Sunday, April 4, 2010

Teachers are Students & Learners Too

When I was back in Squamish for a visit last week, and I kept bumping into former students at the gas station, the grocery store, the local coffee shop and the post office. It is always so heartwarming to be greeted with a smile and “hey Ms. H, where have you been lately?” When I tell them that I took the year off teaching to become a student again, the typical response is “Cool! What are you studying?” My quick answer is usually along the lines of “Doing my masters in library studies” but truthfully, the real answer is much more complex than that. I have taken so many interesting and challenging courses this year that have given me increased knowledge and many new skills in the field of teacher-librarianship, but the most rewarding part of becoming a student again has been learning how to build my own personal learning network (PLN) through the use of new technologies. I now know that “lifelong learning is now possible in ways [I] never imagined” (Guhlin, 2009).

PLNs are learning opportunities that provide a way to move from professional development as a special event, such as a workshop or a once a year conference to “a continuous flow of learning” (Guhlin, 2009). There are many ways to develop a PLN, and many interactive and collaborative tools to use including twitter, nings, social networks, blogs, and social bookmarking sites like Diigo. A PLN becomes a “dedicated learning environment [which] is unique to each individual” and its efficacy depends on how much or how little you chose to share and learn from other individuals in your PLN (Kapuler, 2009). “What makes PLNs so great is that they are different for everybody but their goals are usually the same. That goal is to learn and share knowledge and to find a passion and follow it to the best of your ability” (Kapuler, 2009). This year I have been working on my graduate studies in relative geographic isolation, but I have found an incredible network of people who are passionate about Web 2.0 technology, teaching and libraries with whom I can engage in ongoing discussions and share resources with in an online, global environment. “Technology allows us to reach out and build communities based on resonance and commonality” and I have been very fortunate to find people that I can connect with, and who will continue to support my learning while I am both a student and a teacher (Tchcruiser, 2009). As teacher-librarian at my school, I often felt like I was working in isolation and didn’t have any colleagues to collaborate with regularly. I now feel that I have a supportive community of colleagues with whom I can ask questions and receive timely answers, discuss topics of interest with and who will help me stay aware of educational trends.

Building a PLN diagram. Sue waters.

I have been inspired to build my PLN and continue my professional development because it perfectly fit my learning needs this year. But I wonder how can I inspire and help my other colleagues build their own PLNs and become more comfortable using new strategies and technologies in their own classrooms? It has been shown that “technology infusion without professional development wrapped around it just doesn’t work, and can backfire” (Ketterer, 2008, p. 11). There are many methods and models upon which to design Educational Technology Professional Development (ETPD) and I highly recommend the “One Size Doesn’t Fit All” series of articles by Judi Harris, which not only details 20 different models to design professional development sessions, but also discusses which types of models suit various learning styles and how to assess if the training is effective. A variety of models should be used and the professional development sessions will be most effective if they “align with participating teachers’ professional learning needs, interests and contextual realities” (Harris, 2008, p.19). For teachers to ‘buy into’ furthering their own professional development and using new forms of technology, I truly believe that they need to see how it can benefit their own teaching practice. The national Staff Development Council (NSDC) has concluded that for effective professional development to occur for teachers it should (Harris, 2008, p.21):
• be conducted in school settings
• be linked to school wide efforts
• be concrete
• be planned and offered by teachers
• be differentiated according to teacher’s differing needs and interests
• address goals and contain learning activities that are chosen by teachers
• emphasize demonstrations, trials of new tools and techniques and provide opportunities for participants to both receive and give feedback
• be ongoing over time
• provide ongoing assistance and support

To initiate, encourage and support other teachers in this type of peer-to peer network, and provide mentorship, Gagliolo (2008, p.39) suggests the following steps:
1. Plan collaboratively with a focus on student learning
2. Create a network of support by holding regular meetings and short training sessions
3. Create professional development opportunities led by teacher coaches
4. co-teach in the classroom to provide extra support when implementing new ideas or technology
5. Observe classroom learning with constructive feedback
6. Celebrate success by sharing at staff meetings or posting on the school website

Most importantly, one of my colleagues pointed out this week, that before we begin “our quest to move into a more integrated technology-supported professional development model we first need to have a clear sense of what we are about and why” (Jorgenson, 2010). This reflective and collaborative values clarification is a vital step that is often missing in our staff professional development endeavors and sometimes in our personal professional development as well (Jorgenson, 2010). The goals need to be made transparent, conscious and explicit for all participants at the beginning of the professional development program (Harris, 2008).

Clear goal-setting that addresses how technology with benefit student needs, proper professional development that is differentiated to meet teacher needs, as well as ongoing collaboration and assistance from peers and mentors is essential to making technology integration part of teachers’ professional development. I believe Will Richardson is right when he says that we need to help our students understand and prepare for creating their own Personal Learning Networks. By demonstrating to our students that we are life-long learners as well as teachers, we can show them in a transparent way how “to be literate at developing their own connections around the world to be life-long learners in the truest sense” (Richardson, 2007).

Gagliolo, Camilla (Sept/Oct 2008). Help Teachers Mentor One Another. Learning & Leading with Technology. p.39

Guhlin, Miguel. (August 19, 2009). Light the Flame: PLNs in Schools. Around the Retrieved from:

Harris, Judi. (February 2008). One Size Doesn’t Fit All (Part 1). Learning & Leading with Technology. p. 18-23.

Jorgensen, Shirley. (March 31, 2010). Information Tech for Learning: Technology Professional Development Discussion Question One [Msg 7]. Message Posted to:

Kapuler, David. (November 23, 2009). Special Guest Post: Personal Learning Networks. The Unquiet Librarian. Retrieved from:

Ketterer, Kimberly. (June/July 2008). A Professional Development Menu. Learning & Leading with Technology. p.11.

Richardson, Will. (December 7, 2007). The Future. YouTube. Retrieved from:

Tchcruiser. (December 5, 2009). Final Reflection eci831-09. YouTube. Retrieved from:

Waters, Sue. PLN Yourself Wiki. Retrieved on April 2, 2010 from:


Miguel Guhlin (@mGuhlin) said...

Thanks for sharing!! "Guhlan" is actually spelled "Guhlin."

With appreciation,
Miguel Guhlin
Around the

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Joanne said...

Thanks, Jackie. It's interesting how for TLs, this notion of working in isolation comes through so clearly. And how being part of a PLN has really helped create a feeling of community and support for many of us. Great post!

Jackie said...

My apologies Miguel! I appreciate you pointing that out :)