Connected Educators: Beyond Physical Space

(reprinted from my blog)

As we move into Connected Educator Month (see the calendar of amazing opportunities to learn about how to connect with the initiative), I’ve been trying to think through the role of technology and online networking in developing learning communities. At our school, we have grade-level Communities of Practice meetings every week, as part of an initiative by our principal to really expand conversations among teachers and share best practices as well as use data to make curriculum changes, and document those shifts.

I work with a great team of sixth grade teachers. We not only get along well, but we also are open to new ideas, ready to make shifts based on the recommendations of colleagues, and put students at the front of everything. For example, our work for much of the last year has been how to move more writing instruction into the science and social studies classrooms, and together, we have been working on solid curriculum shifts to make that happen. We’ve questioned what we are doing, celebrated the successes and worried about the things that didn’t go the way we wanted.

So, the school-based COP time works. Sort of. Not always.

What doesn’t work is that the professional community is not necessarily organic and natural, and not built on our “opting in” to the discussions. We don’t have a choice. We have a COP time and we have to use it. We need to be there. It works for us on my team because we already had a strong foundation of flexibility and (somewhat) honest discussions. But if you gave me a choice during that time to sit every week with my colleagues, or to have the option to use that time to connect online with a larger, more focused group of ELA/digital media advocates …. I might choose the latter.

Choice is the key in that statement, and also, as many have noted, that “long tail” aspect of the Internet that provides you with entry points with other people you might not otherwise intersect with is a key component of how technology and online social connections make sense. My personal inquiry path becomes my own, not my principal’s (whose ideas around communities of practice are solid, and whose intent to spur difficult discussions makes sense, and who spent a lot of time figuring out how to make COP work in our school schedule).

The problem, as I see it, is that when the PLC/COP becomes digital, it gets harder and harder for teachers to show the work that was done. In other words, I need to spend some time just searching for folks in various online spaces (Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc.), and building my networks, but that kind of work is not necessarily quantifiable to a principal/superintendent and it may not directly impact the student learning in my classroom. For our school-based COP time, we have actionable plans, with results that we can turn to (whether they work out or not). This part of the equation seems to be missing in many online PLC spaces, and if we want our administrators to be able to see the power of the connected educator, it seems to me that we need to make those results more visible.

Ideally, I would love to see a balance of working hand-in-hand with my school-based colleagues, but also have them come with me into shared online spaces for inquiry work that moves us beyond our building, even as it reconnects that online work back into the learning environment and expectations of our students. It can happen. I just need to figure out a good system to make it work.

Peace (in the connections),
Kevin


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