I recently had the honour of presenting to a neighbouring school district about my journey in developing on online personal learning network (PLN) and becoming a connected leader. The slides from the presentation are below but here is a brief (ok, this is LONG for a blog post) summary of my journey into tapping into the most effective, ongoing professional learning in which I have ever been involved.
In 2009, my wife and I met with a good friend, Kye Grace – who is a bit of an online marketing guru, about how we could use social media to help market her dance studio. About halfway through lunch, while listening to him describe how using a Facebook Page and Twitter could help our business, he said “you know, I am sure there are a few educators on Twitter you could network with and learn from… and I think the parents of your school might like a Facebook Page to read about all the good things happening at your school”.
Following this meeting, I played on Twitter for about a month and followed business folks, sports reporters, and a few authors with a personal account I created; we also created a Facebook Page for the dance studio. I then took the plunge – I spoke to the staff and then created a Facebook Page called “Parent Info For Kent Elementary” and opened a Twitter account (@mrwejr) that I would use to also send messages to parents. Little did I know that this new Twitter account would lead me on a journey to meet passionate and inspiring educators from around the world.
The first real connection I made was with a teacher from Alberta, Joe Bower. I came across Joe’s article “For the Love of Learning” and he basically described the journey I had gone through with my master’s program; I, too, began to question the use of grades, rewards, and punishment in schools. Joe and I began to write through email and he recommended I read books by Alfie Kohn, Carol Dweck, Daniel Pink, and Seth Godin. Looking back – these authors and the resulting conversations with people around these books have helped to develop my evolving philosophy of education.
After about a year of tweeting and reading other educators’ blogs, I dove in and created the “Wejr Board” blog (some mocked my last name Wee-jer and called me Wejr Board in high school). The blog was to be a place for me to get my thoughts out there and create dialogue around education with parents, teachers and other educators. A few months after I began writing, our school made a decision to end our current awards ceremony; I followed this meeting up with a blog post titled “Death of an Awards Ceremony“. Up until this point, getting 100 views on each post was about the norm… when checking the analytics of the site on this post, I had over 1000 views in a single day – what I realized was that Alfie Kohn had actually tweeted out my post. Not only was this exciting but it also led me to connect with many other educators with similar thoughts; more importantly, it helped me to gain confidence in being challenged as an educator as many people did not agree with our school’s decision. Getting challenged online has significantly helped me in face-to-face dialogue; I have realized that getting challenged helps me grow as an educator and it is important to respond professionally rather than react defensively.
During the rest of 2010, I truly began to realize how social media could power up my PLN. I joined the “Connected Principals” blog site (created by George Couros and Patrick Larkin) that helped me network with many other administrators from other parts of the world. I read and was inspired by George’s post on “Identity Day” so I stole this idea (a huge benefit of a PLN… stealing ideas) of having students complete a project on themselves and presented this to my staff; because this aligned well with our school goals, we hosted our own Identity Day in April, 2011 (and will have another one Feb, 2012). The fact that I had connected with George led our school to host this inspiring event that left me watching every student in our school proudly present on a strength or interest they had. Not only had connecting with other educators benefited my learning but now it was clear that these connections were benefiting the students in our school. Our students have also grown through connecting with other classes through teacher-assisted email, posting blogs and using Skype.
A huge Aha! moment came for me when I attended Edcamp Vancouver later that month. My previous professional development experience was that I would attend a workshop, sit in the back and take notes, come back to the school and try to implement some of the ideas in a school or classroom (and usually after a few weeks, the excitement would fizzle out). This experiences demonstrated the benefit of an online PLN. I found out about the (un)conference through some key members of my PLN (David Wees in particular). I then started to get excited by chatting with other educators who were planning on attending. When I arrived at the school, it was like meeting old friends for the first time. I felt I knew so much about these people – their philosophies, their classrooms and schools, even their families – yet I had never met them! The day was spent with endless passionate dialogue around how we could create positive change in change educations; these conversations carried on in blogs and Twitter and continue to this day (we are planning Edcamp Fraser Valley for December 3, 2011). The excitement remained as I attended the Edtech BC conference that was keynoted by another friend (George Couros) whom I had spoken with online through a variety of means but never met. You can imagine how hanging out with the keynote speakers George and Alec Couros for 2 days picking their brains about education and life made my conference experience. My whole professional learning experience, both online and face-to-face, has significantly improved since this journey began.
Not only has the development of my PLN helped me as an educator, but it has also helped me on creating more avenues to communicate with parents. People like Bill Ferriter, Sheila Stewart, and Heidi Hass Gable (along with a number of parents within our community) have helped to meet parents where they are. At our school we now use Facebook, Twitter, Remind101, Flickr, YouTube, WordPress and many other tools to help us connect with the families in our school community. The key for me is to use tools to develop communication WITH parents rather than only TO parents. Instead of only handing out our newsletters in paper form (TO), we now have them in blog form so parents can offer feedback and questions (WITH) .
My PLN used to consist of our school staff, district admin team and the odd list serve; it was effective but primarily LOCAL. Now, not only do I have my local PLN, but through the use of Facebook, blogs and Twitter (also Google+ and LinkedIn), my PLN also consists of thousands of educators and is now GLOBAL. I have tapped in to my PLN to help plan staff meetings around motivation, literacy, and assessment and have also used it to continually collaborate with other passionate educators to help me grow not only as a leader but also as a LEARNER. Twitter has become my own personalized human search engine as I am able to plug in to people with experience who can answer my questions. Twitter actually SAVES me time.
This learning journey is just beginning for me. I encourage you to tap into the resources at your fingertips. Use social media to become a connected learner. Thank you to ALL those who have helped me on my learning journey.
When beginning your journey, be patient. Observe. Build relationships. Seek out intellectual collisions. You will have that Aha! moment and when you do, you will never look back. For some of my thoughts on using social media, please see the slides embedded below.