Patrick Higgins laid the groundwork for much of what follows in this and upcoming posts with his Ustreamed presentation at the Turning on Learning conference, Creating Personal Learning Environments for Professional Development. As preparation for his presentation, he sent a network shout-out for VoiceThreaded ideas
about personal learning networks, and visions for how they may change
the face of professional development. His heart-of-the-matter question:

How do networks change the way we view professional development, and how do you see that working for teachers in the future?

After
having personal learning networks on my mind all week, in large part
because of Patrick’s question, I’ve been mentally trotting out
metaphors describing the intersection of networked learning and
professional development. You know the old saying: teach me to fish and
feed me for a lifetime. The teach-fish-eat-live adage is a leading
candidate right now.

We know effective professional development is sustained, ongoing,
contextual, authentic, and based in community. And we know what
ineffective PD looks like, too: one-shot workshops get us fired up, but
the excitement fades in the sobering glare of the next day,
and the day after that. You know the drill. The metaphor goes like this:


Give me a fish and I eat for a day:
Sit and get. Feast for a day at a conference held at the downtown hotel,
then back to the same old hungry classroom. The classic one-day
workshop guaranteed to sow the seeds of cynicism.

Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime: Better PD:
learning that
occurs in an environment of sustained support, actually relates to
school and students, and is constructed through a genuine inquiry
process, maybe even with colleagues in a professional learning
community.

Normally, the metaphor would end there. But everything I’ve learned
about and from networking in the past year suggests that there’s more.
To extend the metaphor:

Work together to cast a fishing net, and we do more than simply subsist; we also create a culture. Metaphor
doesn’t venture far from etymology. In a learning network, the benefits
go beyond the pragmatics of simply having greater reach, of casting a
broader net to collect more individual knowledge, of having an endless
supply of colleagues ready to respond with resources, ideas, critiques,
everything we need to advance our thinking at the slightest strum of a
network filament. We can also pull together. We can also identify a
shared concern or question, and work together to build an array of
possible solutions. And by working together, we construct and live in a
culture of learning and creativity. Communities of practice and
professional learning communities verge on the idea of networked
learning, but they keep it local—casting the net into a fishbowl. By
casting an infinitely wide connective net, personal learning
environments represent a sea-change from traditional, even best
practice, professional development.

Diane Cordell writes, "We are never alone unless we choose to be so." Or, as Patrick says, "It’s a network, and it’s here for you.  Yes, you’ve got people."

 

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