An effective learning network is complex, changing, growing, shrinking, morphing over old, new and evolving platforms. It reaches into classrooms and across the globe, held together by personal learning networks (PLNs) that continually build new connections, cultivate new relationships and learning while allowing others to dissipate.
It centres on individual connections and actions, yet provides far-reaching value.
It allows learning to reach the student desk more quickly than our old structures. It puts an end to the geographic privilege of access, builds collaborative efficacy over distance, normalizes collaboration as a way of professional practice, and amplifies promising practices.
Individual Workflow – Personal Learning Environment or PLE
An effective network is composed of educators who work openly by default. Their daily workflow (Personal Learning Environment or PLE) includes personal learning that comes not only from traditional sources, like books and research articles, but also through efficient searching for educator blogs, tweets (microblogs), ebooks, audio books, webcasts, videos and exploring other online digital content that takes them into classrooms and into the minds of educators.
Content is organized and shared back to the community in a format that will reach their audience (parents, teachers, ECEs, leaders, community). They connect online with people in similar or different roles to have discussions, share strategies, consider ideas, connect thinking and stay in tune with what is happening in the world of the people they serve. They bring in the experts they need to ensure student outcomes are improving.
And, as they learn, they document that learning in a way that is valuable to others, considering audience and format, privacy and purpose. They share that learning back to their audience in a way that models digital citizenship and celebrates the work being done in their schools.
Collecting Information – Leaders dedicate time for professional learning and develop competencies in effectively exploring and organizing relevant content, including blogs, podcasts, discussions, monographs and articles shared by others through social media. They share these information and knowledge collecting strategies with peers, teachers, students and the community. They understand how to access the information they need by leveraging the capabilities of the network.
Connecting in Physical and Digital Spaces – Leaders value their connections to others and the learning that comes from conversations in person and online. They continue to nurture and build connections, bringing value to their organizations and those they serve. They model the importance of connectivism for students and other educators.
Curating and Sharing Important Learning with Others – Leaders streamline the flow of information by filtering, packaging, and sharing in a way that mobilizes knowledge for targeted audiences. This is a complex skill that all of our students should also master.
Creating and Providing Value to the Network – Leaders contribute what they are learning and make their thinking visible to others. This involves documentation and sharing skills, modelling them openly for others in the organization. Networks are only as valuable as the people in them and what they create and share with others.
Documenting Learning: Capturing the learning (and lack of learning)
Choosing an appropriate tool and product (text, blog, image, video, webcast, podcast, report, etc.)
Developing expertise in editing products (audio and video editing, website development)
Reflecting (what to share, what audience, when?)
Modelling all of these for those you serve in the organization (students, educators)
Sharing the Learning (Openly as the Default)
Consider the privacy protection of those involved in your learning
Consider the intellectual property rights of any work you have used or remixed (develop a deep understanding of Creative Commons Licensing)
Consider the most effective and appropriate place to share based on desired audience (with open as default) – online open, online internal, conference, learning session. It is understanding the shifting differences and similarities among platforms, and where audiences reside at the moment.
Develop visual media, web and information literacies as well as global literacies
Amplify the practices that are making a difference.
Contribute in a positive way to the network, modelling this for others in the organization.
Where are other learning networks you can leverage?
This view of network leadership presents many entry points, and a shifting variety of digital literacies and skills needed for successful participation in networked learning.
As parents and educators, how are we modelling practices that promote facts and reliable sources over clickbait and sensationalism?
On social media, liking, sharing and retweeting shows others the content that is meaningful to you. It is a reflection of who you are, and what you believe in.
A decade ago, I used to retweet fairly indiscriminately. If it looked like a good resource, I shared it. Then, Ira Socol took the time to question my retweet. I realized that retweeting is actually a form of curating. If I want to create value online for others, I need to critically evaluate resources and ideas, and share them with descriptive comments.
What I choose to share reflects my professionalism. What I choose to share is the value I am creating for others. Before sharing, I carefully evaluate the source, and I often highlight (in my comments) the part I find most valuable.
Fortunately, I have a loud PLN that will quickly question almost anything I share openly.
Other curators help me sort through the unfathomable amount of information on the web. Stephen Downes, Doug Belshaw, and Audrey Watters are examples of thought leaders who filter, curate and share information regularly. I know that there will be value in their curations.
More importantly, what do we do when we encounter colleagues and friends sharing misleading information or sheer fiction as though it were factual? Do we just turn our heads the other way, or do we take the time, like Ira Socol did for me, and challenge the source or the thinking?
Barack Obama said that we can’t move democracy forward if we don’t have a common set of facts to refer to. Now that we have seen the impact of the propaganda spread through social media, what will we do as educators to shut it down?
How do we ensure our students can critically evaluate information, triangulate sources, and distinguish between belief and fact?
Is knowledge more rapidly mobilized through the system when leaders work openly?
For the purposes of my work, I am considering personal professional openness – the concept of sharing thinking and learning in open spaces, curating resources for others, engaging in open conversations in text or through broadcast technologies like podcasts, videos and YouTube Live, blogging and commenting on blogs, and participating across the educational boundaries in wider conversations across the web.
“Working open” means different things in different contexts. Doug Belshaw has summarized the idea of working open in education here.
He provides this question, that is an excellent starting point for opening our work to others:
We should be continually asking the question, “can we make this public?” If that seems too radical, then a smaller step might be the question, “is there any reason why this shouldn’t be shared with everyone at the organisation?”
Here is a summary of what I learned this week. The full story is below.
Working openly is a new skill, with unlimited potential for mobilizing knowledge within the education system. We (as a system) don’t yet value it as a critical leadership skill for education.
“You are never going to be able to shortcut doing the hard work of changing hearts and mind, and the hook which gets people to realize that working openly is useful, is going to be different in every situation”. (Doug Belshaw)
When, as a leader, you work openly, you allow others to “swim in the river you are swimming in”, not your river, but the one you are swimming in right now. (Dai Barnes)
Open practices are on a continuum, and are dependent on context. Developing digital literacies helps leaders understand what should be shared openly, but also what should be shared behind a password, and what should be private.
Senior Leaders need to be conscious of their position when blogging, but sharing their learning minimizes the disconnect between leadership thinking and classroom practice.
Once Senior Leaders believe that open practice is worth pursuing, we need a scaffolded approach to help develop an understanding of digital literacies and support in developing that open practice.
Open practice by senior leaders encourages the participation of the entire learning community, and helps all stakeholders in public education find their voice.
The full story:
Since beginning my work with #mathleadersNEO the Mathematics Leadership Network, I have been exploring this thinking – how open practice can impact the work of education leaders, particularly in influencing classroom practice and improving student learning.
Recently, I listened to the TIDE Podcast #61: Open to Suggestion, which got me thinking again about the value in working openly as an education leaders.
I was so pleased to see that in TIDE Episode #70, the answer to this question was discussed, and some ideas completely new to me surfaced in the conversation.
I have posted the sections of the podcast to help provide focus for the thinking. Please take a few minutes to listen to the sound clips that are much more explicit than my summaries below.
The Importance of Content – Choosing Words Carefully
Dai began by talking about the role of an education leader and how conscious a leader needs to be about that role and position, and the ‘weight’ of the words they might make public.
Understanding what can and should be shared openly is a digital literacy, and it takes time to build. Experiencing the value of reaching an audience this way, and leveraging it to achieve organizational goals, also takes time to develop.
It is difficult to access education leaders. When they make their thinking and learning visible through blogging and other social media interactions, everyone in the organization (and the community) has access to what they are learning.
Sharing Resources Openly (Instead of Through Email)
Instead of sharing resources with specific educators in email, leaders can share them in an open space (such as a blog or website) so that all educators, within the system and world wide, have access to those resources. It also allows others to then comment on how they use the resources in classroom practice, to add other similar resources to the list, and to have a conversation in the comments around the specific learning goals best supported through these resources.
What are the Barriers to Sharing Openly?
We have to understand what can (and should) be shared fully openly, what should be shared behind a password, and what should be private. As well, we need to learn how to do that sharing so that nobody is personally or professionally impacted in a negative way.
For example, sharing a screencast on how to copy a Google Doc might be valuable to many educators. What we wouldn’t say, is, “I know many educators in my school are struggling with this, so I have made this instructional screencast to help you”.
We might say instead, “Are you trying to copy a Google Doc? Here are some simple instructions to walk you through the process”. This statement makes the learning open to all without any suggestion that the skill is one specific people find difficult.
It’s new learning. It’s 2016 learning. And you don’t know what you don’t know. For so many educators, the way they have always done things has served them well and they don’t see the need for change in practice.
What New Leadership Qualities do we Value in 2016?
When, as a leader, you work openly, you allow others to “swim in the river you are swimming in”, not your river, but the one you are swimming in right now.
Dai is playing with an important concept here, I think.
There are certain qualities and strengths of education leaders that we have traditionally valued, and we look for these.
But working openly is a new skill, with unlimited potential for mobilizing knowledge within the education system. We don’t yet value it in the education system.
Open Practices: Changing Hearts and Minds
There is no such thing as open practice. It is open practices (plural) because it is always within the context of where the learning is happening.
“You are never going to be able to shortcut doing the hard work of changing hearts and mind, and the hook which gets people to realize that working openly is useful, is going to be different in every situation”.
Who can you influence to practice more openly today?
What small steps can each leader take to work more openly?
We have the technology now to learn from the best teachers in the world.
We can access our PLN from almost anywhere, through synchronous and asynchronous technologies.
Today, our students need personalized learning options. Our teachers need to learn according to personal and professional interests. Our leaders need to be able to consult with experts, and meet their own learning needs. And all of this is simple with a strong Professional Learning Network, and access to digital tools.
In fact, for many educators, this is their normal. It’s how they work in 2016.
Today I had the privilege to speak to educators at #depd in Ottawa (Discovery Education) as my PLN mate Paul Maguire was presenting and sharing how to connect with other educators through voxer.
I was thrilled to hear how clear it was, because up here on the north shore of Superior, I was in a torrential rainstorm during a power outage and I was using my car charger to keep my phone battery charged while hoping the cell coverage would remain intact!
But even with all of that, I was able to talk to the crowd gathered in Ottawa.
For many of us, it has been our normal for a decade or more.
Our creative, curious, bright children can access the best teachers in the world with our help. Let’s make sure every one of them can. Their access to the best instruction should not depend on geography or classroom teacher.
And let’s encourage all educators, including our leaders, to build extensive, rich professional learning networks where they share learning, cultivate relationships, build their understanding of digital environments and establish a positive online identity.
Our physical and digital worlds are now one. Our learners need to be able to flow between them, and thrive in both.
Featured image by Donna Miller Fry: CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0
The Pallisades. Hwy 11 north of Nipigon, Ontario, at sunrise, late August, 2016.
What is your vision of effective mathematics teaching and learning in elementary school?
This is a new question for me. This blog is Learning About Learning, and I have a lot of learning to do about mathematics education.
I am hoping you can help me.
Here are a few of the things I am thinking about right now. What can you add to this? What have you learned in your own practice? What do you think about when you consider a vision for teaching and learning mathematics?
I think that efficacy is critical. Students have to believe they can achieve at high levels. Teachers have to believe that students can achieve at high levels and that teachers have the capacity to get students to that high level.
Is mathematics skills (as I was taught), or is it ideas (as Dr. Marian Small suggests)?
Is math about making connections? Is it important that we work with big ideas rather than teaching skills and concepts only in isolation?
I think students have to be able to choose the tools and strategies they need to help them solve problems.
It isn’t up to us to tell them what tool to use, but to teach them how to use many tools effectively so they might pick the one that is right for them in each context.
Math needs to be fun. Kids need to be the ones doing the thinking. Teaching through problem solving can be very effective (problems are not add-ons).
Teachers need to collaborate with other educators, to share their thinking openly, to challenge the thinking of others, to read and write blogs about their work. Isolation is a choice, and isolation is unprofessional. Kids need the thinking of many professionals, not just the one assigned to them.
As I work through #mathleaderNEO over the next few years, I plan to grow this thinking.
For the past 24 hours I have been participating in the rich, immediate conversations in The Innovator’s Mindset Voxer Group.
Last night, we were thinking a lot about the challenges of innovating from the middle. When we challenge leaders to innovate their practice, we are seen as “rogues”, as troublemakers (I can’t tell you how much this reminds me of bright, creative children in a classroom!)
In response (at 1:30 a.m. I might add), George Couros generously jumped in and said that it is important to do “what is best for kids”.
And this is exactly where I see the problem.
As educators, we all want to do what is best for kids.
Perhaps “what is best” for a child is passing the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test so that he might graduate.
In that case, the “best for kids” strategy is to teach the child to write a news report, and to practice it over and over again so that they might pass the test necessary for graduation.
An innovative educator might suggest that in a world where media companies are failing, and people are getting their news through Facebook (CBC Radio Noon, Feb. 4, 2016), Buzzfeed, Twitter, etc., that writing a news report is a ridiculous bar for graduation from secondary school.
What is “best for kids”?
Until the structures in the system align, until we can clearly articulate what school is for, what is “best for kids” will be blurry.
We need even better arguments to insist on innovative practices to meet the needs of our learners in 2016 and beyond.
Please join The Innovator’s Mindset Voxer group and keep the conversation going!
Do we think differently, or have we just learned differently?
This post is part of a 10 day posting challenge issued by Tina Zita. You can’t be a connected educator if you don’t contribute. Sometimes we need a nudge to remember that if nobody shares, nobody learns. Thanks Tina!
I’m not sure I buy that. I am not sure that I believe we “think differently”. I wonder if we have just been through very different learning experiences.
We have been learning as networked, connected learners for years – decades in fact. We have been learning in spaces yet to be discovered, yet to be respected, yet to be acknowledged by the status quo in our profession.
We have been learning different content. We have been learning through ideas.
Ideas just pop into our network all the time. Seeing and exploring new ideas daily, hourly, but the minute almost, is what we do.
We have had the time to share, converse, think through, research, challenge, ask about – to form thinking about – millions of ideas from around the world.
Then we throw out one of these ideas f2f, and silence.