For Better Or For Worse – It’s Our PLN

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#EDLISTEN (Choose to listen above and/or read blog below) – I’m collecting metrics to understand better the value in offering multiple mediums for those who visit my online learning space. Will post future blogs w/ “listening” component on Twitter using that hashtag. 

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, and as I work with new educators and leaders at the University level, I find myself introducing folks daily to “the PLN.” This work has caused me to do a great deal of reflection based upon raw feedback on the PLN’s “culture.” I’ve heard publicly and privately from those just beginning to discover personal and professional value in these spaces. I have some strong thoughts, and after seeing something extremely disturbing a friend and colleague shared with me this morning, I simply cannot remain silent any longer. My own silence and lack of action means I condone the behaviors that I witness. I’ve seen various levels of impact in my evolving Personal Learning Network (PLN). For a second, think with me about the good, bad and ugly of our PLN.

The Good

  • Here in 2015, educators can reach out to just about anyone to enhance the engagement in and out of class. Lyn Hilt, Chris Lehmann and Eric Sheninger, who I studied closely during my dissertation study, were a few early adopters. Their work and the press that followed has helped many of us become more comfortable and unlock some previously blocked policy on social media as a tool for teaching, learning and leadership.

  That was 4 years and 36,600 tweets ago.

  • Now, according to 2014’s ISTE estimate, over 600,000 educators are actively on Twitter learning and sharing, making their schools and classrooms come alive and the good collateral damage is that we’ve created glass walls around our schools to provide families a window into learning and allow opportunities for active engagement in the student learning process. You can’t find a conference that doesn’t have social media embedded throughout the entire event as we’re starting to understand more clearly that transparent use of social media leads to deeper relationships with local and global colleagues and an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality in working for kids. <– This is why I got on Twitter in 2011. The (new for educators) online community was selfless, folks were always sharing, playing “dot-connector” and all the associations and publications I had received in hard copy were tweeting out the articles 3-6 months in advance. That was the 30 second elevator speech on how I sold colleagues near and far on the positive power of social media for the field. While that still exists, there are also some things we (me included) need to be up front and honest about.

The Bad

  • As networks evolve, it is inevitable for hierarchies to form. These hierarchies are different based on our own perspectives, personal relationships with various individuals and what those in our circles have experienced. It’s life. I was not a very popular kid in high school. My mom gave me a perm in 6th grade. I was bullied because I was sensitive and lacked initiative and a voice. I was quiet about it and just focused on playing baseball and geeking out on technology – two of the things in life that gave me confidence. The more I participate in social media networks, the more I feel we all need to take a good long look in the mirror and revisit to the reasons we began this journey and took this “edu-risk” to put ourselves out there. Do they still hold water? How has our on AND offline behavior evolved since we’ve become “connected?”
  • There is no official “who’s who” in education, although some awards processes, press, associations, conferences, publishers and groups have certainly put various individuals in the limelight for various reasons – some well-deserved, some not so much. But again, this is only my lens.

The Ugly

  • The network is no longer the pristine, selfless PLN I became a part of in 2011. There is both on and offline bullying happening in this space. I have to be honest, it scares me that no one says anything about it except in DMs, voxes, side gossip at local and national conferences and other places that are not so public. One of things we forget in the craziness of our personal and professional lives is that we are role-modeling for kids at school and our kids at home with our online behavior, in what we say and what we don’t say. If we are constantly preaching how this has no place in our work in education, we need to walk the walk – no matter how crazy the situation is.
  • The social media waters are now murky and the choices you make as an educator online must be thought about more deeply than ever. Some in and outside of the 100s of weekly edchats are finding a difficult balance between selling their books and keeping a stubborn mindset on the learning, curiosity and innovation that got them there. Some behaviors I’m seeing too much off are adopting titles like “thought leaders” and promoting ourselves by retweeting every compliment handed out. Someone told me my Chuck Taylors were cool last week in Kentucky. Think about this. For me to then walk outside and broadcast for everyone in the world “SOME NICE WOMAN JUST TOLD ME MY SHOES ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!” only not once but multiple times a week — why must our behavior norms change just because we are online. I understand you are excited and someone has filled your bucket, but to be honest, I’ve just lost some respect for you. The hardest part about it? Some of those guilty of these self-promoting behaviors are actually my friends. But how will others know I’m doing such awesome work for kids? If you want others to know what is being said about you, all they have to do is search your mentions. Your Twitterfeed is the new business card, your resume and possibly your opportunity to land your dream job someday.
  • One final thought. “Group think” where the chat is 90% agreement and no one asks prompting questions or pushing the thinking is spreading like wildfire across various evening chats. I understand many of us got into this connected work as a means to be innovative, but innovation isn’t something that can be “checked off.” Just because you are on Twitter or another social media, doesn’t mean you are necessarily innovative, open-minded and someone others should follow. To have this innovative mindset, we must constantly be thinking of how we can be better for not only the kids and their families tomorrow, but our own local and global colleagues. We have to take care of each other. We have to have the tough conversations, continuously expose ourselves to new perspectives and keep our ear to the ground of those actually working with students “on the front lines.” We’re all on the same team, working in the toughest profession in the world (as it should be) – educating kids.

What the research says

As I’ve observed behavior on Twitter (or Twittiquette) I’m wondering if I should be doing more self promotion. After all, I like many others have never been through a social media course on what to do and not do. Does the PLN have core values? Should it? The beauty of this space is that you be who you want to be and go after what you need as an educator or a person or both. Setting out rules (IMO) is not an answer, but we should at least be talking about the behaviors and what they mean to various stakeholders if we’re committed to evolving the space. Here’s an article I found, and I’d love to read more along these lines if you’d add something you’ve read in the comments section below.

The Perils of Self-Confidence via Harvard Business Review

Reams of psychological studies show that being perceived as modest is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes. The message is clear: People do not value confidence unless it is accompanied by competence—and even when it is, they prefer to see as little confidence surplus as possible.

Also check out @drtcp‘s website with more research, resources and media.

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Moving forward

  • Purpose, Passion, Pride – Iowa HS Principal Jimmy Casas has these three words in big letters in his office. He is a champion for these three words. He walks the walk and owns it. These words remind me of the greatest part about being part of the PLN. It wouldn’t be fair of me to throw out my thoughts on the network without offering some ideas on how we can get better. I ask the same of students, teachers and community members when we challenges arise. If were not listening and open to feedback from each of these lenses, we’re probably just in a “job” and not embracing this work as our “vocation” – a whole different post for another time.
  • Embrace the role you have before you embrace the one you want. I love my new gig at @PennGSE and @MCDPEL. I get to collaborate with school leaders, faculty members and MCDPEL alumni all over the world on using social media for connected teaching, learning and leadership. I get to speak from experience on where I made gains and where I fell flat on my face as a leader. I’m not an expert, and I say this each time I speak regardless of what the promo flyer says about my work. We all must work hard to be “experts” of our own communities by listening the most and committing to evolving our work based on what we hear – even if it doesn’t tell us “we’re awesome.” In the words of my first principal, Dr. Maureen Cheever, “The kids are depending on us. Be crazy, be magnificent!”
  • Find ways to bring more voices and perspectives into the conversation. I’ve been trying to follow new people and those who are just joining Twitter that have less than 100 followers. These are folks who are dipping their toes in the water to see what the “PLN” is all about and why everyone is raving about it. Let’s set a good example across the board. This is a space many of us have worked very hard to evolve. We have to take care of it and be vocal and brave when we need to be. We can learn a lot from each other if we just stopped talking and listened.
  • A new twist to think about as we innovate school leadership. Look for a new style of podcast coming out of @MCDPEL (See #backchannelEDU for details). It will be based on connecting research to practice, taking an inquiry stance and involving real leadership scenarios complete with voices from the field. Social media will be embedded throughout the process of this new, interactive “podcast series” starting Monday, March 2, 2015. (Follow @backchannelEDU on Twitter and save the date via Remind) [RESOURCE] What is a “backchannel?” via @educause (2011).

I challenge those in my PLN to raise the bar for both themselves and others as we continue to innovate inside this space. We have successfully made the education world smaller by the daily interactions we have on a variety of different mediums. We have made the impossible possible. This work is about relationships and there is no “summit” where you say, “I made it!” Building and sustaining them is hard work. Jealousy, gossip, self promotion, lack of transparency, lack of attending conferences and hashtag chats anymore as a learner is very clear to the rest of us. You simply can’t “outgrow” these things.

If you’ve gotten this far, I appreciate you taking the time. These are simply some things I’m seeing too much of as of late and I couldn’t go one more post without putting it out there. I think we can do better. I will always think we can do better. We must if we hope to move our educational system forward as we evolve locally and globally. How would others (new, experienced, early adopters) describe the present “culture of our PLN? What are YOU doing to innovate in order to take it to the next level of support, collaboration, personal and professional learning? What would be your elevator speech to describe the PLN?

I’d be anxious to hear your thoughts, your experiences good, bad, indifferent. Please push my thinking as I continue develop my own lens on this work and “our” network.

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