The other night I was having trouble sleeping. You know how it is – you wake in the middle of the night and your mind is racing so you can’t get back to sleep. The smart thing to do is to play some mindless game until things settle down enough to sleep. But I decided to read some blogs instead. Mistake. One of the first blogs I read was Do PLN's breed Dissatisfaction? by Vicki Davis. That lead me to Joining a PLN is bad for your morale by Steve Dembo. (Note that I read Steve’s blog as well and would have seen this post later anyway.) Now a PLN is a “Professional Learning Network” which is a phrase that has come into broad use on education blogs and especially on Twitter. What it refers to is the collection of people online who one learns from and participates in online discussions with.
Until Steve’s post I think most people thought that PLNs were all good with no down side. What Steve says and Vicki responds to is that:
In a nutshell, the newly-gone-natives are getting restless. Being close to people who are amazing examples of the best integration success stories in the world has led to mountain sized feelings of the grass being greener elsewhere. It’s leading to a great many people to think to themselves either, “Surely other schools are more ‘with it’ than mine” or even worse, “Education is doomed because nobody gets it besides we few.”
While the default assumption has been that teachers are becoming inspired by the people they meet could it be that when that happens they later become stifled and frustrated when administrators or IT people prevent them or at least discouraging them from using these new skills and techniques? Well it’s a theory. And I have seen more than a fair share of teachers, especially those who tech technology or teach with technology, become frustrated. But the way I look at it frustration is the mother of revolution. (Feel free to quote me. 🙂 )
The thing about the amazing online professional learning network is that people are learning the art of the possible. When an administrator says “that will not work” or even as specific "as that will not work in our school” there are real live examples out there that show that it is possible. There are teachers who have overcome battles with IT, administration, other teachers, their own lack of knowledge and even school boards who can share stories of how it does work. Many of these people are now presenting at live conferences like TCEA, NECC, FETC and regional conferences around the country and the world. People can point people to those sessions so that even the least technical of administrators can attend in person and learn for themselves. And there are many other ways that a PLN can help. In my job one of the things I have done multiple times is to talk to school IT people to help and reassure them that what a teacher wants to do can be done and how it can be done. I’m far from the only on doing that.
So yes, perhaps a PLN can bread some dissatisfaction and frustration – the grass is greener over there – but at the same time the PLN holds the seeds to a revolutionary network that can help a teacher overcome in place. A lot of teachers love the communities they teach in (just ask my wife and son who both feel a real emotional attachment to their students) and will fight to improve where they are if given the support. PLNs are or at least can be that support. Let’s rock and roll!