My it’s been a busy week. We’ve had all kinds of things going on – a winter storm Friday made it a busy afternoon as our busses were canceled for after school. This meant we were phoning parents and arranging for students to go to their billets in town. For the most part, things went smoothly. Of course, there were some of our older students who just had to make life interesting and a few of the billets we had listed weren’t home or had moved so we needed to make other arrangements. However, despite these small bumps, the whole thing went smoothly and in a matter of about 45 minutes we were able to take care of things.

As I watched our staff work together to make phone calls, talk with students and take care of business, I realized how lucky I was to be the principal of such a great group of people. Everyone who was free pitched into making calls and talking to students. The secretary, the hub of our school, was answering phones, taking down notes and coordinating efforts of organization of students. Good principal that I am, I let people use their talents and do what they were best at while I made sure that parents who were arriving were assisted and students who left with their parents were noted.

A strong network

Our school is an example of a strong network. People work together, each person using their talents to help others, strengthening the whole. Now, we are working on our PLT’s and looking at how we can continue to improve the learning of the children in our building. The teachers continue to try new things, although not as open to technology as I had hoped, but still willing to try new ideas and ways of doing things. They share information they’re reading and new ideas about what they are doing. They look to go to conferences and bring back information that they share.

PLN’s

Personally, as an administrator, I don’t get to do as much sharing with staff as I did when I was a teacher. This is where my online PLN comes in. I first started blogging in January of 2007. Since that time, I have been able to meet a whole host of new people whom help me in my learning and professional development. Like many others, my introduction into this began with reading other blogs, commenting and looking for new ideas and ways of doing things. With the introduction of twitter, jaiku and pownce, I’ve expanded my network to include so many more people with a vast array of experiences and talents. This, however, has made me take a step back and look at my network and what exactly I want from it.

When I first began to blog, it was to get in touch with others in education and network and share with them. I enjoyed the sharing of information and the discussions that took place as I read through blog posts and commented on most of those in my RSS feeder. However, over time, I realized that most of the people with whom I had contact were discussing technology from the perspective of a tech coordinator, tech teacher or tech somethingorother position. There were few administrators with whom I could connect and few teachers who were not technology teachers of some sort. The discussions followed a pattern where an issue arose and then many of the blogs would comment on it in some way or another. This was the pattern that would be followed with a few people writing about personal events or how events with technology were panning out for them.

Those who are now joining into the different networks are bypassing, for some part, the blogging portion of networking to some degree. They are entering into the networking using twitter, pownce or jaiku, getting to know other people on the network and sharing with them. These relationships are usually rather loosely held together by subjects, interests, proximity or something else. This continues as different people interact, sharing and discussing on the network, adding new people to their friends as they see the names mentioned in discussions or from visiting other people’s friends. This is how my network grows. I continue to add people to my various friends lists, watching what they say, commenting to them when I have something to say or something to share. I haven’t developed, it seems, as close of a connection as others have but that’s to come. I also notice that anyone who has had a f2f connection has a different dimension to their relationships than those who haven’t. I also like to visit the blogs of those people in my friends list and add them to my RSS. That way, I can read their thoughts and ideas and continue conversations via the blogs. I try to comment and am working on making sure that I do this more regularly.

Different tools give you different networks

I use two main tools for my instant chatting with other educators. Twitter is much more active with many more users who are doing a vast array of things. When I first started, I was amazed at all that was going on, wondering how people were able to spend that much time online and still teach. Again, I came to find that many of them were in computer labs or dealing with computers all day and therefore were able to be online almost all day. This really made me wonder how I was going to keep up with all that was going on. Thankfully, summer came along and I realized that, despite what I had thought, I could live without being online all the time. In fact, I realized that being “connected” had its limitations. I needed to make sure that there was some balance to what I did.

This is what led me to look into a few other networks that I now use. The first is ning. I was introduced to Classroom20 through Leadertalk. This introduction has led to a great set of networking nings where I interact with other teachers and administrators, discussing using technology in classrooms, the implications and the frustrations. These networks are very different from the blog networks I first started using and the conversational networks that I had recently began to use. In fact, I even started one of my own with the focus being administrators as a place for those who are in that type of leadership role to gather, talk and share. I like the interaction on these networks. Some of the people are the same ones that I have on twitter but many are not. The conversations range from practical “how to” to more philosophical ones. One of my favourites is Fireside Learning started by Connie Weber. Many of the discussions are ones you would have beside a fireplace; very casual but very deep and I’d like to thank Connie for asking me to join. (I haven’t left town, I’m just really busy;)

My other major network is Pownce. Now Pownce is a chat-like network a bit like twitter. However, as twitter relies on short brief 140 character bursts of chatter, pownce doesn’t have those limits. The discussions range in length but there are longer, more developed discussions that take place. The main things I like about pownce conversations are that they can vary from private one-to-one, to all your friends to public. This can be very handy especially when you are looking for feedback about an issue. And because it’s not limited by 140 characters, the conversation is more relaxed. Personally, I find it to have fewer “Look what I found, did, shot, podcast, ustreamed, ….” and more about input and discussion. I find that each has a place but I’ve never had anyone on pownce say “I don’t want to be away because I think I’ll miss something.” That, I believe, is one of the biggest “problems” with some of the networks that are developing. Having been there myself, I can understand how that thinking develops but it sin’t necessarily a postive one.

In fact, I believe that our idea of what a network does and can do for us will continue to evolve and change. In my previous post, I stated that we needed to help those who were entering this edusphere become acquainted with what was going on. I believe that it is now more true than ever. With all the available tools, it becomes overwhelming knowing where to start. With that said, it might be easier to help someone get started since the different networks are so much easier to join. Now I don’t know where the blogging all fits as not all people who join these new networks blog. They’ve become quite the mixture of different personalities, sharing, growing and adding new tools and exchanging ideas all with the idea of wanting to help students.

As these networks grow and change and more educators begin to use the tools that are available, our networks will continue to grow and change. Some, like twitter, I believe will continue to be used for fast paced discussions and up-to-the-minute new tools and ideas. Others, like ning and pownce, will be less fast paced, more discussion oriented, as is their nature. All these will, of course, be affected by the introduction and use of video discussions and other tools that have yet to hit the streets or become mainstream. The main thing is that, while networking has always been a part of what teachers have done, the opportunity to do so has increased. In fact, some may say that not being involved in some sort of online network as an educator may be cause for some concern given the proliferation of these networks online. I’m not sure that it has reached that point, yet, but it may soon become an expectation that teachers be involved in online PD of some sort and definitely involved in district/division wide online groups. We’ve reached the point where distance is not a concern. What is the concern/stumbling block is the failure of many within education to use the tools that are available to do the work they were designed to do. As networks continue to shrink the distance between people, educators will need to open the door and begin building their own network outside of their schools and that’s where many of us who have been using the different networks can help them in choosing something that will fit with what they are wanting to do.

Stay tuned as I will once again be reintroducing the New Faces posts where I highlight a blog of someone that I’ve just discovered.

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