The Importance of Developing a Personal Learning Network

I am forever trying to improve upon the staff development opportunities offered on my campus because I would like them to be authentic and actually challenge and provoke thoughts and new ideas amongst my staff.

I always get reflective about our staff development practices during this time of year because, although I think my campus offers much more relevant and engaging PD than most campuses, our attendance begins to peter out once teachers have earned their “required staff development credit.” This irks me be because I need teachers to want to continually learn and grow – to learn for the sake of learning, trying new things and challenging themselves.

So, on my drive in to work the other day, I was thinking of how I learn best and where my content comes from… and surprise… it isn’t in staff development sessions. The majority of new ideas and new resources is introduced to me through my Personal Learning Network, so I began to formulate an idea of how to restructure our staff development to offer the same learning opportunity to my staff.

I would like them to understand what a PLN is, the importance of it, and how to develop one… and then… I would like to be able to “grant” them SD credit for participating and learning from their PLN.

So, I have a plan of how to do this in my mind, but I need some feedback from you all to help me get it organized.

So here are my thoughts…

  • The Teaching and Learning Tuesday that will be offered on Tuesday of next week will be a time for me to introduce the idea of PLN’s, demo the tools I use to develop and follow my PLN, have a few others share their PLN’s, and then brainstorm how to introduce the Personal Learning Network SD plan to the campus.
  • BTW – I am planning on sharing Google Reader, Twitter and Delicious as my main PLN tools (among with informal meetings with people on my campus).
  • Theses are my initial thoughts on the plan – teachers will “write” an individualized plan including what their PLN will entail, what they hope to learn and how they will incorporate these new ideas into their classroom.
  • The problem arises with granting the “credits.” The district requires each teacher to earn a certain amount of SD credits each school year and the hours have to be documented. My thought is that the plan teachers create will culminate in a presentation or “interview” with myself and/or the staff development VP where they can discuss what they learned and how they used this information to improve their teaching.
  • Teachers will be able to choose the topic they would like to learn more about (within the confines of district/campus goals).

So with that all said… here are the problems I forsee and need your help working out…

  • I don’t want the PLN staff development plan to result in “credit grubbing” and me or someone else having to decide that this person did something amazing so they earn 6 hours of credit while this person didn’t do much so they only earn 3 hours.
  • Essentially, I would like the PLN staff development plan to motivate teachers to learn more about their topic and the credits just be a bonus on the side.
  • And, how do I document all this stuff?

I would really love your thoughts, and if you are a member of my staff (and even if you are not, you are welcome to join us), I encourage you to attend Tuesday and help us brainstorm.

I have had some help in developing my thoughts on PLN’s and most of the ideas have come from some of the people I “follow.” Here are a couple of the posts that have helped spur my latest staff development undertaking:

All of these thoughts are a work in progress, so please leave me some feedback (constructive criticism encourage as well).

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11 Comments on “The Importance of Developing a Personal Learning Network”

  1. Dave Says:

    Thank you! This is definitely something that needs to happen everywhere, so it’s exciting to see you taking steps.

    I’ve thought about trying to get PD credit for my PLN time as well, and never came up with something solid enough to sell the idea all by myself….but I’ve thought about it a lot.

    If you try to work just by the numbers, it’s too hard of a sell to any crotchety administrators who don’t ‘get’ PLN. At some point you have to argue that ‘X’ hours of PLN time is equal to ‘Y’ hours of traditional classroom PD, and someone will always complain.

    I like the idea of keeping a PLN log. As teachers are reading/posting/tweeting, if they come across a really great idea or a conversation that they feel is really constructive and helpful, they can jot down a few informal notes about what was said, what they want to take away from it, and enough information that they could come back and revisit it. Then, you credit each of these notes with 5 or 10 (or 1) minutes of PD. The tricky part with this is that there’s always obsessive notes takers who will write down everything they ever see online instead of just the things that truly resonate…they might need a system where they can write everything, but star or highlight the rarer things that really are directly applicable to their work.

    The awesome advantage to the log is that it forces a little extra thought as far as deciding what to write down, exists as a helpful reference to the teacher, and results in tangible evidence of the learning that takes place.

    No matter how you do it, I’d focus on building a guide that employees and bosses can use for creating their own system. If you lock things down too specifically, then you lose advantages that PLN provides as far as exploring new ways to learn.

    You said that you want the PLN plan to help motivate, too, but I think that’s putting the cart before the horse. If someone doesn’t want to do PLN because there’s no formal recognition, your plan will help. If they just don’t think they need to learn anything or aren’t willing to spend time on it, then that’s an entirely separate issue.

  2. Maureen Says:

    I think it is a good idea. I think most of us have personal learning networks without even really realizing it or calling that. I don’t even think they necessarily need to be all technological. Even just talking with peers about ideas and reading educational or subject area journals could be part of your personal learning network.

    I think there would have to be a limit on the number of credits you can get for PLN hours to encourage people to also widen their horizons and try a couple of other things rather than as you said just trying to “credit grub” for every little thing we do. Otherwise I know I personally would be tempted to just do PLN hours rather than finding an interesting T&L.

    I think a short presentation or shared description of some things in our PLN would probably be the best way to obtain credit for it. That way we can share some resources in our network and if they are posted online other people can check them out and see if they like them to add to their own PLN.

    I think the best way to do the credits would be to keep it simple. If you do a PLN plan and post some of your resources and some examples of what you have learned from them then you get X number of credits (maybe 2 or 3). If we make it a set number it takes the burden off of you and the administrators to decide who deserves what. Also the sharing them online will hopefully make people more likely to do a better job and create something nice to share that might interest others. I think the time spent on the PLN would be more than the credits it’s worth but it would be more individualized and hopefully therefore more meaningful.

  3. astevens Says:

    Dave,

    I like your idea of keeping a PLN log… that might help us with the documentation portion.

    I am hoping to keep the PLN plan as simple and flexible as possible while still getting it to be approved for credit… wish me luck!

    Thank you for your input!

  4. astevens Says:

    Maureen,

    Thanks for your suggestions. I definitely agree that the PLN does not have to be technologically based, and I think you are probably correct as far as assigning the hours go.

    Hopefully we will get some more good ideas and be able to put a plan in place.

  5. Scott Says:

    Wonderful idea! The first thing that popped into my head about tracking things was using delicious. Since you’re introducing that anyway, your teachers could bookmark all participation in their PLN online with delicious…any tweets they send/receive, any blogs/comments they post, etc. That way, all of the documentation of their participation is online and available to multiple people at the same time, as well as the teachers having the ability to update their “log” in real time.

    I think something that needs to be stressed, though, is participation in the network. You can’t just expect to lurk and learn. Being part of a learning network requires sharing on both ends.

  6. jwitter Says:

    I think you should introduce PLNs and leave out the credits. In reality, the credits are insignificant. What matters is the learning.

    All you are doing is telling teachers how they can learn more efficiently. Either they will or they will not. Credits are not enough to force a teacher to learn. Neither is money. Can you save me time? Can you show me what I should be modeling for my students, since PLNs will likely be the most influential way they learn in their life?

    That I would show up for.


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