Create A Professional Learning Network!

How do I create or join a PLN?

(adapted from Bold Moves for Schools: How We Create Remarkable Learning Environments by Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Marie Hubley Alcock

As our educators consider making use of twitter, here is a great, step by step, way to create a Professional Learning Network.  One of the best things about a PLN is the learning is completely focused on exactly what the learner chooses to learn!  And with a growing PLN, new ideas about areas of learning will arise!

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Here are five steps to building a professional learning network (PLN).  A learning network is a tool for the professional learner. It is a way to find new ideas and answers to questions quickly.  The steps below use an experienced teacher named Jasmine.  She had heard about a PLN and wondered how to create or join one.

    • Step 1: Search for resources. The first thing Jasmine did was to conduct an Internet search. She found a collection of websites with samples of digital tools and feedback on using those tools in classrooms.  She created a folder in her browser called “Curriculum21” and began marking useful sites and saving them there so she could easily check them when she needed new ideas. Jasmine also reached out using TeacherTube and YouTube, looking for how-to videos for teachers, such as those on Common Craft, an online network that provided videos explaining how to use certain tools and apply them in a classroom (
    • Step 2: Search for partners. The second thing Jasmine did was to create a Twitter account dedicated to her professional learning.  She selected Silvia Tolisano, and searching on Twitter she found that Silvia’s Twitter username was “@langwitches” (see Figure 2.8). Jasmine “followed” @langwitches and immediately went to see whom Silvia was following. Jasmine was now looking at part of Silvia’s learning network, and because she trusted Silvia, she felt confident about many of the resources there. She chose to follow ASCD, AERA, ISTE, Curriculum21, Marzano, McTighe, Kallick, Zmuda, and Fisher for starters. When she returned to her Twitter homepage, she started to see tweets from Silvia sharing links and tools she was learning about at a conference in Florida.  I would suggest @gcouros is a great place to start!
    • Step 3: Search the discussion. The third thing Jasmine did was to find a Twitter hashtag for a topic she thought was important. She searched the hashtag #education and decided to see what kind of discussion was going on there. By searching this hashtag, Jasmine was now participating in a global conversation about education.  At first, she was just listening, but when ready, she could share her questions, ideas, or images with her fellow educators around the world—without leaving her classroom.  Other great hashtags include #futuredriven #IMMOOC #TeacherLife  #EdLeadership
    • Step 4: Participate—reflect and publish.  This act of publication is a critical part of being in a learning network. All systems have give and take. What affects us is, in turn, affected by us. Learners teach, teachers learn; it is the elegance of the cycle that makes it so exciting and rewarding. No matter how small the learning, we must strive to share it, publish it, network it.
    • Step 5: Evaluate and synthesize responses. The fifth thing Jasmine did to build her learning network was to review the feedback, comments, and questions people posted about her pictures. Some people retweeted the work; some suggested how to rotate it, making it easier to view.

10 Things We Wish We Had Known When We Started Teaching….

Our Teaching-Learning-Innovation department is full of great teachers.  Former teachers. Are you ever actually a ‘former’ teacher?  We still teach.  Everyday.  And we sure continue to learn.  We have 7 former teachers, with a total of 112 years of experience. We also work with wonderful building leaders, all of whom have done a ton of teaching.

We have been sharing ideas about things we wish we had known when we started teaching.  We’ve broken them down into a list of 10.

Here they are:

  1. Not so much a technique as a deeply held belief.  I think you’ve heard me say this before but, “Always remember you are teaching someone else’s kids.”  In my mind this has elevated everything I do with students.  Somewhere there is a parent who has entrusted us with their child.  Are we treating them and teaching them the way we would want our own kid treated?  Ultimately this is a question of value, not pedagogy.   When we rightly value our students, the stage is set for meaningful academic growth. –Brian Neufeld, Assistant Principal
  2. My biggest thing is, what I could have learned by watching my colleagues across curricular areas, but most importantly across all grade levels.  It would have been great to observe elementary teachers as a high school shop teacher… Great teaching is great teaching at any level! –Mark Beddes, Principal
  3. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.  Smile and enjoy the moment. Also, join ASCD. It’s a wealth of information and resources on everything teaching related. –Ron Ness, Principal
  4. As a new teacher I wished I had fully realized the importance and potential power of relationship building with your students. My order of priorities at the beginning of my teaching career was content mastery first, relationships second. It’s so painfully obvious to me now that those needed to be completely reversed! –Keith Hannah, Instructional Technology Facilitator
  5. Never underestimate the power of the lessons learned by folks who have gone before you.  Experienced teachers, even if they have a different style or way of doing things, have often learned valuable lessons in their career.  Many of them know the power of relationships, and even better, have an idea of how to build this rapport.  Many know how to design lessons, manage a classroom, communicate with families, or foster student talk.  They also know how to balance life and career.  Each has an area of expertise or two that can inform your practice.
    Keep an eye out for this, and more importantly, consider listening first.  Learn from respected colleagues and realize that teaching is a craft that continues to evolve each year for each of us. –Mark Robinson, Principal
  6. Who you are is part of your strength as a teacher. Don’t underestimate what you bring to the table. We all have our own way of making the learning experience fun and amazing through how we ourselves learn and this IS powerful for our students to see. Shine your light in your unique way and watch magic in the classroom happen! –Teresa Sinay, ELA Instructional Facilitator
  7. “Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.” Every teacher is on their own journey and will take different twists and turns along the way. With that said, find your North Stars! Your path may be unique but there are those to whom you can look up to. Follow them; learn from them; listen to them. –Elaine Smith, TLI Assistant Director
  8. Be yourself.  The best teachers are themselves inside and outside the classroom.  Kids can spot a phony a mile away. –Jeff Nelson, TLI Executive Director
  9. Play.  –Jeff Nelson, TLI Executive Director
  10. Relationships.  Most important thing 50 years ago.  And will be the most important thing 50 years from now.  –George Couros, Inspirational Guy

Nelson SLMS(Here I am, back in the 80s.  Check out the swell yellow belt.  The turned up collar.  The 80s glasses.  Yikes.  This is in my first classroom, at Surprise Lake Middle School.  Yes, that’s a chalkboard.  Yes, that’s my gradebook in my hands.  The message on the chalkboard indicates that it might be the last day of school.)


“I believe that if you don’t derive a deep sense of purpose from what you do, if you don’t come radiantly alive several times a day, if you don’t feel deeply grateful at the tremendous good fortune that has been bestowed on you, then you are wasting your life. And life is too short to waste.” – Srikumar Rao

We’re preparing a presentation for our new school board members.  Sort of an introduction to who we are as a Teaching-Learning-Innovation department.  One of the pieces of the presentation is a reference to some of our influences and some of their impactful words that help guide our thinking.

We couldn’t possibly share all of our powerful influences, but this list a solid start. And reflecting on this….reminds me how grateful I am.  Here are the slides.

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Thank you on behalf of educators, students, and selves!

Nostalgia isn’t a strategy or a skill.

Last week I saw a post from George Couros with this picture: 


Great quote.  Completely agree.  Have this idea in mind all the time.  As with a lot of what I see from George, this made me thing about other things.  One of the things I was thinking about was how many suggestions/directions/demands/pieces of legislation educators get regarding what kids need to know and do.  A lot of these things make perfect sense on their own merits.  A concern is that with a full plate of things already for good teachers…what comes off the plate?

Some of the suggestions/directions/demands/pieces of legislation make a lot less sense.  It hit me as to why they don’t make sense.  They are conjured by good people out of a sense of nostalgia.  The good old days.  Boy, if kids would just do what we did, everything would be just fine.  Learning _____________ worked just great for me.  I don’t see why it shouldn’t work for kids nowadays.

Take shorthand, for example.  Shorthand is cool.  Look at this great example.  Learning shorthand sure set a lot of people up for some good learning and work.  I bet if we just had kids learn how to shorthand…..


Kids these days need to learn how to do shorthand.

Here’s the problem.  Probably, kids these days don’t need to learn how to do shorthand.  It will be a good test of blogging to see if the shorthand people come out of the woodwork to tell me how wrong I am on this matter.  

I don’t think nostalgia is a strategy or a skill.  In fact I looked it up.  Here’s what Merriam says about nostalgia.  “A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.”  I love nostalgia.  It makes me feel warm and happy.  However, it ain’t a reason to have kids learn shorthand.

Lots of people, good people, with good hearts, want kids to learn the stuff they learned when they were kids. Our job is not to prepare kids for our pasts.  Our job is to prepare kids for their futures.  There are lots and lots of reasonable ideas about the skills kids will need for their own lives.  Skills like collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.  Those are good skills that are applicable to all kinds of work and learning.  Those skills are flexible and can be improved.  Those skills stand ready to steady one during rapidly changing times.

So here are some things to help with nostalgia:

Now on we go with our kids’ futures.  It will be fun to see if collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking become sources of nostalgia at some point.

Kids these days!

Lectures. Wow.

“A lecture is an event where the notes of the professor pass to the notebooks of the students
without going through the brains of either.”

The NYT published an article describing the insufficiencies of using a laptop to take notes during lectures.  Just not enough ‘learning’ oomph.

And lots of people jumped in….entirely missing a key point.

Lectures and learning. Especially if learning means ‘a permanent change in thinking or behavior.’

Recently wrote an entire blogpost about this.  And I completely agree that sitting and typing during a lecture is a very poor way to receive the distribution of information.  If the point is to distribute information.  

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The problem is NOT the laptop.  It’s the teaching strategy.  Of course direct instruction absolutely has a place as a tool in education. According to Hattie, direct instruction has an impact size of .6.  That’s substantial.  Scaffolding and classroom discussion have impact sizes of .82.  Don’t see those in too many lectures.  Lectures are a pure example of distribution of information.  Professor solely has the information.  Distributes it to the students, laptops or not.  Students have the information until it’s time to give it back via a test.  End of story.  Learning? 

A more robust use of laptops is to create better learning experiences other than typing during lectures.  A youtube video could replace the lecture.  Flipped learning could handle the lecture.  How about about using the tools to create?  Critically think?  Communicate?  And most importantly, collaborate?

It’s not about the tool.  It’s about what one does with it.  And to use it to simply take notes during a lecture is a waste of time.  Glad a study confirmed it.


Fightin’ words.

Started reading Start. Right. Now.: Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, Jimmy Casas.  The authors start off discussing the importance of living and breathing mission statements.  “We believe in the power of mission statements that are created with intention and communicated and acted upon regularly. The organizational mission statement should succinctly answer the questions,’Why do we (as a classroom, school, or district) exist? What is our core purpose for being?’”

It’s easy to see the power of these words, especially when these leaders drive home the clear point that words without action are just words. “Even with a compelling mission statement in place — one that is known by all members of the organization, communicated regularly among many in the organization, and used frequently as a driving force for decision making — having an overarching description of why we exist is still not as important as the consistent behaviors each team member exhibits as they go about their jobs.

That got me thinking.  We have mission statements in all of our schools.  We have a district mission statement.  And further, we have 4 strategic goals as a district.  The establishment of these goals was one of the first things our new superintendent, Kevin Alfano, did.  He hired a group to facilitate a rigorous process of interviews and questions.  Teachers, administrators, parents, business people, community leaders, association leaders, classified staff, students, etc. 14 different groups of people.  At the conclusion of all of this work, 4 goals emerged.  Academic Excellence.  Transition Readiness.  Parent, Family, Community Engagement.  High Quality Work Force.  Now these 4 goals are definitely not just words.  They live in our mission statements.  We bounce all of our ideas, goals, and plans off of them.  They give muscle, motion, and meaning to our mission statements.

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And even with all of that, I am not sure every single educator could talk about the mission statements and the 4 strategic goals.  I’m not convinced they live everyday, in the classroom.  They’re far better than I’ve seen in my 30+ years in this district.  They’re closer to our daily thoughts and efforts.  But they’re not quite there yet.

What is there?  Fightin’ Words.

At least two of our building leaders have rallying cries.  Or what I’m calling Fightin’ Words.  They use them ALL the time with their teachers and students.  Everybody knows them in the whole school.  One is, “Whatever it takes.”   His colleague’s words for his staff and students are, “We’re all in this together.”  Both of these leaders then act and expect their colleagues and students to also act, based on these words.  The words are alive and kicking everyday.  Come decision time, they’re not reviewing the mission statement, they’re looking at their fightin’ words.  Are we doing ‘Whatever it takes’ as we make decisions and take action at one place.  Are we ‘All in this together’ when we’re making decisions and taking action at the other place.

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Talk is cheap.  Words have power and require action.  Reminds me of this great idea.

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So I’d ask each of us, including and especially myself, “What are your fightin’ words?”  Where does the rubber of the mission statement and strategic goals meet the road of the classroom or school?

Whatever it takes.  We’re all in this together.

I never learned about photosynthesis.

Time and experience are wonderful things.  Learning is also a wonderful thing.  My working definition of learning is ‘a permanent change in thinking or behavior.’  It turns out I never actually learned about photosynthesis.

And here’s why.

There’s an old saying about lectures. “A lecture is an event where the notes of the professor pass to the notebooks of the students without going through the brains of either.”

When I was a freshman in college, I had a course called BioSci 102.  It was held in a big, two tiered auditorium.  Probably 600 students at least.  The professor was wonderful and engaging.  That’s what I remember about him and the class.  He was engaging.  I can’t honestly say I learned anything that became permanent.

The students took notes as he lectured.  It was in this class that I discovered I could pay $10 to buy official lecture notes.  The university paid a former student in the class to attend, take notes, then make them available for other students.  I signed up.  I didn’t even have to go to class to get the notes anymore.  It could hardly have mattered less.  Come time for the test, I studied someone else’s notes well enough to do well on the test, then whoosh, the information was gone.  A big part of the test was on photosynthesis.  Like almost all of the test.  The lecture notes were absolutely beautiful.  Lovely drawings, arrows, quotes, fabulous.  And nothing about photosynthesis became permanent in my thinking.

Fast forward to now.  Did a google search on photosynthesis.  Google reports,  “About 19,800,000 results (0.63 seconds)”.  Hmmm….that’s a lot more information than one professor talking and someone taking notes.  Let’s narrow that search to just videos.  “About 597,000 results (0.26 seconds).” 597,000 videos on photosynthesis….in .26 seconds.

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If we decided it was mission critical in a class for kids to LEARN about photosynthesis, meaning the information became permanent in their thinking or behavior, I bet a lecture might be the last way to have kids learn.  My college lecture experience was a perfect example of education as a distribution system.  Professor has information.  Distributes it. Students have it for awhile, then give it back via some kind of test.  The end.

In a discovery system, probably using technology, students could be in groups of 4.  The teacher has identified 4 excellent videos about photosynthesis.  The students, with headphones on, each watch a different video about photosynthesis.  They have a large piece of butcher paper in front of them, on which each takes notes as he/she watches her/his own video.  When all videos are done, the students go around the table and share what each learned about photosynthesis.  They generate a list of questions, honing their questions to their top three.  Then each table shares its top 3 questions.  The class finalizes a list of top 5 questions and kids find answers for those questions.

I bet I would learn about photosynthesis that way.