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The best PD comes from your professional learning network

By Kristin Harrington 10/5/2017 Professional learning
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The ISTE Standards for Educators challenge teachers to become leaders, creators and facilitators of dynamic or transformative student learning. What I love most about the new standards is that they view educators as professionals who drive global change and continually reflect on their practice.

Great teachers understand the need to develop a network for support, resources and collaborative planning. They reach beyond their classroom walls to build a global network of educators with shared interests, similar positions and who challenge their beliefs and ideas.

This article will dive into just a couple of the ISTE Standards for Educators and tools to support deepening your professional practice.

Building your global network 

The ISTE Standards for Educators offer a blueprint for building such a global network. ISTE Standard 1: “Learner” asks teachers to “pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks.” ISTE Standard 4: “Collaborator” elaborates on this, encouraging teachers to “dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems.”

When I started my career, teachers were just beginning to share ideas and resources in online forums. This type of collaboration eventually moved to social media sites, such as Twitter, blogs and newer tools like Voxer and SnapChat.

There are many advantages of using social media tools to collaborate. You can jump on anytime of day or night, your network is global and the tools are free. If you’re just getting started, here are just a few of the tools you can use to build a global network:

Twitter

If you haven’t used Twitter, or only use it to follow celebrities, you might be skeptical about its power as a source for professional learning. Don’t be. Every day, educators tweet thousands of fresh ideas and resources, collaborate on projects and support each other.

The trick is to learn how to use hashtags to find the information you are looking for so you can ignore what you don’t need. Whether you are interested in #PBL, #STEM or any other education topic, you can search the hashtag and find information on Twitter.

Don’t like tweeting but want to find out what others are talking about? Join or follow an education Twitter chat, which is essentially a real-time discussion about a specific topic occurring during a set time. Participants use a unique hashtag so others can easily follow the chat.

You’ll find a Twitter chat, or ed chat, for almost any subject area (#SciChat, #SSchat), job role (#CPChat) or education topic (#SPEDchat, #digcit chat). Find a calendar of educational Twitter chats on the Participate website.

If you really love the tweets of a specific account, person or group of people, you can create a “list” of specific users. Still want to follow Kim K. and Beyonce? You can create a private list that only you can see.

This Twitter Guide provides helpful information to help you get started.

Voxer

If lack of time is the reason you aren’t networking with other educators, then Voxer may be the tool for you. Voxer is a walkie-talkie app that educators use to have conversations about shared interests.

There are Voxer groups for podcasting in the classroom, makerspaces, edtech coaching and many others topics. You have the option of talking or typing, and you can listen while driving to and from work.

Although not totally private, Voxer is a lot less public than Twitter, making it a great forum for asking questions about things you are struggling with in your classroom or school. Find an edu Voxer group for you on this Google Sheet.   

Edcamps

If you prefer face-to-face collaboration, then edcamps may be more your style of networking. These “unconferences” are organized by teachers and are offered in cities all over the world, with sessions chosen based on what participants want to learn or share that day.

Edcamps usually take place on Saturdays, and include enthusiastic and innovative educators who are excited about sharing ideas and leave inspired to make changes in their classrooms. They also offer a great way to strengthen relationships with educators whom you collaborate with online.

Visit edcamp.org to find locations in your area. If you don’t see one near you, consider gathering some colleagues to host an edcamp of your own. It’s a great way to connect with educators outside your school and address the “Leader” standard within the ISTE Educator Standards.  

Using Twitter, Voxer, and attending edcamps has transformed my career, providing me with fresh ideas, inspiration and life-long friends. By breaking out of the bubble of your classroom, or even school, you are able to truly understand what is happening in education around the world, and make the best decisions for your students.

Kristin Harrington is a digital support colleague for Flagler County Schools in Florida. She is on the PLN leadership team for the ISTE Learning Spaces Network and co-moderator of the Twitter chat #FLedChat Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET. Follow her on Twitter @KristinCHarr.
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