21st-Century PLNs for School Leaders | Edutopia

What’s a PLN? It stands for “personal learning network.” I’ve been in computers and education for many years and still had to Google the acronym.

There are three main bullet points: Joining and connecting through Twitter, reading education blogs, and finally writing education blogs. Many useful links are provided for educators to explore and use. The end result of PLN is better informed and better prepared educators!

If you are interested in creating a PLN, read the suggestions in the blog below from Edutopia‘s web site. The post appears to be aimed mainly at school administrators and teacher leaders, but I believe it is equally applicable to all educators, whether K-12 or post-secondary. It offers some great pointers on PLNs that can be used to connect educators to educators and, by extension, educators to students. Read on.

21st-Century PLNs for School Leaders | Edutopia.

George Couros

George Couros (@gcouros on Twitter) is the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division, a large district near Edmonton, Alberta. He believes that, as educators, “We need to inspire our kids to follow their passions, while letting them inspire us to do the same.”

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As many school administrators are enjoying their summer break, we all tend to think of ways that we can make our school better in the upcoming year. Often, I point school principals and district leaders to a powerful post by Will Richardson that helps us point the finger right at ourselves when we are looking to push our school ahead. Richardson states:

“Meaningful change ain’t gonna happen for our kids if we’re not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it’s not about schools . . . it’s about us.”

With that being said, I have spent the last few years focusing a great deal on my work as an instructional leader within my role as school-based principal, and now as division principal. Although building relationships is the most important thing that we can do in our schools, in my opinion being an instructional leader is a close second.

With all of the new technologies that are surrounding us, and to the many school administrators that are not feeling comfortable with Twitter, Facebook, etc., I would like to suggest three ways (as opposed to the typical round number of 10) that you can focus on your own professional development over the summer. Less is oftentimes more in the digital world as we move from simply being “literate” to “fluent” in this language.

So for the administrator new to the world of social media and all of the possibilities that it holds for developing instructional leadership, here are three ways that I would suggest starting to learn this summer

1) Start a Twitter Account

Twitter is not just about “what I had for breakfast” (although I did have a delicious omelette at my favourite breakfast place this morning). There are a ton of educators on Twitter that are connecting and learning from one another, while building some global relationships that will be invaluable to the future of their own professional development, as well as their schools. Two years ago, it was something that I swore to stay away from, but in those short two years, Twitter has made more of an impact on my learning than any professional development opportunity I have ever been a part of, and dare I say, much more than my undergraduate and graduate work. The learning is real, the ideas are powerful yet simple, and the connections to resources and people are infinite.

To start, simply go to Twitter and create an account. Once there, you can follow the people on this list of educators, which will immediately start filling your column with great ideas and resources. If you are lost, you can often ask questions from Twitter sherpas like Dean Shareskior Alec Couros, two guys always willing to help. You are also welcome to connect with me, and I would be more than willing to help guide you in this world that isn’t as confusing as it may seem. You can also use the Twitter Search tool and look at tweets from school administrators, or on the topic of educational leadership through the #cpchat hashtag.

If you are not sure what you want to put out there, I wrote this post, What should a networked educational leader tweet about?, to help school leaders share in a way that will benefit their own learning. Once you start to create your own Personal Learning Network (PLN), you may also want to look at creating a Twitter account for your school.

There are a ton of benefits from joining Twitter, but until you immerse yourself in using it, you will not be able to share them with those you serve.

“Go the way, know the way, show the way.” (John C. Maxwell)

2) Read Blogs

Now that you have started connecting and learning using Twitter, you will probably have figured out that most content worth sharing goes way past 140 characters. With that being said, many school administrators are looking for content specific to their position, especially since the position of school principal can be quite isolating.

A great blog to start at is the Connected Principals site, where a ton of school- and division-based administrators share some of their best work within their schools. Although this site does have some great ideas, there are many other administrator blogs out there which may be of interest to you. Edudemic does an excellent piece on 20 Educator Administrator Blogs, which will lead you to some great writing of administrators that continuously share those ideas.

If you are using Google Reader (which you have if you have a gmail account), you can easily subscribe to a bundle I have created that will update you on blogs as authors post them, which will save you from constantly checking the site for updates. (Contact me for details.) In general, there are a lot of other good educator blogs as well, which share some great ideas for your school.

There is some great information out there and hopefully this will have helped you on the right path.

3) Write a Blog

Now that you have had access to some beneficial learning through Twitter and blogging, how will you share this with your staff and the world? Many leaders find that sharing links through email is a great way to start aggregating resources for staff, but many others are annoyed by all these messages. However, with these media opening up the world, it is important that, as school leaders, we share our learning back.

Dean Shareski shared the idea that blogging makes better teachers, so it is logical that school administrators do the same:

“There’s a natural transparency that emerges. The teachers who blog as professionals in this reflective manner in my district invite anyone to look into their classrooms and you can get a picture of what happens on a daily basis. This goes a long way in addressing accountability concerns.”

So where would one even start?

Although there are plenty of blogging platforms out there (EdublogsBloggerTumblr, etc.), I would suggest using WordPress. It is free, has no advertisements and is simple to use. There is also a ton of support.

Reading other blogs, you may develop some ideas of what you want to write about, but if you are stuck, I started You Should Read, a weekly blog post that shares some great online articles that I’ve discovered. This is an easy way to start sharing some of the brilliant stuff you are reading, an easy way to start writing, and an opportunity to spark discussion with your staff and the global community. The best leaders not only can speak, but also have the ability to be good listeners. Blogging becomes a way to listen to your readers and learn from them while sharing your own knowledge.

Conclusion

Many look at tweeting and blogging as technocentric or even narcissistic, yet I look at them as ways of learning and connecting. There are so many real educators out there who want to get better at what they do so that they can always do what is best for kids. By opening up your own learning to the world, you will be surprised not only how your knowledge elevates, but how your passion for teaching and learning will benefit as well. Two years ago, a group of generous people spent time with me to help me learn about this awesome network, and I am glad to be doing the same for others now. Hopefully this will give you a good start.

 

This Edutopia post’s URL: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/21st-century-PLNs-school-leaders-george-couros

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A Six-Point Checklist for Education Innovators | Edutopia

This is a recent post from Edutopia that can help you determine if you are an education innovator (or if you think someone else might be).

A Six-Point Checklist for Education Innovators | Edutopia.

BY SUZIE BOSS
7/10/12

This blog is an excerpt from the bookBringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing Worldpublished June 2012 by Solution Tree.

Whether innovators are drumming up new business ideas or hard at work solving community problems, they share certain characteristics. They tend to be action-oriented. They know how to network. They’re willing to take calculated risks. They look ahead, anticipating benefits that others might not have imagined yet. They work to overcome obstacles. Especially in the social sector, they’re generous about sharing what they know and eager to help good ideas grow. When educators exhibit these qualities, they show students how innovators think and act. They become innovation role models.

If you’re a teacher looking for opportunities to bring innovation into the classroom, start by considering your own strengths and weaknesses as an innovator. If you’re a school leader, think about how you encourage — or discourage — innovation among your staff. Here are six questions to consider.

Are You Action Oriented?

Taking action is a hallmark of innovators. It’s equally true whether you’re talking about educators developing new projects or social entrepreneurs implementing life-saving approaches to health care. Stanford University’s d.school, a global hotbed of design thinking and innovation, calls this trait a bias toward action. It’s about “doing and making over thinking and meeting.”

In the classroom, a take-action teacher recognizes opportunities. This is the kind of educator who spots a new idea and thinks, “I can do something with this.”

Do You Know How to Network?

Educators who are determined to unleash their students’ innovative capacities show another common characteristic. They are eager to share. They know how to network. Using Web 2.0 tools, many of today’s innovative teachers and school leaders are thinking aloud about what’s working and what’s hard in their classrooms and communities. Their blogs, tweets and wikis open a window on ideas at the formative stage. Their thoughtful reflections also allow others to learn from their examples and build on their insights, demonstrating the power of social networks to grow good ideas.

Educators who know how to network take part in online and in-person communities to advance their professional learning.

Are You Willing to Take Risks?

It may feel risky to learn in public, but educators who take this approach are modeling what it means to be a risk-taker — another known quality of innovators. Educators who are risk-takers are likely to be applying for grants or accessing resources in other creative ways, piloting new instructional approaches, or challenging policies that limit students’ ability to learn.

Can You Look Ahead?

Here’s the tricky part about innovation: it’s hard to see it coming. Once an innovative idea or product has taken hold, it’s difficult to imagine doing without it. (Can you recall a time before seatbelts or smartphones?) Because innovation creates a new normal, it’s often only in hindsight that we can see the wisdom of breakthrough ideas.

The challenge comes at the early stage, when it’s tempting to dismiss novel ideas as impractical or impossible. Glen Bull, an education professor at University of Virginia, emphasizes the importance of looking ahead so you can position yourself to catch the early wave of a promising classroom strategy or emerging technology. This is part of the innovator’s mindset, too. Although many of today’s teachers and students would be hard-pressed to remember a time before schools had access to the Internet, this online world was once an untested, even controversial idea for education. “When we first proposed connecting all public schools to the Internet, people thought that was craziest thing they’d ever heard of,” Bull admits. “What people missed seeing was the trajectory — imagining where this could go. You have to consciously link [innovations] to learning outcomes.”

Now, Bull and his team are hard at work on a new project that introduces children to engineering with the use of inexpensive desktop fabricators — a kind of 3-D printer. “We’re right at the cusp,” he says, “in the same way that we caught the leading edge of the Internet revolution. We expect this to be just as profound.”

Educators who know how to look ahead are able to anticipate the benefits of introducing promising approaches or technologies.

Can You Overcome Obstacles?

Innovation can be a messy process, fraught with failure and frustration. Even in the business world, where there’s tolerance for risk if it might lead to financial rewards, the quest for new ideas can get messy. If educators can accept the creative mess that comes along with the process, innovation stands a chance.

Educators who have the innovator’s mindset don’t get frustrated by “yeah, but . . .” thinking. They find workarounds to obstacles, whether that means being creative about securing resources, finding flexibility within the curriculum, or overcoming technology barriers so that students have access to the powerful tools they need.

Do You Help Good Ideas Grow?

Innovative educators find a way to move ideas ahead. They not only recognize opportunities, but also know how to create them. And once they hit on a good idea, they make sure to spread the word. Being able to take a worthy idea to scale is one more quality that innovators share.

Educators with this mindset know how to build buzz for good ideas. They find allies and brainstorming partners. They build collaborative platforms, such as project wikis that others can join and expand. They open windows to the innovation happening in their classroom by inviting the community to project showcase events or posting video documentaries of student accomplishments.

When these qualities come together in the classroom, students stand to gain. Antero Garcia offers a good example. As a high school English teacher in a high-poverty neighborhood of Los Angeles, he regularly designed learning experiences such as alternate reality games that engaged students in new ways. These experiences have unfolded because he stays on the lookout for connections and expertise beyond the classroom. He looks for opportunities in which students can influence their community. He reflects publicly about these projects on his blog, The American Crawl, as well as on collaborative publishing sites like the National Writing Project’s Digital IS.

Innovation is not a word you hear much in teaching circles or as a way to describe what teachers do. In my experience as a teacher,” Garcia says, “no one’s ever called us innovators.” The very word “sounds disruptive,” he adds, but in a good way. “If used authentically by the teaching profession, innovation could be a way to turn things around.”

Imagine the energy we might unleash if we can encourage more of these qualities, among educators and students alike.

URL for this Edutopia post: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/checklist-for-education-innovators-suzie-boss

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Summer Seminar Gets Personal | ED.gov Blog

From today’s “Homeroom,” the Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education:

Recently teachers from across the country participated in a summer seminar to grapple with an emerging hot topic in education:  how to personalize learning in a classroom full of diverse students with varying interests, skills and learning styles.

The seminar, held at the U.S. Department of Education and via webinar, included presenters who are current and former classroom teachers who offered both the theory and practical strategies for teachers interested in moving their classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Summer Seminar Gets Personal | ED.gov Blog.

URL: http://www.ed.gov/blog/2012/07/summer-seminar-gets-personal/

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