We live in an incredible time where technology places more of the world at our fingerprints. Whether it be through email, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, television, or simple personal interaction, teachers have unlimited access to the great ideas of those around them.
Stop: Our personal and professional lives seem to move at warp speed. Personal Learning Networks, whether they take the form of traditional meetings or surfing the internet for new ideas, can easily seem like a luxury in our hectic lives. My previous school set aside time each week for curriculum groups to meet as PLNs. Often, teachers would bring papers to grade or lessons to plan citing “time demands” of the job. I certainly understand this. However, setting aside other distractions for a few minutes allows you to maximize the benefit of this time. Investing in your own personal development; exploring cross-curricular opportunities; or developing relationships with other educators will prove valuable.
Collaborate: After forcing yourself to remove distractions and to be “in the moment,” it is time to get involved. I once heard a teacher say “Good teachers borrow materials and ideas, GREAT teacher steal them!” While this is an over-exaggeration, the idea holds a lot of relevancy. The biggest benefit of the PLN process is that by collaborating with others, teachers are challenged to examine what they teach and how they teach it. The collaborative aspect of a PLN is only enhanced through the use of social media and technology. Recently, a Forensic Science Teacher in North Carolina found my class blog and contacted me about sharing ideas and materials. He is using 4 of my lessons, while I obtained 3 from him. On the flip side, I contacted a Chemistry teacher in North Carolina about a project she uses that equates a personality test with the characteristics of groups of elements. The students perform a personality test and then compare their results to the characteristics of various groups of elements. This teacher has been incredibly helpful in creating interest in an otherwise drab subject traditionally covered by lecture. By collaborating with teachers around the country, and those in our own backyard, we can work toward providing the best practices for our students.
Listen: As much as collaboration is an integral part of the PLN process, we also must take time to step back from sharing to listen. The value in the PLN process comes from the open dialogue between educators. Listen to the ideas being shared and ask questions to explore those ideas. Through this process, your own skill as an educator will improve.
I seriously doubt Vanilla Ice had PLNs in mind when he came up with the idea for his hit song. However, the initial words, “Stop, collaborate and listen!” serve as a pretty catchy reminder of what a PLN means to me.
Who knew that this guy would be such a prescient figure in educational theory?