I recently read Tom Whitby’s post on the way connected educators are recognized through such forums as the Leaders to Learn Forum. Part, not all, of his argument was that some of the winners were relative unknown within the twitter-verse. This go me to thinking (as all of the posts by those blogs I follow, do): why do we need to connect when we work in schools and can connect within? what argument can be made for educators to reach beyond their school/district walls for collaboration that cannot be found within their school/district walls?
I have worked in five school districts, at both the school and district level. Every district has their own unique take on professional development; each school and department have their own take on assessment, reporting and teaching. I have met teachers who have graduated from the school they started their practicum and are now teaching side by side their high school teachers. I’m sure this is not isolated, but it is isolating.
We are social creatures. Social constructivism suggests that we construct meaning through our interactions, using the scaffolding put in place by our facilitators, whoever they may be, until we can continue on our own. If our ideas are coming from one space, one social network, one area on inquiry, it is conceivable that a spark will lead to innovation and improved student success. What is more likely, though, is a more traditional process will be indoctrinated into the new educators in the system; new ideas are seen as risky, untested and therefore, dangerous to try out on students.
Also, in this closed system of education, those innovators are the champions of their ideas, but those innovations are lost once the champion leaves: there is no sustainability built into the system. Compare this with a connected educator; one that has access to the ideas from around the world, or across the province or state. If that educator has twenty people in her or his PLN, twenty people that give feedback to ideas, suggestions or even just a ‘like’ or ‘retweet’, the enriched conversations propel that teacher to seek and try to implement new ideas.
A connected educator with 600 educators to discuss would be better than twenty, but a solid twenty is more effective in the learning and improvement if professional development than a surface 600.
I would like to thank everyone in my PLN. They push me forward, into sometimes uncomfortable spaces, that allow me to grow as an educator. The depth of their shared knowledge is staggering. Someone, my brain has forgotten who, said that they have learned more from twitter than any masters or education course. I would disagree. I learned more in a focused area (developing student teachers and the semiotics of learning) during my masters. Twitter is more like a sampling; one that starts the conversations towards the deeper learning.