By Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

Do It Yourself graphicPhone rings. It’s Saturday, why are they calling me so early? The dogs decide it is time to get up and start my day anyway. I am up, coffee, walk outside, shiver and decide I will come up to the office and learn something.

I open my email and there is a message from Seth Godin. It reads…

[You're getting this note because you subscribed to Seth Godin's blog.]

What are you working on?

If someone asks you that, are you excited to tell them the answer? I hope so. If not, you’re wasting away. No matter what your job is, no matter where you work, there’s a way to create a project (on your own, on weekends if necessary), where the excitement is palpable, where something that might make a difference is right around the corner. Hurry, go do that.

I make a mental note of what I am working on and ask myself if I am excited. I decide I am and wonder are those I care about online also excited at the work they are doing.

I consider tweeting the post and instead go to the next email. I find a Google Alert - Shout – a link to a new environmental studies w/Smithsonian site , I tweet that. As I tweet, I glance at a tweeted post shared by @wfryer which is in the view window of my “all friends” in TweetDeck. It says, “Vimeo Video School: 800+ free tutorials – sweet for @storychasers :-) http://ow.ly/3rg96″ I bookmark it and leave the page open so I can share it with my connected learning communities that are part of  PLP. We just sent them Flip cameras and I think it might help them think through their use.

Another Google Alert for connected learning communities, a term I coined to describe the 3-pronged approach we take to community in PLP. It takes me to Kim Cofino’s blog and I read a few posts about how she is changing learning at her school. I reflect upon how she could answer Seth’s question above with excitement. You can feel the excitement in her post.

I come back to email and there is an RSS subscribed message that takes me to the PLPblog. I skim the first two posts by Lani Ritter-Hall and Alec Couros and settle in on one written by Susan Carter-Morgan entitled This Still Has Me Thinking which takes me to a Zotero group created by Wendy Drexler. After scanning the research items I ask myself two questions. 1) Why had I never heard of her research group in here before? 2) How can I join too? So I try to join the group and scan the page left to right–right to left– searching for the “join” button. I am a big fan of Zotero so this frustrates me and I try the register button. Ugh! Now I have two logins and accounts with Zotero- that isn’t what I wanted to do. I keep the page open thinking I will try harder later. (Realizing failure is part of the DIY learning experience- it helps me to retain what I learn by having to struggle through it. )

Back to email. A message entitled, “Serendipity” – ok, I am intrigued. I open it and it is from Wendy Darga, a PLP participant last year. She describes a short DIY PD experience of her own…

Hi Sheryl,
Hope this finds you well and ready for the holidays.  Just this afternoon, Katie and I were discussing how we should share our work with you.  I logged into the FB page to grab your email and found your all-call for what PLPeeps are working on.  As an aside, I also saw your “Rant” post last week and could not agree more!!!
Katie, Rachel, Frank, Sandy and I have been busy implementing the project we developed last year during our PLP experience in the Ontario International Cohort.  Our project was to develop a Ning for our faculty.  We are excited by our progress, our learning and the response of our staff.
The attached document reflects our thoughts about the process and our project.   We wrote it as a short article/blog post.  Please feel free to post it!Have a wonderful, restful holiday, Wendy

Wendy Darga
Hart Middle School
Rochester Community Schools

I read the attachment and think hmmm- I ought to share that out for others to read. I then argue with myself that if I am going to take the time to post I really need to be synthesizing the learning that took place at #TEDWOMEN (a learning journey I was part of recently) and I decide, no, I will honor this team and their hard work  first. I have the whole Christmas break to write about #tedwomen. Action Research

That is how we learn in the 21st Century. We teach others by transparently sharing what we are learning ourselves. That is what I am doing here and that is what Wendy has done in her letter to me. As I read her post I considered how the action research project we do as part of the professional development experience in PLP is often the first time many of the educators we work with have truly collaborated together on a self directed change initiative. It feels good to know that if someone asked Wendy and her team Seth’s question- What are you working on? Not only will they be able to answer with excitement, but in some small way I was part of the answer. And that makes all the time and energy invested in transparent learning — worth it.

Wendy’s post:

Dragging Them Kicking and Screaming?

Katie Allen, Wendy Darga, Rachel Guinn

Hart Middle School, Rochester Community Schools

Are you in charge of planning something new for your staff? Or do you desire to make some changes in your school and you are contemplating how to get everyone on board? Of course, we all understand that you cannot make everyone happy all of the time. However, when it comes to teaching and learning, aren’t we supposed to do just that? That is, educate and engage all of our students?

When our students are of the adult variety it becomes a significantly daunting task. Unless there is pressure from administration, or firmly stated requirements for an initiative, it can be down-right difficult to move the masses.

We call ourselves the Nerdy Netbookers.  We are a group of committed middle school educators who have diverse roles and experiences who have decided, through an experience with PLP, to build an online collaborative communication tool using a Ning.

The need to devise something non-threatening was a given, but we also were in need of an initiative that had that pervasive pull to encourage staff to realize the benefits of engaging in the site.  A critical aspect of the process was certainly to spend time educating and building a rationale for why this tech tool would be a sound investment of time and energy. We realized so often these “hot” trends are just that; trends.  No one in education has the time or energy to bother learning something that will become obsolete in weeks. At the end of the day, people still want to know what is in it for them, or how might this make their lives easier?  And that was certainly not our goal- we were in it for the long haul.

Our destination was professional learning; Ning was our vehicle.  We consciously prepared and planned to roll out the Ning with our “cant’s and wont’s” in mind.  We really struggled with and debated about how to handle those staff members who we knew would throw roadblocks in the process, that is either roadblocks that would evolve from lack of comprehension and confidence or a reaction of defiance or lack of interest.  Either way, we were bound to make certain all staff would benefit from the site because our ultimate goal was to move the entire group forward not simply using, but engaging in Web 2.0 tools.  It was a noble and desirable outcome.  We expected we would transform into building heroes for creating this experience for everyone to learn and grow collectively! Ultimately, the staff would hoist us up on their shoulders and beg us for more!

While we have not been carried around the building, we have achieved success.  Our usage stats are admirable, and we have devised a myriad of virtual experiences. People are positively engaged and implementing the Ning.  We conducted our first virtual staff meeting, plans are underway for bringing in experts for further professional development, and we have even started a social book club for interested staff.  We Nerdy Netbookers have benefited from the experience as well.

One of our biggest epiphanies was to form a 180-degree change in our thinking regarding our kickers and screamers.  We started this project committed to move 100% of our staff forward in using and understanding the power of collaborating virtually because our underlying goal was to persuade our staff to embrace the power of technology as a tool for formulating their own learning.

After three months of working with our staff and the site, we have come to the conclusion that those kickers and screamers can kick and scream all they like.  We haven’t abandoned them and we will not ignore them or leave them out of the loop, but we have decided that moving the critical masses is the most important step. Those lagging behind will have the ability to catch up, if that is what they desire, but we will not be forcibly prodding them on from behind.  To invest our limited time and energy in the small minority is a major distraction from our goal. Our capital is better spent developing the experiences that cultivate the conversation among those who wish to participate.  As this tool becomes embedded in our culture, it will become increasingly more complicated to resist. When they realize what they’re missing, we’ll welcome them with open arms.

So– What are you working on? I’d love for you to respond in the comments with the answer. Include links so I can learn with/from you.

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8 Responses to “How do it yourself (DIY) PD works – What are you working on?”

  1. Sarah Parker December 20, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

    What a great positive message. I love that it is coming from a group of people. This inspires me to show my district the need for this kind of professional development. I wonder if there could even be links for different levels of learners. There are so many possibilities. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m thrilled to learn more.

  2. Rebecca Grossman December 20, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    The work that the folks at Hart Middle school are doing sounds amazing and it would be great to have more information about it, if possible. I am a staff developer for my district (Middle and High School) and have been looking for a vehicle (?) to engage our teachers ( at least those who are willing) in on line conversations with each other about what THEY are doing. We have had a few staff events that have provided an opportunity, but they are few and far between, and I have tried blogging, but it didn’t work too well. So many of our teachers are doing great things and it would be so easy to share it online…

    Any suggestions or pointers on how you got started would be reatly appreciated- I’m pretty sure I have a core group of people who would be really interested.

    The entries on this whole page have really made my day! Thanks so much.

  3. Alfonso Gonzalez December 29, 2010 at 5:58 am #

    This exactly, well very closely, where I’m headed with this grant proposal I recently submitted:
    http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2010/12/18/wa-stem-grant-proposal/

    I enjoyed reading your journey because I wonder how closely my, and our, journey will be like yours.

    Thank you.

  4. Jan Wells December 29, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    This is great information. How big is your district or teachers are part of your school(s)?

  5. snbeach December 29, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    Jan if you mean the school district I came from- VBCPS is the 2nd largest in Virginia and when I left in 2004 there were 5,500 teachers and something like 80K kids.

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