Connecting PLCs to Local and Global PLNs

Begin with the End in Mind

This quarter we continue to investigate ISTE-C Standard 4b about how Educational Technology coaches can model principles of adult learning while demonstrating best practices in professional development. It makes sense that we are spending our entire quarter considering this standard because of the importance professional development could play in the role of a teacher. In much of the current professional development it appears that there is an unmet potential. It’s not really a surprise then that I’m finding my post this module is related to the last two posts I’ve written this quarter. It too has elements of choice for teachers along with variety in the offerings for professional development.

I started off this module asking about teachers as learners and trying to decide how professional development opportunities could be continue to be relevant after a session ends? I was wondering how Twitter chats, hashtags and online PLNs could play a role in helping teachers to continue learning and how learning through technology in that way might demonstrate digital age best practices. I’m not going to completely abandon that idea but in conducting research I’ve decided to include some best practices for professional development in the physical school environment as well because in my school district this constitutes the majority of professional learning opportunities. I also know that previously PLCs were a part of the district but they were required, much like in my past district so I wanted to revisit the practice of PLCs in a way that might appeal to teachers even if it wasn’t a requirement. My new question became how can individual buildings and the school district support PLCs and teachers as learners? As I asked this new question I also had to consider if PLCs can support digital age best practices, and I think they do as I’ll explain a bit later as I look at the Triple E framework through the lens of professional learning. The only thinking that might be missing from this post for me personally as a technology coach is maybe what role do I play in supporting this kind of learning in my schools? I don’t know if I will get to that specifically in this post or not, but if not it is something I will continue to think about.

Starting the Change

Over and over again in my readings on professional development throughout my time in the Digital Education Leadership Program at SPU I’ve read about how important teacher choice is in education. In this case I’m talking about choice in professional development. This week I read an interesting paper on teacher agency in professional learning and I think it makes a good case for involving teachers in the process. The paper starts out by asking an important question, “What if we are operating under faulty assumptions about how adults learn and what motivates them to learn?” (Calvert, 2016). For my school district I think it is important to start to involve teachers in the process of shaping their own professional learning again. I’ve seen some of the school improvement plans for my buildings and I don’t know how much teacher input there is into a school professional learning plan. To get teachers engaged in their learning many resources suggest getting input from teachers. A popular way to do that in my district is through survey data. I’ve heard talk from the district level that they are afraid of survey fatigue but it seems to me that in spite of that possibility we have to find a way to have teachers weigh in on the learning they will receive at buildings.

For the school district the focus should begin to shift as well. There are many initiatives happening and I don’t doubt that they are valuable but if improvign teaching and learning is a focus then devoting some time to professional learning is important. A teacher survey is the first step to designing learning that will be meaningful to each school individually. With over 20 elementary schools the needs are diverse, so learning should be diverse especially if it is designed from input from staff members at individual buildings. If members of the leadership are concerned with getting input from staff members I think this quote is a helpful way to frame the thinking about teacher input. “They must understand the intangible, but enormous, value teachers place on being listened to and involved meaningfully as well as the benefits the school community enjoys when teachers are intrinsically motivated to pursue their continued development” (Calvert, 2016). More involvement translates to an improved school community, which is related to a district goal we are pursuing.

After staff have provided input (or maybe before the process starts they can make it clear that) the district will ask teachers to lead sessions of professional learning for their staff. This provides an opportunity for coaches to guide teachers in some best practices for adult learners or to provide some guidance on technology integration. Here is how one district tackled designing the learning, “after conducting the survey, Mieliwocki and Almer brought together teacher leaders from each school to talk about the survey results and make teacher-directed plans for professional learning,” (Calvert, 2016). Again support was provided but plans were individualized for each school based on local needs.

With input from schools the district office is better able to support individual schools and can support administrators. The shift from whole district to school based professional learning topics in fact might help administrators to better support their staff as talked about in the WA-TPL “when district leadership utilizes a research-based approach to making decisions about the design of professional learning opportunities, individual school leaders are better able to make decisions about how to meet the needs of all educators,” (Bishop, Lumpe, Henrikson & Crane, 2016). So, individualizing professional learning eases the burden administrators carry to make learning relevant to their staff. If a staff is able to pick their learning, it will be relevant!

One final consideration I read about for districts to support this initial change is to provide quality professional learning for principals. Some principals may need guidance on how to be instructional leaders in their buildings. They might not be aware of the adult learning principles, just as I was not aware of them before learning about them during this class. In addition to learning about adult learning principles, they can learn about why and how to give teachers support in their professional learning. I know principals are stretched thin, so I’m not saying they have to be a part of everything, they might have to release some responsibility to let teachers grow. However, it is clear that somehow, they should be learning alongside their staff, (Bishop, Lumpe, Henrikson, & Crane, 2016). As was said in Moving from Compliance to Agency, “the principal doesn’t have to be on every team, but she or he must foster a commitment of excellence, improvement, and shared leadership through such peer networks,” (Calvert, 2016).

Connection to Digital Age Best Practices

I wanted to clearly connect my thinking to digital age best practices since that was the original goal of this module and much of our learning as digital education leaders. In order to do that I want to use the Triple E framework from Liz Kolb. The Triple E is designed to analyze best practices in teaching with technology but I think it would apply to professional learning as well. The three E’s are Engagement, Enhancement and Extension. I’ve done my best to connect how those relate to digital age best practices in professional development.

Engagement

I think that teachers will be more engaged in their learning because of the level of involvement they are given by providing input on learning. In addition to that, Twitter or an educational chat on any other social media service provides access to learning and resources after initial exposure in a PLC. At a district level I think those resources could be shared with principals or may even be shared at a school level by teachers who are following or participating in Twitter chats to the benefit of others. Later at the end of this post I’ll share some possible resources that I found also for discovering Twitter chats. Overall, I think that school based learning would help ensure teachers are active learners instead of passive learners.

Enhancement

The understanding of content and professional learning is enhanced by using technology. Technology may even act as a scaffold providing multiple entry points and directions when staff members are researching or learning about the same topic. All contributions become valuable to the team, shifting the idea that any one person is in charge of the learning of others which shows respect for those participating in the PLC. To demonstrate understanding of a concept or topic or in a content area teachers could even participate in a micro credentialing course as a PLC or pursue some other kind of badging to demonstrate their learning. In addition to these ideas simply participating in a Twitter chat would provide additional understanding over time. One great resource I’ll share a link to later is Participate, because it shows daily or weekly educator chats that are upcoming and shows topics that will be discussed.

Extension

Teachers learning is extended when working with their PLC if they continue to investigate topics they are learning about outside of the school day. If teachers participate in a Twitter chat they are definitely extending their learning, and with a teacher laptop or smartphone they could do that learning from anywhere with an internet connection. Other tools like microcredentials are also available for teachers outside of the school day. Both of these tools help teachers to build a positive digital footprint and connect them with other educators across the country and world.

Ways to Connect

In this post I also want to make sure to share some ways that teacher can connect and for me as a coach, I think part of my role should be sharing the idea of participating in a Twitter chat with the teachers I work with. I came across a few good resources in my investigation this module as I read about “Professional Development for Globally Minded Educators” and “The Future of Professional Development is Collaborative Development,” both of those resources can be found below. They each talk about why educators might use something like a Twitter chat for professional development. In “The Future of Professional Development is Collaborative Development,” they provide a resource that I think would be beneficial for teachers getting started with Twitter chats. At the Participate website there is a way to search for Twitter chats that are happening that day or that week. The daily chats are even divided up by morning, afternoon or evening. One other resource I thought would be helpful for getting teachers connected outside of their PLC is the list of Education Chats from ISTE. They have curated a list of 40 chats that are worth the time of teachers. Finally here are a couple other ways to connect, you can use a variety of resources to search for hashtags on Twitter after you find a chat to follow or investigate.

      1. Twitter Search
      2. Twubs
      3. Tweetdeck

How to Share Information

Now I wanted to think about how this information can be shared with an entire school district to focus buildings on learning that applies for them and to encourage PLCs meeting within each building. First I think teachers need to be able to provide input through a survey or some other way to hear the voices of all affected. In addition to asking what professional learning would help them, I think the survey could be used to share a hashtag that teachers could use to track their learning and contributions on Twitter. Instructional coaches could help to share any shift in practice by giving a quick talk at staff meetings or in informal discussions with teachers. The district leadership could share the shift with principals in one of their monthly meetings. The changes I’ve written about would likely help teachers to be more active participants, and would also incorporate some of the characteristics of adult learning into professional learning.

Reconsider the Plan for Professional Learning

This post is meant to get schools and school districts to think about redesigning their professional learning with a focus on school level learning. The ways to do that are, turning over control to teachers at a school – not simply entrusting that work to an administrator or even to a leadership team – the input should come from the majority, if not from all of the staff. Evaluate the learning community a principal builds in their school. One way a district administrator could do that is by attending occasional staff meetings at schools, or through feedback forms filled out by school staff members. Provide additional coaching training and guidance for building a community of learners. Make it a part of a district wide focus. Encourage ideas and input from teachers. Provide a way for teachers to track the learning that they engage in over a school year, maybe as a part of their grade level goal, individual goal or SIP goal. Encourage reflection. I still am wondering how a positive impact on teaching and learning would be measured, maybe it could rely on SBA scores for some teachers, but maybe just as other data is used in Growth Goals the impact could be measured there. The report on Transforming Learning in Washington State provides some interesting data on the effectiveness of professional learning on classroom practice. I’m hopeful that as school districts continue to change professional learning and implement some of these ideas that are shared across the literature, teacher engagement will improve and we will be providing professional learning that considers the characteristics of adult learners and also models digital age best practices.

Resources:

Bishop, D, Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R, & Crane, C. (2016). Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State – Project Evaluation Report. Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA. Retrieved January 19, 2018, from http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/pubdocs/2016-WA-TPL-Evaluation-Report.pdf

Calvert, L. (2016). Moving from compliance to agency: What teachers need
to make professional learning work. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward and NCTAF.

Fingal, D. (2018, January 16). 40 education Twitter chats worth your time. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=7

Spirrison, B. (2016, June 2). The Future of Professional Development is Collaborative Development. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from http://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/06/future-professional-development-collaborative-development/

Triple E Framework. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2018, from http://www.tripleeframework.com/

2 thoughts on “Connecting PLCs to Local and Global PLNs”

  1. Wow! You investigated a lot this module. I too have felt like my posts have been very connected this quarter. Your Twitter Chats resources are great! I still don’t fully understand Twitter Chats, and I’ve thought that I don’t know how to find them, so your resources on that seem really helpful. The question that Calvert poses – what if our assumptions about adult learning are wrong? – is intriguing to me. Does Calvert propose any alternatives or reasons why they could be? I appreciate your continued emphasis on teacher choice; it seems like a very critical element! Lastly, you made the choice to look at school environment best practices in addition digital age best practices, and I wondered if you were tapping into the idea that technology comes second, like we discussed a lot during our Peer Coaching quarter. I wondered this in part because I felt like I kept running into that idea, myself- I kept wanting to first investigate non-technology best practices for whatever topic I was reading about.

  2. Very inspiring post! I appreciate how your desire to help engage teachers as a coach comes through in your post. Since it can be more difficult to establish close relationships with coaches due to limited time spent working with them, it’s nice to see how coaches can extend learning beyond a PD session. I haven’t had Twitter Chats brought up in any PDs I’ve attended, but think that if a coach were to present it in a way that’s user-friendly and providing support for future, I’d be more inclined to explore what Twitter can do for PLNs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *