Sunday, October 7, 2012

Connecting (not Protecting) Ideas

The other day, I bumped into a teacher in the hallway and we engaged in a chance conversation. She had just returned from meeting with colleagues from across the school district and it was clear she was bouncing off the wall with enthusiasm as she described some of the possibilities that she now saw for her own classes. More than anything, what stood out to me was the passion and excitement in her voice. She expressed how great it was to exchange ideas with her colleagues, and how excited she was to once again be a learner, exploring new ways of doing things with the support of others.

Her experience is a perfect example of how inspiring it can be share our thoughts with others and how we feed off of other people's energy. It's within networks of trusting relationships where we can share our hunches, ask questions, admit mistakes, seek reassurance and describe our experiences. It's in these environments where we can connect our own hunches to what we learn from others and begin conjuring up innovative ideas. Over time, as we engage in conversations, receive support and reassurance from others, and continue to mull over ideas, we gradually reach the point when we have the confidence to transform our innovative ideas into innovative practice.

So why would anyone want to restrict themselves to learning in isolation?

Who wouldn't want to connect his/her ideas with those of others?

Why would anyone intentionally protect their ideas from others as though they were holding on to some secret intellectual property?

Who wouldn't wish to participate in a professional learning community (PLC)?

Why is it then, that so many educators are learning in isolation?

  • Yes, time can be a factor. Teaching all day with little to no common time to meet definitely presents an obstacle. Although it is a start, even the embedded collaborative planning time that many schools have incorporated into their schedules is insufficient to spur on lasting innovation. Sharing and collective reflection amongst colleagues, whether formal or informal must be a part of the daily learning culture in order for innovative thinking to prosper.

  • Yes, proximity can also be a factor. It's challenging for teachers from different schools and different districts to meet face-to-face. The few times a year that this type of gathering takes place is again insufficient to generate any momentum in teacher learning. And even within many larger schools, teachers tend to converse and share informally with colleagues who teach in the same part of the building. While there's nothing wrong with this, groupthink can quickly occur. This is why it's important to introduce external ideas and perspectives that challenge the thinking of the group.

How do we overcome these obstacles?

Enter social media.

2 years ago I started creating my own Personal Learning Network (PLN). Shortly thereafter, I began blogging as well. At the time, I never would have predicted how significantly the process of blogging and my PLN would have on my learning. I've assembled a collection of some of the most foreword-thinking educators from around the world, individuals with whom I would never have been able to interact or learn with if I hadn't built my PLN. I've shared my learning and reflections with my PLN through my blog. And in return, I've received feedback, connected with learning opportunities, accessed professional development resources and built camaraderie with other educators. In many cases, conversations I've started with my PLN have continued via Skype, telephone and face-to-face. In the same way that the teacher I referenced earlier was excited by the conversations she had with her colleagues, I find myself inspired daily by the conversations I have with my PLN. Sure, a digital connection has its limitations. It doesn't replace my face-to-face conversations but it offers me an ongoing stream of perspectives, hunches, ideas and questions that I can connect my own thoughts to. Conversations through social media may seem somewhat chaotic because of the multiple conversations that are simultaneously going on in public. But, as Stephen Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From indicates, it's in these environments where hunches can collide, and where ideas can mingle and swap.

So, for those of you who still require some convincing, I encourage you to check out the short clip Twitter for Educators, create your own PLN and take advantage of the anytime and anywhere opportunity to connect and collide your hunches and ideas with those of others!


  1. Aaron what a great post. I too am blown away by how much my PLN has changed me as an educator. For the first time in my 20+ year career I have people that get me. We push one an others thinking and the benefit it has had for my students is amazing. As a grade one teacher it has opened up the world to my students. It's very, very powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to seeing you F2F in November at Ed Camp. I still have very fond memories of last years edcamp. Karen

  2. Thanks for the comment Karen. What I find interesting is that we would never advocate for our students having long gaps of time in between their moments of learning, yet traditionally as educators we have had gaps of a month or more in between pro-d days. Fortunately, many schools are now finding ways to incorporate professional learning into their schedule, staff meetings, etc but on average I'm guessing that these opportunities are probably still not enough to support truly continuous learning. I've have found connected learning helps make my learning more continuous. The other major benefit that both of us have experienced is connecting with others from all over the world.

    It's hard to believe but Edcamp Leadership BC is right around the corner! I look forward to continuing some of our conversations F2F in November! Aaron

  3. great post..

  4. great post..