From PLN to P-L-A-N for Moving our School Forward

Recently, I read a blog post by Steve Dembo asking, "Is joining a PLN bad for morale?" I was captivated by his examples of situations where educators got hyper-connected with a Personal Learning Network (PLN) online, which, in different circumstances led them to greener pastures.

I can certainly understand where this could happen. I've worked in schools that were not the best for my morale and I did move on, but I HAD to share in my comment to Steve that there is an example of another possibility. That example is my story:

In the Spring of 2007, I began reading a few blogs related to education. My favorite blog was by Rachel Boyd, a primary classroom teacher in New Zealand. I felt like by reading her blog, I was peeking inside what was happening in her classroom. I loved the idea, but didn't really think that I could do it until I saw a file Rachel had attached in the sidebar of her blog. It was titled "How to Start a Blog". Five minutes later, I was blogging! I couldn't believe how easy it was! I also noticed that several of the bloggers I followed were on something called twitter, so I joined to find out all about it. My personal PLN was born.

As the last few weeks of school rolled by before summer, I thought I'd offer to show anyone who was interested how to blog so I sent an email out to my colleagues. About 5 teachers met with me and started their blogs. So that handful of teachers and I blogged last school year. As the year went by we began talking about different ways to use blogs: class news, student work, coaching teachers, highlighting best practice and information dissemination. Other teachers became interested in starting blogs. My principal was very impressed with our work and started her own blog for the faculty. In retrospect, I think that was our turning point. I continued seeking out new ideas and learning about Web 2.0 tools through my PLN in blogs and on twitter.

This school year we kicked off the year with a new theme: Around the World in 180 Days, A Virtual Learning Adventure. The first commitment my principal made to technology was releasing me full time from the classroom to create a new position at our school, Instructional Technology Coach. We planned our first day back for teachers as a showcase for the possibilities for the year. My principal purchased the book Web 2.0 New Schools, New Tools for the entire faculty as well as a wristband flash drive. I contacted a member of my PLN, Jeff Utecht, to ask if he would mind skyping in to our first day session to speak a few minutes about why technology was so important to harness for our students. I watched my faculty coworkers look at the big screen in awe as this charismatic educator spoke to them from late in the evening in Manilla about how technology connects us all. It was a day full of fun, learning and new ideas. We were reborn as a faculty.

Where are we now, in the last half of the year? We have over 50 blogs on our faculty. (Which can be found on our website) My principal blogs, our instructional coaches blog, we have a blog for new teachers, grade level teams blogging, resource teacher blogs, many classroom blogs, school mascot blog, a conference blog and a teacher recognition blog. It's a blog BONANZA! Teachers are also using wikis to share their work.

How does this all pertain to my PLN and the PLN of some of my colleagues? Almost EVERYTHING we learned to do was due to our PLN. We techno-evangelized and the work is being embraced on our faculty. Now I realize that this is not the case for many, but I think it sends an important message that CHANGE IS POSSIBLE!

I am still hyper-connected. I power up at work in the morning and spend my 15 - 20 minutes on twitter, checking replies from the night before, joining in on conversations of the day and adding what is going on in my work. This week alone I learned how to record a skype call and learned some more about copyright. Not many are ready to join me on that journey, but my PLN turned me on to Facebook where I have begun connecting with over 35 faculty members there already! That's what I love about being connected with so many educators, there is always a new idea, always something new to learn and always someone to support you as you try to build a PLN for your workplace.

That's my story, what's yours?


Dean said...

That's a great story. I've been watching you and your school for about 18 months and applaud your work. Thanks for sharing.

Teach42 said...

That's really incredible. And truly an example of how things SHOULD work. I'm really glad you shared a link to this on the PLN/Morale post.

Pretty astonishing how much things have changed in your school, in a relatively short time. A wonderful success story-in-progress.

cindy said...

Great blog, you give me hope! Your school is lucky to have you to push forward!
Cindy Lane

Jeff Utecht said...

Thanks for telling your story! I love how people think that change takes so much time...when really it is dedication and commitment that makes change happen. Commitment from your Principal down to your had a vision and in 18 months you have changed your schools learning landscape.

Great Work!


What a testament to your vision and your desire to share your learning with your colleagues! Now, if you could bottle what you've done...

I'll be passing along this story to the teachers and the building administrators I work with to show them that, yes, change is possible. Best lesson in all of this: it has to start with you.

Suzanne said...

I know we've always considered ourselves relationship builders and risk takers. This post along with all you've successfully implemented in the past two years is truly astonishing. The thing I like about it most is that it requires teachers to be self-directed learners (with a little hand holding from you). I would have never embarked on this journey without your support and cheerleading, yet it has been the most rewarding adventure of my career. Thank you for taking us to the next level. It proves that when we build relationships inside the building and network ourselves with a PLN, we can take more risks and achieve greater rewards. Kudos to you, you lead and we all followed. :)

Melanie, your blog post brought me a memory of familiar/similar experiences. I recently blogged, interestingly on the same day as yours, about my "PLN P-L-A-N" journey, entitled Why, What, Who, When, Where & How To Go About Teaching-Learning in the 21st Century .

My post was a reflection after having gotten 'burned out' in early 2002 after 20+ years of teaching-learning with technology. I'm now semi-retired (60:40, I believe in use it or loose it). The 21st century teaching-learning pedagogy and social media have revitalized me once again, primarily due to friends I would have never met and learned from! It's an exciting time to be involved and hopefully once again sharing/contributing.

I wish you and your school continued success on your PLN P-L-A-N journey to effective teaching-learning.

Mrs. Risolvo said...

Thank you for your inspiring story. It all happens so fast, doesn't it. I am looking forward to sharing with you and having you and all of your knowledge a part of my PLN. I recently took over in a similar position and have had very similar feelings.

Three years ago I wanted a projector in my classroom so I could show various web resources to the students and we could work collaboratively to create projects. I wrote a grant to get this technology and everyone wanted to use my projector. These kinds of innovations move so quickly. The following year, I was placed in a part time technology facilitator role at the elementary school. We created nings with the fifth grade to discuss civil rights and fourth graders created movies to persuade their fellow students to vote for their chosen mascot. The students were very engaged in their own learning and technology was an awesome way to get them there. This year I was given the task of teaching technology full time at both the elementary and primary school. Oh my...the amount of resources there are out on the World Wide Web.

When I was told that I was going to be working at both schools and splitting my time, I was a little bummed. But last March, I was sitting, on Spring Break, on my couch where I found Classroom 2.0. I had used MySpace personally and my husband used flickr all the time. I knew the possibilities of Social networking, but in that moment, I was so overwhelmed. I know it sounds silly, but there is a lot of information out there and it is a little overwhelming. I am addicted to Facebook, and checking my RSS feed and am always posting new information from my National Board daily e-newsletter to my blackboard discussions. It is unbelievable what is possible and I too am excited.

Thanks Again for pumping me up once I come.

Great story! I have been passing on all your recent blog posts to our VP, love the idea of around the world in 180 days! From the outside looking in, it looks like technology has transformed your staff and brought you all closer together through shared experiences of blogging and working toward a common goal. Keep up the great work! I always look forward to reading your blog, so happy that you decided to share your journey and thoughts with us!