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!