Welcome to a two part post dedicated to facilitating 21st century skills through the development of professional learning communities for educators and students. In Part One you get… an introduction to definitions and processes for developing a learning community. Use it as a great handout for your professional development. All I ask is you provide a link to this blog. Part Two will include five simple steps with close to 50 links bringing you hundreds of valuable resources. It is a post you will not want to miss! First, please take a moment to subscribe by email or RSS to my 21centuryedtech Blog and also give me a follow on Twitter at mjgormans. Enjoy this post and get ready for all the learning community resources in the second post that will follow in a few days.! – Mike Gorman (http://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com)
Part 1: Connecting and Collaborating… In and Out of the Classroom
First, Learning Communities are not a new thing. Like the rest of the world, the educational landscape is greatly changing. With the advent of the internet and modern technology, classroom walls have disappeared as educators are able to make the world the new classroom. This new learning environment allows both educators and students to expand their learning connections and develop powerful learning communities that span the city, state, country, and globe.
Definition – Does it matter what we call these learning environments?
Some people wish to call these new learning environments PLN’s, for Professional Learning Networks. Others describe the PLN acronym as standing for Personal Learning Networks. You have may have even heard them called PLC’s, standing for Personal (or Professional) Learning Communities. It really doesn’t matter what you call them since they all have the same goal. It is the collective wisdom and support of a group of learners dedicated to professional and personal improvement that is at the core. Speaking of the core, it is this very concept that is promoted by the new Common Core. As stated in CCSS overview documents, the CCSS must allow students to:
“Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners …” and “Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others …”
As for teachers, it is imperative that educators share curriculum, effective instructional strategies, and assessment, in order for the school community to accomplish the goals of the common core.
How does a learning community benefit educators?
- It builds professional knowledge allowing educators to make meaning of work while providing best practice leading to student success.
- Learning communities are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can be accessed from anywhere to everywhere.
- These learning communities remove educators from the isolation of their four walls and provide a supportive team rich in resources, reflection, and feedback.
- New resources, tools, methods, and research are constantly made available… many times within minutes of creation, production, or publication.
- They provide a way to promote and model life-long learning allowing for necessary transformation and change that has become a mandate in today’s education environment.
Developing a PLN or PLC is a process… not a destination. - Many educators have described this process in various stages. Over the last fifteen years I have attended numerous conferences, while also immersing myself in great reading material from excellent educational writers such as David Warlick, Jeff Utecht, and Alan November. I have also had a chance to provide in-services and have watched teachers across the country become familiar with learning communities. From my readings and observations I have noted that a learning community journey just might develop something like this:
The Ten Step Approach To Developing A Learning Community.
- Developing Awareness: Teachers must first develop the awareness of what a modern PLN or PLC is. The concept is not new… but it has expanded. While these communities have always existed as school grade levels, departments, and entire faculties… they never extended much farther. Becoming aware of this new community that extends beyond the school and district boundaries is a first step.
- Taking The Big Plunge: Becoming aware is important, but taking the plunge is necessary for the process to begin. The plunge involves not only learning about, but actually getting on the web to investigate the rich opportunities and possibilities. This sometimes means taking a step outside one’s comfort zone. The experience is well worth it… especially when the reward is the next step!
- Experiencing The WOW Moment: The plunge suddenly results in the “Wow Factor.” Educators become amazed and somewhat overwhelmed by all of the resources and opportunities. They begin to bookmark, copy/paste, commit to memory, and take notes on all the possibilities. It is in this phase that the art of curation becomes important. More on that later..
- Enter The Time Warp: Ever seen time fly by? Well, it sure begins to as goldmines of resources and amazing tools are discovered. Read this article, check out this app, watch this webinar, or wow… another cool website! By the way… what time is it? I think I forgot to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
- Making The Big Grade: The “WOW” becomes bigger and bigger as time goes by like the speed of light… or at least kind of close. Soon teachers must begin to do what they have always been known to do. That is, making the big grade, assessing the situation and all it’s possibilities.
- Experiencing The Light Bulb Getting Brighter: As the light bulb begins to illuminate this new path, discoveries are made. Educators realize they can’t connect with everyone nor can they read every collection of resources on the web. After all, they do have to teach and there are new things on the web everyday! Possibly there are some resources that apply best… and others people who can help and assist! Perhaps with the help of their growing and helpful new learning community they spend less time doing all the work themselves! They now have time to discover the thought of making it all a reality in the classroom.
- Putting Into Practice: Many times educators find outstanding material but seem to save it for someday. Sooner or later, they try a resource or tool from their learning community in their classroom. The “WOW Factor” re-ignites them and the fruits of labor can be seen. Maybe it is time to share the success or contribute a resource to their learning community.
- Paying Ahead To Others: It might just be fun to share, comment, author, and contribute. After all, if one gives back a little so much more is discovered… especially with the help of that awesome learning community. In fact, the educator has now taken one step closer to being a fully certified contributing member!
- Entering The Super Highway: This process just might take a while, and perhaps someone decides to hang out at one of these stages for a while. That really is OK! Once the two way street of collaboration begins, the opportunity to transform it into a super highway of learning becomes a possibility! It really is life on the road that is both the process and the reward. Educators will indeed discover some neat destinations and people along the way
- Thinking Like A Living Museum … And – The day comes when one cannot find that awesome resource they bookmarked or placed somewhere. Perhaps it is time to take a new journey into learning communities and discover the ultimate ways to curate their resources. “The WOW Factor” returns when they find that curation, collaboration, and discovery can all fit together using some awesome new Web 2.0 tools.More on this in a later blog in November.
Did I mention that there is another possible step?…. The realization that my students could do this!… “WOW!” …
That’s a little bit of the next post!
I hope you enjoyed this opportunity to define and reflect on learning communities. Join me in the next post as together we explore learning community development with five simple steps, along with close to 50 links, bringing you hundreds of valuable resources.. It is a post you will not want to miss! I enjoy learning from all of you. Also, remember to subscribe to this blog by RSS or email and follow me on twitter at mjgormans. I also appreciate your sharing of this post and any retweets. Thank you so much for being a part of my learning community Keep up the wonderful work and enjoy the amazing world of 21st century learning. Welcome to the Future! – Mike Gorman (http://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com)