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?