I have been living overseas for 14 years now on four different continents. It has been one exciting adventure after another, and most of the time, I wouldn't trade my life for the world. However, when it comes to forming PLCs and learning with colleagues, the isolation can sometimes be overwhelming and in some cases a deterrent. Sometimes I crave the world. It's really a numbers game when you get down to it. The sample size of educators in your physical proximity or even time zone that share in your specific passions and interest can be quite limited. In most of the places I have taught, there were at most two schools with an even smaller group of teachers interested in learning about the same topics, pedagogical strategies, or technological tools to the depth that I wanted to go with my professional development. In countries outside of the US, you frequently have to contend with language issues, cultural/educational barriers, and in places like India traffic and logistical difficulties.
Relying on my biology metaphors, it can sometimes feel like I am an opportunistic predator (read educator) –always searching for the PD rich experience but always aware of the energy and motivation costs of the hunt. It can be hit or miss, and I have found that localized PD experiences in my host countries can frequently be a miss. Having said that, limiting my professional development to the small group of teachers that I work with in my physical space can be just as much of a miss for no other reason than the statistical significance of a small sample size. What is the likelihood that I will find another teacher in my building who wants to explore iPad apps that will help me to better illustrate the movement of electrons and hydrogen ions in the electron transport chain during both the cyclical and non-cyclical light dependent reactions in photosynthesis for my 12th grade IB class or gamifying my chemistry unit for 10th grade?
Another issue is technology. It is impossible to stay abreast of every new app, tool, and resource that hits the market. It is even more difficult in international schools if you don't have a critical mass of connected educators constantly sharing out resources that they have discovered outside of our little bubble. The key word here is connected. It is because of Twitter, that all of the issues mentioned above have completely disappeared for me in the past year.
PLC or PLN?
Before I joined Twitter a year ago, PLC used to stand for Professional Learning Community. It was the edupopculture (yes, I just made that word up) buzz word for your department, vertical team, grade level team etc. It usually consisted of less than 10 people who shared a common goal, often a goal predetermined by the administrators dictating your meeting agendas. PD was delivered and often watered down to address all grade levels and all disciplines. In the international schools that I have worked at in the past, this frequently involved literacy or something more tool oriented like Atlas Rubicon. My PLC time was often spent documenting what were already doing rather creating or discovering new ideas in uncharted territory. Then I joined Twitter.
I have now expanded my PLC into a PLN. Though it may look like only a difference in one letter, there were actually two major paradigm shifts that took place. The obvious change is that I now have a network rather than a community. Instead of being isolated by an ocean from other educators that share my vision and mission as an educator, I am now connected to them through my network.
The second shift is more subtle on the surface, but has a far greater impact on my development as an educator. Instead of a Professional Learning Network, I now refer to my PLN as my Passionate Learning Network. Whenever I have time to explore or discover, I simply turn to Twitter. In no time at all, I am connected to people who share in my passion for learning and offer far more insight and an endless stream of new ideas for me to dig into. My world now looks a little more like this:
This image came from a great post that you should check out: 40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World
Snapshot: How do PLN's Work
So today, I went onto Twitter and one of my fellow Tweeps from California posted this:
My question was what is this ThingLink and why are you awake at 1:30 am California time? So he responds:
Hmmm....Note to self: Check out ThingLink; it could be the answer to my photosynthesis dilemma. What is #playdate13?
Before I could ask him, another Twitter friend, @clongbh sent me the link to the Google site for the unconference that they are going to attend, Playdate Los Angeles. After taking one look at the site, I felt the isolation creeping in...but only for a moment. I was frustrated that I couldn't be there to participate and learn from the amazing educators that are participating in this creative playdate. It then occurred to me that I can still participate by following the hashtag #playdate13 this evening as all of the people attending are connected educators and will be tweeting out resources and commentary throughout the event. I suspect that several of the sessions will also be aired live via Google Hangouts. Chris then invited me to a new Google+ Community that can answer all of the questions that I have about Thinglink and connect me to other educators using it in their classrooms.
This just in: While writing this post, I received this tweet:
I do not follow ThingLinkEducation, but their search engine must have alerted them to the fact that I was tweeting about ThingLink so they sent me a link to their educator's toolkit and a Google presentation on 70+ Interesting Ways to Use ThingLink in the Classroom. Need I say more? Two minutes on Twitter, and I now have hours of exploring and creating to do with an instant support network made of people who are passionate enough about ThingLink to share their expertise. I am definitely looking forward to digging deeper when I finish this post. If you are still not convinced, or not sure how to get started, here are some previous posts that I have written about using Twitter for professional development.
Update: I received these two tweets from @CoffeeNancy after sharing this post on Twitter.