In Chapter 6 of their book “What Connected Educators Do Differently,” Whitaker, Casas, and Zoul describe how in the field of education, “the importance of intentionally building and maintaining positive relationships with our colleageus simply cannot be overstated.” (2015) They go on to describe how all educators value relationships with their peers, students, and parents – but the key difference for connected educators is that they create, enage with, and sustain connections and relationships in an entirely different realm from the relationships we traditionally consider important. This network of relationships is made up of course by the digital connections with other connected educators that is developed and nutured through regular interactions and the sharing of ideas/resources via platforms such as twitter, blogging, etc.
Our class in Chapel Hill, NC sent us home to engage with colleagues outside the walls of the university. Rather than bounce ideas off colleagues with whom we share this common program, we were encouraged to spend one week purposefully engaging the professional communities we have been building on Twitter over the course of this semester.
The authors describe the possibility that “interacting with PLN (professional learning network) members in a largely ‘virtual’ manner may seem, at first, to be an impersonal way of interacting, growing, and learning.” They go on to assert, “Nothing could be further from the truth.” (Whitaker et al., 2015) The initial attitude and subsequent assertion accurately described my experience of spending a week engaging with my growing PLN!
When I began my week, I found myself awkwardly flitting about different established hashtags and communities such as #edtech and #digitalliteracy. Reflective blogs were the first items that drew me in; I craved feeling authentic in connecting with other educators, and these personal blogs made the PLN feel far more… personal.
I quickly found that sharing these blogs and connecting them with my peers in the program made the PLN immediately applicable in my professional development. Though the connections were not in-person, they nevertheless felt “real!” And why shouldn’t they? These were real educators, reflecting on their real lessons and experiences.
I then started putting out my own thoughts and musings, rather than simply relying on the “retweet” button. Asking questions suddenly brought in interest, retweets, and replies – a whole different dimension of interaction.
The replies and discussions led to my final step forward for the week – putting myself out there with purely original content that included hashtags for sharing and comment.
Though these tweets didn’t take off on a trend train around Twitter, it was nevertheless fulfilling to put out my own experience with a digital tool in the classroom and to make myself available for questions and comments!
I did find that, though I wasn’t speaking regularly for extended periods of time with colleagues in my PLN, a fewer contacts who followed me back started liking and retweeting my posts more regularly. Through this I was able to see how, if I were to continue nurturing this PLN on Twitter, relationships and the sharing of your experiences, your ideas, and your stories would become more regular, more meaningful, and more productive. A specific tweet from iCivics, an organization dedicated to helping teach civics, led to a retweet and a mini-project in a service learning class of mine where students looked over the site and reviewed the games and resources they found. From this tweet, a valuable resource was discovered, students became engaged and felt in ownership of a learning resource, and reviews from the students can soon be returned to Twitter as feedback to the creator – a loop of creation, sharing, assisting, feedback, improvement, and creation!
Moving from retweeting to engaging to sharing did indeed help my PLN feel real and meaningful. Continuing this process will take time, but I look forward to the results!