Monday, August 23, 2010

A PLN Quick Start Guide

Updated 4/17/13


The concept of a PLN has been around for a very long time.  PLN's back in the day consisted of individuals with the same professional interests engaging in mostly face to face communication. Fast forward a good amount of years and enter the internet.  No one can argue that the evolution of the real-time web has dramatically altered how we communicate, gather information, and reflect.  The construction of a PLN enables educators to harness the power inherent in 21st Century technologies in order to create a professional growth tool that is accessible whenever, wherever.  In particular, my PLN provides me with a constant supply of resources, thought-provoking discussions, knowledge, leadership strategies, and ways to successfully integrate technology.
Image Credit http://21clc.wikispaces.com/PLN 

Most educators I talk to have no idea where to begin when attempting to create a PLN that meets their teaching and learning needs.  The vast majority don't even possess a working knowledge of basic web 2.0 tools and how they can be utilized for teaching and learning.  The following list provides some good PLN starting points and resources to assist any educator looking to take their professional growth to new levels:

  • TwitterMicroblogging platform that allows educators from all corners of the globe to communicate in 140 characters or less.  Allows for the sharing of resources, discussion of best practices, and collaboration. For more information on Twitter check out this video.
  • LinkedInProfessional networking site that allows educators to connect, exchange ideas, and find opportunities. Educators can join a variety of groups that cater to their individual learning interests and engage in discussions as well as submit, read, and comment on articles. For more information on LinkedIn check out this video.
  • Blogs: Incredible sources of information that allow educators to reflect, share opinions, and discuss various topics. This is a common medium to discover best practices, examples of innovation, and learn from professional experiences of both novice and veteran educators. Common blogging applications include Blogger, Wordpress, and TypePad. For more information on blogs check out this video.
  • RSS Readers: RSS stands for "Real Simple Syndication". An RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with educational blogs, news, wikis, and podcasts all in one convenient location. By subscribing to various RSS feeds educators then have a customized flow of information that is continually updated and accessible through the use of mobile devices or the internet. Educators can even create their own RSS feeds! Popular RSS readers include Feedly and RSSOwl. For more information on RSS check out this video. Tablet apps are great tools to access RSS feeds and create your own customized news feeds.  Popular iOS and Android apps include Zite, Flipboard, and Pulse, all of which are free.
  • Wikis: Collaborative websites that allow registered users the ability to create and edit any number of interlinked web pages. Wikis encourage information sharing and collaborative learning. Educators can view and join some exemplary wiki models at Educational Wikis and Wikis in Education. For more information on wikis check out this video.
  • Digital Discussion Forums: Consist of communities of educators interested in similar topics. One of the most popular sites is called Ning where educators can create or join specific communities. Ning sites offer a range of learning and growth options such as discussion forums, event postings, messaging, news articles, chat features, groups, and videos. Popular educational Ning sites include The Educator’s PLN, Classroom 2.0, English Companion Ning, and Ning in Education. Other fantastic digital discussion forums are ASCD Edge (you must be a member of ASCD to join) and edWeb.net.
  • Social Bookmarking: Method for storing, organizing, and sharing bookmarks online. Popular sites such as Delicious and Diigo allow you to add descriptions as well as categorize each site using tags. Educators can even join groups and receive email updates when new bookmarks are added. For more information on social bookmarking check out this video.
  • Facebook: Social networking site that not only allows people to keep up with family and friends, but also to connect and engage with professionals. The Facebook in Education page provides information on how educators can best use Facebook as a resource. Other groups worth following in order to strengthen a PLN include Edutopia and #EdChat. Each customizable page or group provides a variety of learning opportunities and growth options for educators.
  • Google +: The search giant is at it again with their version of a social networking tool, which contains both Facebook and Twitter-like attributes. Within Google + users can create a profile page similar to Facebook, group people in circles (organize people into categories), and set up hangouts (free group video chats).  Check out this cheat sheet to get started.
  • Pinterest: Everyone these days seems to be pinning.  This tool is a great way to curate information to satisfy even the most finicky of learning needs.  Check out my board just on PLN's.
For more information on PLN's check out this fantastic video! Share this post and help a colleague develop their PLN today!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A New Endeavor (#TSETC)

So many exciting things have happened recently as a result of my own learning and growth in educational technology and leadership.  As a result, I have seen my own knowledge increase in these areas, participated in exciting professional development opportunities, presented at both my school and at other events on web 2.0, and begun to collaboratively change the culture of my school.  I have been so inspired and motivated as of late that I guess it was just a matter of time before I would be presented with an opportunity to really share with local educators what I have been experiencing on a global scale.

Forming partnerships are an extremely important aspect of educational leadership.  A few weeks ago Schoology, an educational technology company based in New York City, approached me and wanted to hear my views on technology.  After the conversation we threw around the idea about possibly collaborating in the future.  The end result has translated into an educational technology conference being held at New Milford High School, which is set for 10/2/10.  After throwing around numerous options we decided to call this event the Tri-State Educational Technology Conference (TSETC).  So why is this a big deal? Well, for starters we have a vision to host a free event for any teacher unlike anything they have ever experienced (at least that is our goal).  
It seems like my area in particular is saturated with traditional forms of professional development and that teachers are craving to learn about exciting, innovative practices that effectively integrate technology.   Here is a great example.  The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who teaches in another part of New Jersey.  I was telling him about how excited I was to co-host this conference with Schoology and proceeded to tell him about some of the potential presentations on web 2.0.  He had no idea what I was talking about, but was really eager to learn more.  Our conversation also validated my point made earlier that educators want fresh forms of professional development that are meaningful, multi-faceted, and cost-effective.  This is exactly what we are setting up to accomplish.

The event is still in the early development stages and there will eventually be a website for registration as well as an array of promotional materials.  Overall the objective is simple.  Provide any educator that wants to attend a variety of free learning experiences complete with applicable strategies and ideas that can be used either as a teacher, administrator, or parent.  We also want to make this event look and feel like a real conference, but without the cost!  The following are some strands for workshops and sessions we are currently throwing around: School Improvement, Digital Age Learning Experiences, Professional Growth & Leadership Best Practices, and Technical Support & Infrastructure.  It doesn’t get any better than this!  All I have to do now is keep my fingers crossed that this endeavor is a success and sustainable in the future.  We really hope that this conference becomes a yearly event attracting immense numbers of passionate educators.  I am also excited to announce that Project ABLE, a subsidiary of The Madison Institute, will be helping to sponsor the conference.  Here are some other little tidbits that we plan on including:

Keynote Speaker
Bloggers Café/Networking Lounge
Virtual Learning Lab: Attendees can experience and explore the latest tools in EdTech
Catered Lunch
Giveways
Bring Your Own Laptop (optional, not required): My school has a wireless infrastructure
Official Twitter hashtag: #TSETC
Live Video Feed: We plan to stream all major sessions on the internet for virtual attendees.

If you are a local educator who would be interested in presenting please let me know.  We are also looking for potential sponsors for the event to join those that have already pledged support and anyone else that has an interest in getting involved.  Please keep your eyes open for future updates and announcements. For more information on the evolution of the TSETC check out this post by Schoology.

In case I didn't mention, TSETC is FREE and will be open to ANY/ALL EDUCATORS!!!!! Mark your calendars now for Saturday October 2, 2010 and join us in New Milford, NJ.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Building Momentum

Yesterday was a particularly busy day for me.  In the midst of interviewing candidates for an open vice principal position, calling prospective teachers, and going through mounds of paperwork I managed to make the time to video conference with administrators and educational stakeholders in Virginia, Iowa, New York, and Florida.  Let me begin by saying that I was absolutely honored that various members of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and the greater educational community reached out to me to address administrators looking to embrace social media, plan an educational technology conference at my school, and discuss leadership in the digital age.

Speaking to administrators who are skeptical about utilizing social media is something that I am extremely passionate about.  A little over a year ago I was in their shoes, but worse.  I blocked sites and banned mobile devices to such an extreme.  The scary part about this is that I really thought I was doing what was best for my students and staff.  Boy was I wrong!

Obviously my views and actions have changed dramatically.  After becoming educated and seeing the error in my ways, I have now become an advocate of empowering educators to effectively integrate technology combined with best instructional practices.  This being said, each chance I get to discuss my transformation in this area with skeptical administrators I jump on the opportunity.  Why I do this is simple.  I now have the confidence to clearly articulate how social media has enabled me to become a more effective and efficient administrator in many areas.  I stress the fact that this phenomenon is not going away and is a major component in the lives of today’s society.  As educational leaders we should be modeling, supporting, and collaborating with our respective staffs to create a vibrant school culture that fosters risk-taking and innovation.  Learning environments that are structured in such a way will not only help students think critically, problem solve, and master the content, but also teach them how to be digitally responsible. 

There is another important reason why I make time to speak with other administrators who are considering harnessing the power of social media tools.  I NEED THEM TOO!!!!  It is depressing when I look around in my own state and others and notice the lack of an administrative presence in the world of social media and other areas of educational technology leadership for that matter.  What can I do to help change this? Maybe my fellow principal buddies such as George Couros, Patrick Larkin, Chris Lehmann, Deron Durflinger, or Dave Meister can help me out with this one? There are all doing their part to build momentum in this area.
I have so much to learn about educational leadership and facilitating sustainable change.  What better way to learn than from experienced leaders in the trenches that can share their knowledge, strategies, successes, and failures?  This is how I learn best.  I need their help, support, ideas, and advice on all aspects of educational leadership, not educational technology.  I want and need to become better.  Together we can all collaborate to grow, lead more effectively, and move towards substantive reform.  Does this make sense?

In my discussions with administrators I discuss what I have found to be the five facets of social media that truly assist educational leaders to become more effective and efficient.  I have blogged about these over the past couple months and will either provide brief descriptions or links to past posts.  They are as follows:

1.   1. Communication: Effective communication is one of the most important characteristics associated with successful leaders.  Social media provides free tools to enhance public relations, celebrate student/staff accomplishments, and keep all stakeholders informed 24/7. Blogging is one of the best tools available to aid in communication.  Here are some other ideas.  Twitter has been a phenomenal tool to improve school communications.  Within minutes of creating a school Twitter account (@NewMilfordHS) I began sending out information "tweets".  The ease of getting information out quickly out there has been quite convincing.  To get that same information on our traditional website would have taken a week’s worth of emails and action by two or three different staff members. 

2.   2. Branding:   When updating our school Facebook page or sending out a message on Twitter I often include a direct link back to our school’s main website and our school’s colors, mascot and logo.  This makes our pages stand out to viewers and establishes a brand presence.  People know who we are because I took the time to fill out that basic information.

3.   3. Professional Development/Growth: Educators now have access to relevant, meaningful resources that are available as needed.  We can now connect with experts in a variety of fields of study, pick their brains, strategize, and receive feedback like never before.  The best of all is that we can do this from our office, home, or on the go with mobile devices during times that are convenient for us.                              
      
      4. Opportunity: Social media has allowed me to forge strategic partnerships where my school has received free technology, all-expense paid travel for my on my teachers to visit schools in Israel, and multiple opportunities to extensively promote the happenings at my school.  THere is some more detailed information in this post.

5.   5.  Collaboration: This is such an exciting time to be in education as we now have the ability to connect on a global scale.  This not only does wonders for our own learning but also really sets the stage for developing authentic experiences for our students.

Doing my part to encourage other administrators to embrace social media in ways that will work for them is one way I try to build momentum for leadership in the digital age.  I’ll save my thoughts on organizing a major EdTech event at my school for another day.  

Thank you to Lisa Nielsen for motivating me to write this post!

Monday, August 2, 2010

We Have Got to do and Be Better

The other day I was reading an article in the New York Times entitled "In Reassessing Schools, a Lot of Bad News to Break".  The following comment in the article stuck out to me and others on Twitter:

“There are two reactions those of us in this business can have,” said Geoffrey Canada, the chief executive of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which operates the school. “One is to complain, and it’s human nature to do that. The other is to say we need to do something dramatically more intensive and powerful to prepare our kids. We are going to look at the mirror and say we have got to do better.”
Geoffrey Canada hits on something that all schools and educators need to reflect upon and that is the need and desire to be better.  My comments are not meant as a call to arms in support of better standardized test prep, but rather a holistic metamorphosis of teaching and learning practices.  Much to often educators reach a saturation point where doing what it takes to get by is the prime choice of many.  Tenure adds to this problem and is frequently used as an internal excuse to not work hard, take risks, collaborate, or pursue professional growth opportunities outside of the school day.  Utilizing free time in the summer to learn and get better has also gone by the wayside and been frowned upon.  


Personally, I get offended every time someone says how great teachers have it because they have the summers off.  This is a much deserved reward in my mind.  Dedicated educators know that the summer break is needed for all of the extensive hours spent planning, grading, and helping each and every kid succeed for 180 days.   The summer months also represent an opportunity for all educators to get better.  More educators need to take advantage of this time.  Excuses such as money are now a non-factor as numerous free professional development opportunities have arisen.  Just check out NTCAMP and The Reform Symposium as two fantastic examples.  I am even sending four of my teachers to a free training session provided by Discovery Streaming this week. Getting better does not have to involve educational technology.  It could simply be developing an authentic-based unit of instruction in collaboration with a teacher from another department, attending graduate classes, or reading the latest research in the field. My point is there are so many opportunities to get better.


There has been so much talk lately about education reform, change, and innovation.  None of this will occur if educators don't find it necessary to get better.  Take Twitter for example.  While becoming a major part of our school’s communication plan, Twitter has also become a major part of my own professional learning patterns. I use this tool on my own time! How each one decides to accomplish this is up to them.  My challenge to all of you is to empower, support, encourage, and assist your fellow colleagues in their improvement pursuits. Here are some professional development resources to help you and your colleagues get started.