Learning in Networks
“You teach best what you most need to learn.” Richard David Bach
I’m spending a few days in Bozeman, Montana at the Discovery Educators Network Summer Institute ( #DENSI2012). Those who know me in person or online know that networks, and networked learning for kids and teachers is something I care deeply about. The link below sums up how I feel about learning networks really well:
We were having a dinner conversation the other night about the ways we could improve and scale up the professional learning for teachers and extend the use of web tools and social media for student and teacher learning. One of the things that I believe is that the learning needs of students are the best context to frame the learning needs of teachers~ or as Stephen Katz said, we need to move teacher professional learning “from the ballroom to the classroom.”
So, if we are to do this, I’m thinking there are a few things that we need to attend to as innovative teachers and connected school leaders:
- continue to document the learning of our students, and our professional learning, and share how they are intertwined
- focus on building professional relationships by inviting colleagues to learn and and collaborate using social networks
- engage in meaningful, classroom-based joint work with like minded innovative teachers and school leaders
For me, a conference or institute is a great way to meet people, but unless there is some structure built in to facilitate joint work it’s likely that the only thing I will leave with is validation for the ideas I already had and a few extra pounds from too many visits to the muffin table. I’m grateful that the DENSI team have created a structure for us; we have been placed in teams and been given a facilitator to guide and support our team.
I’m thinking about the work that Judith Warren Little has done in the area of teacher collaborative learning, specifically the 4 stage continuum she developed to structure and define this learning. Little’s taxonomy looks like this:
- Storytelling: the learning or communication is one-way (think keynote) or if in a conversation it is back and forth, like a tennis match. Storytelling is important as it builds familiarity and rapport, establishes context and forms and filters the group.
- Help and assistance: A knowledge sharing that is a transaction (think consultant or expert). The learning is one way, expert to novice and is grounded in a problem or challenge. Help and assistance is important as it acknowledges a need for change and creates a relationship based upon a degree of collaboration. It is worth noting that storytelling and help are based upon a hierarchical model.
- Sharing: There is an exchange of learning that flows in two directions (think of sharing units, links or resources) but there is no expectation that the parties will actually use what has been shared. We are great collectors of ideas and resources but tend to stick with what we know and prefer. Sharing is important because it fosters a norm that sharing is a good thing for teachers and builds positive interdependence; a precondition for true collaborative learning. It is worth noting that this phase, and the next one, are non-hierarhcical and based upon the principle of mutual benefit.
- Joint work: There is a collaboration that is grounded in the classroom practice of the members of the team (think Lesson Study, Action Research, Classroom Coaching through co-teaching). The context is based upon the student learning needs and how the teacher practice can be made visible in order to observe, describe, analyse, and predict different practices that would alter the outcomes for the students. Joint work is important because it is the only way to build common understandings around effective instruction and change teacher practice in a way that meets student needs.
What excites me about social media tools like Twitter or blogging and the DEN is they allow for wider connections and I believe it is really important for innovative teachers and leaders to have a network; we don’t always have one that can support and push us in our buildings or districts.
Our challenge, however, is to push our PLN’s, be they Twitter, Edmodo, Blogs or, the DEN, beyond storytelling, helping and sharing towards joint work~ that is where the true impact on teacher practice and student learning will be felt. Joint work is a phase that is created by those on the team, not mandated from above. Joint work sustains itself because is is a culture, not a system or process.
Because of this, ultimately, joint work is something we can, and need to, create together,