By Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
As the CEO of a professional development company whose mantra is “Professional Development for the 21st Century Educator” I find myself continually cognitively juggling what’s best for my clients, what’s best for their students, and what’s best for our contractors and staff in an effort to find some way of making it all align with what needs to change in education.
It’s evaluation time. We encourage our communities to be brutally honest when they evaluate us. And we listen. Where it makes sense we shift or innovate. It requires us to continually reinvent ourselves, to stay on top of where research and practice meet and to balance the desire for easy and structured with messy and self-directed.
Deep Reflection and Keeping the Focus on Learning
Evaluation time means deep reflection time for me personally. Especially when evals call you by name — pointing to what is perceived to be character flaws. It takes a thick skin to see past all that and look deeper to what is really going on- to keep your focus on learning by continually growing as a leader, learning about how to learn and how to model being a transparent learner. I want, more than anything else, to leave a legacy in education. I want what I spend my time doing to add value to the profession and to support teachers in helping their students self actualize. I also want to be part of lighting a fire that results in a learning revolution. I want to be a capacity builder who gives freely and learns openly.
But I have to tell you- I am frustrated. Really frustrated.
For example, here is a recent evaluation comment:
I’m not sure that this is a very valuable experience, and I doubt I’d ever recommend it. It seems as if it’s based upon things like online communities and collaboration, which may have been new and innovative a few years ago, but which are kind of old hat now.
Old Hat? Come on. Have we really hit the tipping point with online communities and collaboration– true collaboration? Is deep collaboration (moving past talk and cooperation to appreciative and collective action ) so prevalent among education that we can call it “old hat”? And let’s say for sake of argument that learning in online communities isn’t innovative anymore– so what? Is our role to only play in sandboxes that are innovative or new and novel? Shouldn’t we be trying to understand what is happening in those spaces that were new only a few years ago, determining how to best use them to learn and help our students learn? Is there value in knowing how to start, lead, implement, empower, and use online communities for the type of collaboration that is going to provide significant shift? The kind where we all bring our best giftings to the table and use them together to create something new and powerful. Are online communities the focus or merely the venue through which we learn? I do not remember anyone saying classrooms are dated and they have been around for hundred of years.
Which begs to ask a different question– are people confusing talking to people online with deep, connected learning? Does being part of a social networking site or a NING community mean you are going deep- growing in your ability to co-construct or deconstruct knowledge? Does it mean you are collaborating if you post, reply to a post, Tweet, or engage in a #edchat conversation? Are we moving toward an acceptance of superficiality as a replacement for deep learning? Has our multiple choice culture trained our brains to believe that innovation is the holy grail?
Personal Learning Networks
It is becoming ever apparent to me that those of us who are online learning prefer networks. Networks like we have on Twitter or other electronic spaces where we can share short snips of conversations and where our ideas are met with like minded support and agreement. The advantages of networking are many. And do not get me wrong- I am a huge fan. I believe Personal Learning Networks are one of the three prongs necessary to be a do it yourself learner in today’s world. But for all the positive connections, laughter, links, and ideas that networks bring, they only are the tip of what is needed to produce lasting change. I do not have to commit to anything when I network. I can be witty or not and still be part of the “cool kids”. Networks are very “me” centered in that I choose my mentors, feeds, resources, learning objects and those with whom I will learn. I am in control. I can be very visible and yet still quite passive in my learning. I can talk and talk and talk and never have to walk or put action to my ideas. I even get my need for belonging met (Maslow) and self esteem. And sometimes I meet others and from there we create a community where we do act collectively. For me, that is the key. If all I do is network I do not shift or grow because I am missing the opportunity to go deep and actually learn by doing. It takes both: Networks and Community. Online, global communities of practice and f2f learning communities in my local context.
Imagine the deep learning that can be produced when we come together in learning communities and do some of the following (below). These are the kinds of things that our Powerful Learning Practice communities members who dig deep engage in through out the year. And the impact is strong– don’t believe me? Look at what they say.
Action Research Groups: Active research done by communities of practice focused on improvement around a possibility or problem in a classroom, school, district, or province.
Book Study Groups: PLPeeps, often in cross cohort groups, come together to read and discuss a book collectively in an online space.
Case Study Method: Case studies emphasize detailed contextual analysis of specific situations and their relationships to current thinking and pedagogy. Writing, discussing and reflecting on the cases from 21st Century lens produces collaborative reflection and improvement on practice.
Community of Practice (CoP): A CoP is group of professionals with shared interests and challenges who make a commitment to improve or get better at something over time by sharing ideas, finding solutions, and creating innovations. This requires new dispositions and values such as resisting the urge to quit prematurely.
Connected Coaching: individuals on teams are assigned a connected coach who discusses and shares teaching practices as a means of promoting collegiality and support and to help educators think about how the new literacies inform current teaching practices.
Critical Friends Groups (CFG): A professional learning team consisting of approximately 5-10 educators who come together voluntarily face to face at least once a month. Members are committed to improving their practice through collaborative learning. Using a CF protocols they examine each other’s teaching or leadership activities and share both positives and areas that need improvement in respectful ways.
Curriculum Review or Mapping Groups: Teams meet on a regular basis to review what they are teaching, reflect together on impact of and assumptions that underlie the curriculum, make decisions collaboratively. They often do lesson plan studies together.
Instructional Rounds: A process through which educators develop a shared practice of observing each other and analyzing learning and teaching from a research perspective and share expertise. Included in this is typically a way to examine how students are working toward becoming connected learners.
Personal Learning Network (PLN): A carefully selected tribe of people or resources who guid learning, point to learning opportunities, give quick answers to questions, and share knowledge and experience.
Professional Learning Communities (PLC): Face to face collections of educators who continuously seek and share learning and then act on what they learn. If done right they are teacher driven and use a distributive leadership model. Individuals take what they learn in their PLN, and CoPs back to the PLC and contextualize the information toward helping students in the school or district achieve.
Scale: Scaling up is a process of transitioning an idea or project from pilot implementation to full implementation in the following stages:
- Depth – developing innovations that produce deep, transformative, and consequential changes in instructional practice;
- Sustainability – maintaining durable changes in practice over substantial periods of time through robust designs;
- Spread – widespread adoption that retains effectiveness while reducing the resources and expertise burden;
- Shift – the innovations need to be “owned” by the users who then begin to view themselves as co-designers and co-evaluators; and
- Evolution – the feedback loops from users to designers that allow all to adapt and rethink the model.
Self-Directed Learning: Making decisions about how to advance one’s own practice including reading books, visiting colleagues in their classrooms, transparently sharing through blogs and in online communities, attending webinars, going to a conference, networking, and collectively doing action research.
Old hat — I think not.
I simply do not think most schools are doing these things in online communities with people they have never met but have made a deep commitment to in terms of growing together and developing a collective efficacy from a none of us is as good or smart as all of us mentality. There is nothing, at least from the way I see it, old hat about learning in such deep and powerful ways collectively.
Please Reply… Tell me if I am crazy.
I would be very interested in what you think. Am I missing it? Am I on this island all by myself and everyone else has moved on? Are you regularly involved in the types of learning experiences I described above as connected learners?