is, of course, that “continual, collaborative, on the job” learning isn’t very convenient for professional developers or for teachers in classrooms. It means re-thinking what learning looks like, and that’s a scary place still for most in education.
The best way to build community among teachers is to get them out of the building and into the community.
Dean Grroom says
In the last decade, even ‘trained’ teachers have only used half a dozen ‘tools’. Even if you replace Word for Google Docs, Diigo for Favourites – that would be 40% of the current ‘market’. The idea of creating a bigger market in order to accommodate more tools is not a viable strategy. Smaller players (us) need to strategically capture more share of the existing market. Don’t talk about 23 things – model 3. This is door to door, one teacher at a time, one application, 10 mins at a time stuff.
Robin Heyden says
Well said and I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps one way to do this is to get educators to recognize the analogy between the more familiar and traditional methods for building community (faculty lunchroom, departmental meetings, between class natters with colleagues, collaboration over a common lesson plan) and the technology-leveraged methods. It’s the same baseline skills – just amped up/improved/made more efficient/expanded by applying web 2.0 tools to achieve the network effect. So, with that thinking we emphasize interpersonal skills, time management, value propositions, and affordances over tool skills.
Michael Wacker says
Great post. As usual you’ve hit the nail on the head. Pd should be a conversation of learning. Karl, Bud, and Ben put on what I thought was the best professional development day that I’ve been a part of. “What is Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation?” It truly was a conversation, with great content and meaningful discussion and at times some productive debate. Those connections with each other allow us access in these economic times to a great resource, and that”s other teachers. It’s an exciting time we love in, I’m happy to be apart of it.
But, I think that hooking our audience with web 2.0 tools or any other “carrot” I think is also a good thing. Getting teachers on the computer and interacting with content sometimes is a great learning opportunity that if rushed creates push back in my experience; so “playing” first can still be a good thing.
Ben Grey says
Two Quick Points.
1. I fear sometimes we expect teachers to engage learning in the exact opposite manner in which we allow students to engage. I’ve always found it fascinating that the profession most responsible and invested in the process of learning somehow completely forgets what it knows when teachers become the learners. Just visit 98% of all teacher inservices for immediate evidence.
2. Your quote, “Somehow, by luck or hard work or a combination, those of us who are taking advantage of the affordances of learning in online communities and networks have found a way to invest the time, not in big chunks in a physical space classroom but in as-needed, passion-driven, hour-here-fifteen-minutes-there learning flow that relies on the interactions of many learners, not on the expertise of any one person,” intrigues me. I’m fascinated with how many people still ascribe absolute authority to the one “expert” model. It doesn’t take long to see that in any of our learning networks. There are still too many who don’t value the outcome of conversation, but are rather looking to sow the seeds of the “experts.”
Will Richardson says
Thanks for dropping by, Ben. Irony noted. ;0) Thinking it doesn’t make expertise irrelevant, by any stretch, but it shifts the focus away from knowledge to learning, if that makes sense.
Matt Scully says
“in as-needed, passion-driven, hour-here-fifteen-minutes-there learning flow that relies on the interactions of many learners,”
Are all teachers passion driven? I think not. So it seems to me that community building is the best way to foster “passion” – creating an atmosphere where negativity is challenged, creativity is encouraged, and collaboration/discussion is the expectation. No more closing my door and just doing my thing regardless of what is going on down the hall.
Let’s all get together, play the powerball, and start our own school. Could you imagine what we could do working for the same institution?
Mary Ann says
I tried to add via Diigo but public highlight and comment wasn’t working for me – very frustrating.
I’ve been thinking that what really needs to happen to improve ed. is that we need to build in real learning time for teachers – during the school year their time is taken up with planning, assessing, and being with students. I suppose we learn during summer – but that is not transparent learning. Your thoughts on transparency echoed my daydreaming about the perfect working environment. What if we were responsible for sharing our learning with students? We’d share our learning goals with them, present how and what we’ve learned, and let them assess whether we’ve reached our goals. Teachers would model learning, share passions, they’d be partners in the process rather than experts in the experience (which arguably we aren’t) I know teachers are doing this, but what if we were given time, and the expectation to do it????
I wonder if the word training has something to do with some of the negative public perception of teachers? As if teaching skill is a step by step automated process?
I realize a lot of this is off topic. But here is an honest question that is something I wonder about Why do some teachers seem to quit learning when they become teachers? And I’ve never been in business so really this is honest – how does pd work in the business world?
Harold Jarche says
Will, I agree that we need to foster continual, collaborative, on the job, learning; and that is a challenge for most workplaces, not just teachers. I’ve suggested a new model for training departments, one based on connecting & communicating (see image) rather than content delivery. Integrating working & learning is a challenge for all professions in a networked society.
Jenine Wech says
Perhaps the issue is less about training and more about adopting a shared vision of the role of professional teacher? If I want to learn how to be a great doctor, I would like to learn from an expert doctor. If I want to be a great ball player, I would seek out the best ball players around and emulate the technique. A great plumber likely gleaned technique from a master plumber. We want our students to become expert learners…
Jo-Anne Gibson says
It’s not just teachers who you have to convince that PLNs can be powerful learning tools both personally and in the classroom. Yesterday I was told by our division’s IT department that I am not allowed to use Google Docs or Twitter at school. How do we go about convincing our administrators that PLNs made possible by Web 2.0 tools are valuable learning tools?
Your post resonated with how I’ve been feeling lately too. Social communities and networking have been a huge part of my professional development this year. I was finding that what was being provided at my school for professional development just wasn’t relevant. I set out to create my own PD plan, met through online social networks and developing a PLN. I have grown leaps and bounds beyond where I would have been if I’d simply relied on my school to provide it for me, rather than seek it out myself. There is such value at seeing ourselves as lifelong learners first, teachers second.
Gary Stager says
Can we please discuss or debate this issue online or f2f?
Blog comments are inadequate for what I need to say.
Stephanie Richardson says
Having just sat through a staff meeting today, where fellow teachers shot down the idea of professional learning communities (because it would take up their “time”), and then complained loudly about more reading training, I was disheartened. I can see I’m not the only one.
That being said, I can see why teachers are reluctant to try out new technology in their professional development. It’s scary. As much as I love learning, love collaborating, and seek out classes and opportunities to stretch myself, there is a lot of technology that is far beyond my comfort zone and I’m afraid I’ll fail trying to use it. Goodness knows I’ve had frustrations with technology in the past. As a teacher, and someone who’s been rather successful at learning, I don’t like the idea that I might not do something right.
I think the way to get over that hurdle would be to help educate district administrators so that blogging sites and collaborative sites weren’t blocked, and then let teachers play. We need to try it out with our friends in our safe comfort zone so we can be comfortable and then be willing to risk branching out.