"You don't know what you don't know!" It's a funny saying yet very true. Think how often someone suggests something new to you that they've been doing for quite sometime but yet you've never heard of. We truly don't know all that is out there. Sometimes other people's suggestions sound interesting, other times not so much. But the better question is, despite whether or not you find a friend or colleague's suggestions interesting, how often do you pursue the idea? And what inspires you to follow up on an suggestion? Are you the type of person who is naturally open to new ideas or skeptical of why you should try something different?
I consider myself an open person who will always hear out others' ideas but when a colleague suggested to me that I sign up for a Twitter account, I admit some question marks flowed through my mind. Twitter? Isn't that for celebrities? What could I possibly find there that would benefit my practice as an educator?
Now, I'm not trying to toot my own horn but I've always considered myself to be a pretty good educator. As a teacher, I took time to reflect on my students' learning. What do I want my students to learn? How will I know if they've learned it? What will I do if they haven't learned it? I constantly searched for creative ways to scaffold my students' learning. I tried to present information more clearly, improve the clarity of my instructions, tidy up my handouts and worksheets and modify activities to better support my students' learning. And I've always taken pride in being a learner. I was doing 'some' professional reading and attended workshops and conferences when they were recommended to me by others. So considering I was already learning, why would it be so important to get 'connected'? Seriously, how much could I really have been missing?
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobannon/2983755589/">cbucky</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>
Fast forward to October 2010 when I signed up for a Twitter account, and opened myself up to a whole new world of professional learning. All I can say is 'WOW'! Immediately, I became aware of other educators, both locally and globally who were connecting with each other to share, discuss, support and critique one another's work and thinking. I realized that there are people out there who are talking about and proposing new ideas for teaching and learning. Inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, Web 2.0, iPad apps, mobile devices, BYOD, assessment for learning, etc. The list of ideas is endless. More importantly, these ideas signalled to me that educators are talking about a new paradigm of teaching of learning.
Sadly, what dawned on me is that as hard as I had once worked as a teacher, I had restricted myself by my own educational paradigm. I had been stuck within a paradigm of 'coverage' and in hindsight I realize that all of the improvements I had made were incremental at best. Now, thanks in large part to my Personal Learning Network, I view teaching and learning through a new paradigm...a paradigm of 'inquiry'. (more on this in a future post!)
More than anything, I now find myself inspired! I would never have anticipated how much my shift to becoming a 'connected' learner would change my understanding and perspective about education. Social media has helped accelerate my discovery and consumption of information and ideas many times over what I would have previously accessed through books and magazines. Add to this the fact that I am now having conversations with others worldwide about what I'm discovering and what they're sharing with me and I can't see a way to possibly replace the amount and depth of learning I'm immersed in. I used to view connecting with my PLN or writing a blog post as an added extra at the end of an already full day. Now, I can admit I look forward to connecting with my PLN on a daily basis, sometimes as the recipient of other peoples' thinking and other times to share my own thinking.
We can only strive for what we can envision. What we can envision is limited by the paradigm we know. And we construct our paradigm from the ideas and experiences that we expose ourselves to! "We don't know what we don't know!"
So, I encourage you to take the bold step of creating a PLN and begin connecting with other passionate educators from around the world. I'll guarantee you'll see there is a world of learning out there that you didn't know!