Time to network – forget about the social

Since Monday I’ve been having conversations about teachers and their lack of participation in social networking. I’ve been reflecting on the whole idea of teachers and networking. For years teachers have been encouraged to move out and interact with other teachers. They’ve been encouraged to share with other teachers, collaborate with other teachers and build relationships with other teachers. Some teachers have been more successful at this than others. Then the work of the various people empirically demonstrated that teachers who collaborated had students that were much more successful. Thus, teachers were encouraged to create teams and work and share. Again, some teachers were more successful at this than others. Finally, the work of Richard DuFour demonstrated that teachers who worked in Professional Learning Communities examining the data about their students were able to greatly improve the success of their students. Thus, for many, the PLC movement began where teachers were put into teams, identified particular areas of study to examine through data gathering and then adjust their teaching to strengthen areas that were weak. This cycle continues as students progress through the grades with teachers continuing to develop a new group of students.

My experience is that some schools have been very successful at developing their PLC’s and establishing benchmarks, goals and collaborating in all aspects of teaching. Throughout all these endeavours, the resounding idea is that teachers need time to accomplish these things. They need time to develop their  plans, test, review the data, implement changes and check. They need time to reflect on what they have done and establish a new focus. This time was not necessarily to be on top of their already full days but time was to be found for this in some way. In our school, I have been able to do mini-gym days so that teachers can have time together to work together.

All this was to be done in addition to: differentiating the curriculum for their students, assessment – formative and summative, check and track public illnesses, document behaviour that was unusual, track progress of students with learning difficulties plus a host of other things. Now, as we are in the midst of working through the whole PLC concepts, we are suppose to add another layer of networking – the global level.

I know, I know. The growth that individuals have seen in themselves has been incredible. The things they have learned would never have taken place any other way. Their students have been able to do a great many things that would have been impossible just a few short months ago. They understand when their students talk about Facebookin and twittering, texting and chatting. Their network allows them to share ideas and bring together voices that cover a wide variety of topics and ideas. Their schools have been able to implement networks that connect teachers, parents, grandparents and students.

My own growth has been substantial as I have learned a number of things from people as I peruse their blogs, look at the videos on their sites and discuss things with them. However, I’ve also noticed a gap between those who spend a great deal of time with their network and those who have only limited time.

Because I track the conversations of all the people who contact me on twitter, I get to see a great many conversations going on. However, in the past little bit, I’ve noticed that there are some people who everyone is following and get tremendous response when they tweet while others who don’t have many following their discussions get a limited number of replies, if any at all. So, when I began, I was expecting that whomever was following me would see my tweets when I posted them. Not the case. Actually, I’m not sure how many people actually see when I tweet. My network still seems limited despite efforts to read others blogs, answer their requests and so on. I know that it takes time to build these relationships but how long? And what if I don’t have the time like it seems other twitters do to chat and comment, to travel to different conferences or create presentations? What if, like so many teachers I know, I am working hard at just trying to do all the things that are requested of me by the parents, School Community Council, school division and other stakeholders? How do we expect these teachers will build these connections if they aren’t comfortable with technology? Who will respond to them?

I don’t argue that some of these networks are very important and I have made some great connections and am catching nuggets of information that I’d not have been able to get before. However, like in my f2f working position, I am not really “in”. As an administrator, I’m no longer a teacher and this creates some space between those I work with and myself. In fact, most administrators I’ve talked with find that this is the case. Well, in my online networks I find the same thing, mostly, I think, because I have no more time to dedicate to them than I am already giving and, therefore, am not a consistent contributor.

Yes, Dean, I’m taking the side of the teacher again:) I understand the power that networking has but I also see the real pressures that are going on each day in the classroom. To bring theoretical to reality, we need to bridge the time factor and until we see a change in what is being demanded of teachers and schools, I see this little revolution gaining ground very slowly. Eventually schools will be forced to address many of the issues that the people in my networks are struggling with, mostly in solitude and isolation. Maybe networks that we are seeing are really a result of people not being able to collaborate within their schools with other teachers and once change begins to take hold, we’ll see another shift in networks. I’m not sure that we’ll encounter the “social” networks that the youth have today regardless of what we are doing.

One thing is for sure, only time will tell!

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5 responses

  1. You’re right Kelly, only time will really tell. It is important that you question this hype as it pertains to teachers. As I have been observing teachers, students & schools over the past couple years I recognize the time factor, everyday has different demands. There is not extra time. This makes it incredibly hard to convince teachers of the power of the internet. Most see it as another add on. I am new, just an intern, my network has guided me immensely over the past 8 months. The network saves me time, they plan my lessons, show me tools and the best examples of current projects. They are my team.

    As for individual participation in the network. The answers relate to how personal learning networks are unique to everyone and the relationships we each build. People need to understand that it does take time to become immersed, to make connections, to collaborate, to learn. Passing on the overhead slides to the incoming grade 4 is not sufficient networking any more. Speaking with peers at the annual conference is not sufficient networking. As professionals we have a responsibility to remain current. The most effective way to do this is to network.

    I am following your dialog on teachers and networking. You represent an important voice that can not be ignored. My question to you are these. How do you get other teachers started and dedicated building and participating in a network. How do we encourage teachers to be life long learners, to invest time in these technologies as they relate to the classroom. How do we show them what they are missing out on?

  2. I am interested in many of the answers to the questions posed. Currently I follow all the voices heard on this subject and am fascinated, enthused, and excited about education again. As a 20 year veteran, time is definitely a factor. It is also difficult to put yourself out there into uncharted waters (uncharted for the school I am in). I feel most believe it is just a fad and that it will fizzle away. I hope not, Increasingly, education has become more compartmentalized, the work load is more than ever before, and the support is not there. I love the reference to being a life long learner. Isn’t that what a successful person today would look like? How can students be such if the teachers themselves don’t model it? I have just recently created a ning site and have the okay to venture forth on it but am still struggling with the best way to use it, etc.

  3. Kyle, I am going to use your questions for a post, somewhere to begin and continue this conversation. People need to understand that it does take time to become immersed, to make connections, to collaborate, to learn. Passing on the overhead slides to the incoming grade 4 is not sufficient networking any more. Speaking with peers at the annual conference is not sufficient networking. As professionals we have a responsibility to remain current. The most effective way to do this is to network. I agree but I am also very aware that the time it takes to do this cannot be added to the already huge load that teachers have right now. We do have the responsibility to remain current but there are so many areas to remain current that people are overwhelmed and choose the immediate. I agree that networking is important but there needs to be something more than “it will work” for teachers. They’ve heard it before. As hurricanemaine points out, Increasingly, education has become more compartmentalized, the work load is more than ever before, and the support is not there. Without support, things do not happen. As I watch teachers and how they are trying new strategies, working with differentiation, creating assessment and assignments that are multi-levelled, I see that they are learning. They are expanding their knowledge. With new curricula, they are using new resources and integrating them into their repetoire. Without support, asking them to do another change isn’t fair. That is why many of them believe it is just a fad and that it will fizzle away There is a limit to what we can expect.

  4. As a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, my place of employ has instituted Critical Friends Groups. These are groups of teachers who meet on a monthly basis to discuss issues centered around the work we do with students. The groups are organized around special interest topics. There is also a group for administrators. In my three years at my current place of employ, the Critical Friends Group has been the one source of consistent support and professional development for me. While I sometimes become frustrated with the structured, protocol format, it has allowed me to connect with a small group of teachers on a regular basis. The Critical Friends Groups are participation by choice, which has its pros and cons.

  5. I’m glad to see that there is some movement towards the more collaborative ideas of working in schools. The one thing about a group for only administrators is that it really narrows with whom they come in contact and the discussions that they have with others. Rich discussions take place when people step outside their familiar areas and begin to examine what others are doing. I applaud that your school is working the the critical friend model – I hope that some of your administrators will break the mold and join others for discussions.

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