PD Cafeteria Style: Picking and Choosing What I Learn (and whom I learn it from)

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by on November 29, 2008 and tagged , ,

I am a social studies teacher in the middle of my fourth year of teaching. If you are looking to read a blog that has “authority” on Technorati then please move on. According to Feedburner I have five subscribers. Do I find this discouraging? Not really. I consider my blog to be my little slice of the Web. It gives me a place to write, reflect, or vent. I am thrilled each time anyone responds to my posts because it gives me a chance to discuss what is on my mind.

About a month ago someone I follow on Twitter inquired as to what percent of our PD is formal (officially provided by school) and what percent is informal (from our PLN’s). I said that about 95% of my PD is informal. The honest answer is that about 100% of the new things I learn come from my PLN. I don’t know if those numbers are true for everyone who is part of a learning network, but I have a hunch that it is.

Why is this? Why do we turn to blogs, Nings, and Twitter to learn? If you have ever sat through an inservice that had absolutely no meaning to you then you already know the answer to that question. When we are part of a network we get to pick who we learn from and we get to pick the topics that we want to learn more about. It is like a cafeteria! I follow about 130 people on Twitter.  I have a nice blend of “top dogs” in education, educational technologists, Moodlers, and regular teachers like myself. I have Twitterfox set to update every five minutes. I see literally hundreds of tweets a day. About 75% are educational in nature while the rest are personal. Are the personal ones still valuable? Of course they are. It reminds me that the people I am following have families and lives outside of education and the Twitterverse. I get a great deal of satisfaction from being part of an online network. Even though I may never meet the vast majority of my PLN in person, I still feel a connection to them because we have things in common. I don’t always have things in common with the people that I work with each day.

If it is possible to gain good and useful information in an informal way then why do schools try so hard to discourage teachers from participation in a PLN? Some schools go so far as to tell teachers that they cannot even use Facebook on their own time. I guess I can count myself amongst the lucky. While my principal is not a blogger and not incredibly active online, he is very aware of the benefits of PLN’s.  We are encouraged to be active in our PLN during the school day. (Keep in mind that I only spend half of the day with “live” students. I teach online the other half of the day.)  ALL teachers have planning time and where do you suppose most of them end up? Yes…….in the teachers lounge! Imagine a school where teachers have the option of using that block of time to reach out to other teachers in their PLN. Maybe that teacher updates their Facebook or Ning pages. Maybe they write a blog post. Maybe they catch up on reading their favorite blogs. Maybe they get on Skype and set up a interactive video conference with a classroom on the other side of the world.

By blocking access to social networking sites schools are depriving teachers of legitimate opportunities to grow and become better educators. Administrators are concerned that teachers might spend class time on these sites. If there is a clear policy in place that stipulates when teachers can be on these sites then this should NOT be an issue.

There are amazing educators from around the world who have so much to offer, but their voices will never be heard because the sites where they are active are blocked. This needs to change…………..but how?

7 Responses to “PD Cafeteria Style: Picking and Choosing What I Learn (and whom I learn it from)”

  1.   Mobbsey Says:

    There’s an urgent need for social networking and PLNs which go beyond school, district and even national boundaries to move from being feared by administrators to being embraced.

    Without my online PLN I’d be stagnating – there are very few opportunities for me to have the level of conversations I need to have about the future of education, the tools available online, the possibilities, within my own school/district. Either my direct colleagues aren’t interested or aren’t yet able to extend me beyond where I’m at.

    Look for a deeper reflection on this topic later today on my blog – you’ve hit a nerve! Thanks!


  2.   Wesley Fryer Says:

    Beth: I think fear of lawsuits as well as a lack of vision explain a lot of the behavior you’re asking about when it comes to school policies and social networking. I also think it comes down to school officials often taking the easy way out. It’s easier to ban all cell phones than try and implement a policy where we help students learn how to appropriately use them. Same goes for social networking sites. It is more difficult to operate in the grey areas of what is appropriate / not appropriate than just outright ban everything.


  3.   Mobbsey Says:
  4.   Richard Platts Says:

    My school has attempted a more flexible method of PD, though I don’t see it revolutionizing the way we do things. Teachers are required to do between 12 – 18 hours of PD which they select from a menu of offerings, mostly after school sessions. The downside is that those sessions are frequently canceled and not well attended, as the vast majority of teachers choose to complete these hours during the summer on departmental projects and planning. The sad thing is that this means that almost no technology PD is done in the school.

    I too have found that my PLN leads me in directions that I would never go if I relied upon my school to provide me with their in-house training. This is not a knock on my school, per se, but nobody can provide in-house, that which is abounding in spaces like this, interactions between engaged professionals.

    I’m fortunate enough that most of the sites you mentioned are not blocked. Though I would bet that there is a pretty significant chunk of my (and your) colleagues who are not “engaged professionals”, they may be good teachers, well meaning and caring people, but you know there are plenty who don’t have the same thoughts about online networking as us. What do w do to convince them? Without making it look like a lot more ‘work’ or a ‘fad’?


  5.   Mary Cooch Says:

    Just to say I can relate totally to your post. I’d never have thought (coming from a 1970′s education with text books and lecturers) that I’d end up learning virtually all I now know in my current role from networking – and our students should do this to, but with our guidance .(It is after all very easy to get distracted by the likes of Twitter, hugely useful though it is!) Banning sites such as twitter/ning/blogger/ et al deprives students of the means to learn how to sift through and evaluate the vast range of information available out there – and of course it cuts off us teachers too. Why should I have to take in my laptop with my mobile broadband dongle in order to access an educational website blocked by county?


  6.   Cory Plough Says:

    On top of it all, there is no evidence that formal PD actually leads to student achievement. Then again, there is no evidence that informal PD does either, but I like to think that me being a better learner transfers over to my students. Even if the research cant isolate that. I can tell you this, I am not a better learner from anything my school does in inservices.


  7.   Beth Still Says:

    I think so much of it comes down to schools taking the easy way out. It is easier to ban everything outright than change policies or make exceptions. I wish schools would at least allow teachers to use these tools so they can see how they work and that they have legitimate educational value.

    @Mobbsey I rely on my PLN for nearly everything I learn. I feel like I am reading words that came out of my head when I read your reply.

    @Mary I don’t understand how schools can ban these sites. The draft of the Nebraska Language Arts standards states that students must learn how to use things like social networks, videoconferencing, online collaboration, etc. Very frustrating!

    I wonder what would happen if teachers tried to submit attendance at webinars as proof of professional growth? I cannot think of many formal sessions I have sat through where I have learned more than I do when I participate in these activities. Seems reasonable to me.

    @Cory I have attended one inservice in 4 years that is worth my time. It was the one I attended early last spring and Howie DiBlasi was the presenter. He talked about digital story telling, blogging, wikis, and interactive video conferencing. I was just starting to dabble with Web 2.0 tools at that point so I was completely impressed. This year McRel has been asked to do the ONE session that focuses on technology. I do not know much about them, but they seem very data driven. I don’t need to sit in a room all day and listen to statistics!



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