A Born Again Learner

April 5, 2010

“Lifelong learning is now possible in ways they never imagined,” Miguel Guhlin (Aug.19, 2009)

She sits in her seat, listening carefully to the melodious scribble of pencils sliding frantically across the papers on student desks. The odd sneeze, the odd shuffle, but nothing breaks that telling sign of good old fashioned hard work. “Ahh, it’s music to my ears,” she thinks, as the silence fills the room. A sure sign that her students are hard at work, learning…or are they?

Across the room, there’s a buzz of activity, as students think-pair-share about an experience they had similar to that of Emma, one of the characters in Margriet Ruurs’ book, Emma’s Eggs. And suddenly, the voices subside, with only one, unfamiliar, voice to be heard from across the hallway. The unfamiliarity of this voice pulls the neighboring teacher from her desk to investigate. To the surprise of the neighbor, a large screen displaying Margriet Ruurs’ face is displayed at the front of the class. Not only is she talking, but she is interacting with students who are sharing their experiences and connections, with her and the students behind her!

Later, in the teacher’s lounge, one teacher asks the other, “How on Earth did you set up a live meeting with an author?” To which the other replied, “I saw a tweet about http://www.skypeanauthor.com and it immediately caught my attention. I asked some of the members of my Ning if they had tried this out before, and a couple of them said they had. The teaching ideas and resources are endless once you’re set up with these networks.”

Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) can be anything from a weekly coffee date with like-minded individuals, to a complex and organized network of Twitter, Ning, Facebook, Diigo, and Blackboard accounts. Regardless of the medium, the key is connectivity and the exchange of ideas that occur. With today’s fast paced society, it seems to make the most sense for teachers to use Web.0 tools, as these facilitate fast, organized, global connections.

I believe that teachers are naturally lifelong learners, because we are passionate about learning. Learning is what we “make.”

Professional Development through PLNs could be one of the most effective ways to support teachers as they continue to learn into the 1st century.

Recipe for an Effective PLN

With contributions from Camilla Gagliolo (2008), the INGREDIENTS for an effective PLN are:
1 cup of student centered focus
1cup of collaboration among teachers
1 cup of meta-cognition and reflection
1/2 cup of constructive feedback to individuals
A large bowl of goal setting as a community

Light the fire

Sparking a passion for learning

Note: Lighting a fire under “digital immigrants” is a mission to approach cautiously. There are several factors one must consider if expecting teachers to be willing to adopt a new “culture.” These include a need for time, encouragement, immediate feedback, and a time for reflection. Without these elements and not knowing the personality types of your teachers could be a recipe for disaster.
5 tools to adopt when creating a PLN (Sue Waters) Posted by David Kapuler in TheUnquiet Librarian Nov.23,
• a Twitter account
• Start your own blog
• Subscribe to blogs
• Start using a social bookmarking tool (Diigo)
• Join a Ning Community
Begin as a consumer, just as Cathy Nelson did, and become a producer once you are more comfortable in a culture of learning.
Addressing different teacher personalities is key when deciding on different ways to execute educational technology professional development (ETPD). We have the Innovators, who are adventurous pioneers and prefer individualized, hands-on inquiry. The Early Adopters focus on quality and are well respected, preferring group work . There is the Early Majority, who are not necessarily leaders, as they usually wait until critical mass is reached, but who interact easily with others to provide connections and prefer collaborative problem solving. We have the Late Majority who are skeptical, cautious, and adopt new tech only because they have to. This group prefers structured and assisted workshops. Finally, one needs to consider the needs of the Laggards who resist change and are more traditional, as they are generally more comfortable with individualized plans. As with any labeling system, there are exceptions. The key to successful implementation of ETPD is knowing your learners.
How do we support teachers’ pedagogical change? In my experience, I have found that lots of demonstrations, examples, and one on one instruction are key. Implementing one tool at a time is also necessary to make sure we’re not scaring everyone off. Lastly, I try to come up with ways that the new tech will actually SAVE teachers time, ORGANIZE their lives, and ENHANCE their students’ learning…Baby Steps.

What is it about this recipe that makes it so del.icio.us?

Tag words: *Feedback *Support *Inspiration *Quality Instruction *Collaboration *Resource development

Our Predicament

“Most teachers probably have not had sufficient time or opportunity to engage in the kinds of professional learning necessary to help them to use educational technologies in new ways to assist their students’ learning,” (Harris 2008).

The Causes?

*A society that is changing way faster than our education system is capable of and our innate desire to give our students “the best” quality education possible.

The Result?

*Teachers who are burnt out, who feel defeated, and who develop a sense of resentment toward whichever policy makers are attempting to implement these initiatives. Often, the middle men, either librarians, tech people, or mentors, get the brunt end of this resentment too. But can we really blame them?

The Solution?

Time, Empathy, Time, Encouragement, Time…you see where I’m going with this one. Regardless of how this happens, it is crucial that teachers become “master learners” and that “students are apprentices” if we are going to be successful in the 21st century (Will Richardson 2010).

The Icing on the PLN

Formally living the role of student these last couple of years, has really allowed me to become more aware of the challenges, emotional obstacles, and motivation that my students and colleagues experience when they are learning something new. I have become more able to show cognitive empathy (trying to see where my students are coming from), which forces me to challenge my assumptions about students’ and colleagues’ actions. I think that Will Richardson might say that in the future, teachers need to work WITH students on learning new tech tools (our students can show us HOW they are comfortable using these tools), then more time for reflection among colleagues as well as collaboration on further implications/integrations of those tools to enhance student learning.

Gagliolo, Camilla (September/October 2008). “Help Teachers Mentor One Another.” Learning and Leading With   Technology. ISTE. PG.39.

Guhlin, Miguel (August 19, 2009). “Light the Flame – PLNs in Schools.” Around the Corner – Mguhlin.org. http://www.mguhlin.org/2009/08/light-flame-plns-in-schools.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+mguhlin+%28Around+the+Corner+-+MGuhlin.net%29

Harris, Judi (February 2008). “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Customizing Educational Technology Professional Development Part One.” Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.Pg18-23.

Harris, Judi (March/April 2008). “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Customizing Educational Technology Professional Development Part Two.” Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.Pg22-25.

Harris, Judi (March/April 2008). “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Customizing Educational Technology Professional Development Part Three.” Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.Pg.

Kapuler, David (November 23, 2009). “Special Guest Post –Personal Learning Networks.” The Unquiet Librarian, Buffy Hamilton. http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/special-guest-post-personal-learning-networks-by-david-kapuler/

Ketterer, Kimberly (june/July 2008). “ A Professional Development Menu.” Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE. Pg.11

Richardson, Will (Feb. 24, 2010). “Teachers as Master Learners.” Weblogg-ed. http://weblogg-ed.com/2010/teachers-as-master-learners/ accessed April 1, 2010.



  1. Thanks, Natasha. I love your opening scenario, which really highlights how different classrooms can be in our schools right now. From the teacher who thinks success is her students sitting quietly in their desks to teachers who are bringing authors and other experts into their classrooms through skype (or other electronic forms), you have really emphasized the importance of 21st century learning for teachers AND students! I think the idea of ‘skype an author’ is a great one and really applaud the authors and illustrators who got this started and the teachers and TLs who have embraced the idea! Is this something you have tried in your own school?

    • Hi Joanne,
      I haven’t tried this yet, but plan to. We recently had Margriet Ruurs at our school for 2 days, and I noticed that she is one of the authors who will Skype. The kids would get a kick out of doing a follow up with her. The only tricky part is working out the time difference, but where there’s a will, there’s a way:)

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