Taking the Plunge – Online Learning Communities

I’m enjoying getting started as a connected coach with a PLP ConnectU group from Australia this month. After listening to a wonderful Elluminate session as group leaders Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Will Richardson and Susan Carter Morgan got talking to folks about getting started on the Ning and on Twitter, I was reminded about that steep, but very gratifying, learning curve when I first began to participate in social media. I’m hoping to follow up on what they were saying with my top 3 tips for getting going in networked communities of educators.

Get on there!

Educators are the kind of people that value risk taking and shifts in thinking – especially those educators that you’ll find online. This is a supportive community that will teach you – don’t worry about making some mistakes! If you can try to make it a regular part of every day or so to check in online, you’ll soon realize that this is a place where you can ask questions, find resources, and get rich professional learning, virtually for free! You may find the people you are learning from will lead you in places you’d never dreamed you’d go – in a good way! You can find people who share similar interests and then bring back that knowledge to enrich your f2f school community.

Don’t worry about seeing everything!

Teachers are thorough. Teachers like to follow through on commitments. If they say they’ll do something it bothers them if they don’t do it. Being a member of a community like twitter or a Ning is a little different – and I’m recommending right now that you cut yourself some slack in this area. You needn’t worry about reading and responding to each and every piece that is posted. Instead, explore where your interests lie and let your passion for those topics enrich the community as a whole. Dive in when you need it, and contribute when you can! A quick check of the recently posted items will let you know if there is something that catches your attention.

Share your thinking online!

Tacit understanding is that unspoken knowledge that we acquire as teachers and boy, do we ever have a lot of it! So much of what we do is not made explicit in our daily work because it’s so complex and difficult to describe. Try asking a colleague what teaching strategies they used today and see how they answer! One of the amazing by-products of participating online, where you start to make thinking about your teaching practice explicit by writing or talking about it with others, is how much it helps you understand and increase the conviction and confidence in your own teaching practice and beliefs about learning. I think that’s been one of the most valuable parts of my relationships with people online – it’s like having a global staffroom of people who are interested in the best for students!