Developing My Professional Learning Network

One of the things we’ve been challenged to do in many courses throughout the education program is to develop a Professional Learning Network. This is important for a number of reasons. By engaging with other education professionals on spaces like wikispaces, twitter, Pinterest, and blogs, I as an educator have access to a much broader knowledge base. When these social platforms are accessed properly, they become a free marketplace for the exchange of knowledge and ideas. Developing a Professional Learning Network has given me access to all sorts of resources for everything from anti-oppressive education, to classroom layout ideas. Throughout my time in the education program, there have been a few impacting moments that have convinced me that a PLN is absolutely essential to maintaining growth and relevance in the 21st century classroom.

The first moment of impact came a year ago in ECS 100. Julie Machnaik was one of my instructors and she gave a lecture on how she had recently begun to use Twitter as a platform for her professional learning network. She described Twitter as being like your own personalized magazine. You get to pick and choose which people, organizations, and topics you want to be current on and the accounts you follow will post photos, share news stories, articles, videos and more. Up until then I didn’t really see the point in twitter, but her analogy of a magazine is something that always stuck with me as I’ve been on my journey to develop a PLN. She challenged us to ask ourselves what kind of magazine should we be building for ourselves as pre-service teachers?

Another moment of impact for me was when Madam Kreuger came to give a lecture to the class on treaty education. She spoke on how her established PLN was instrumental in developing a dynamic approach to treaty education in her classroom. Not only was a PLN carried out on Twitter a resource for her, but she was also able to teach her students to develop a PLN of their own, by starting a class twitter account and networking with other classes to see what they were learning about.

A PLN is also an important tool to pass onto students. Learning how to use the internet responsibly has become such an important thing to the younger generation, and schools definitely need have a greater focus on that. Madam Kreuger sees a PLN as a great way to teach her students some 21st century skills on how to use these digital spaces to expand their knowledge. It can also serve as an excellent spring board into inquiry based learning because a PLN serves to rouse one’s curiosity.

PLN enriched that class’s experience with Treaty Education, but Treaty Education also enriched their PLN because they were able to contribute stories from their own classroom to their network. Many teachers are hesitant to get too deep into treaty education because they feel like they don’t know much about it. I learned that a Professional Learning Network is also a good way to learn more and become much more equipped to deliver treaty education into the classroom.

Her inspiring presentation lead me to include her in my own professional learning network. I have found her class blog to be a very beneficial resource in shaping the imagined practices I intended to use in my future classroom. For example she has used her planning network to interact with teachers from across the world, and has even had her class Skype other classes to discuss common things they were learning, which blows my mind. See the picture I pulled from her blog below. I can only imagine beneficial outcomes that come from a class interacting with another class across the world to share ideas over common themes and content.

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The final moment of impact I want to discuss has not really been a moment but a running thread throughout the journey. ECS100, EMTH217, ENLG200, and ECS210 are just a few of the courses that have modelled the PLN, and I hope future courses continue to do so. But in some ways I have been stubborn to the realization that PLN’s are useful. Perhaps I’m more attuned to the methods of instruction I was brought up with, because I tend to lean in more to the lectures as a source for learning than the internet. However, since so many of the lectures have been about developing a PLN, or a PLN has at least been consistently modelled throughout lecture time, I now find it hard to imagine not being heavily dependant on a Professional Planning Network.  I’ve had a difficult time engaging in conversations on twitter and through blogs, and it’s something I know I need to work on. But all in all, the I feel very equipped through my PLN. It’s also given me a far greater understanding on how to be an anti-oppressive educator. The Professional Learning Network has made me so excited to get into the classroom and put everything I’ve learned into practice!

Critical Response to Teaching in the Undertow

In this story Gregory Michi discusses the underlying pedagogy in schools, and how they are like the undertow of an ocean that make it hard for a teacher to stay anchored to their ideals. The “Undertow” of the school systems is essentially a process by which new teachers loose their optimism and become jaded, resulting in them loosing their steam to be innovative system-changing teachers and allow themselves to simply become part of a perpetuated current.  

I wanted to talk about this article because I think it touches on some of the most burning questions I have, which all pretty much are about how to be an affective teacher. How does a teacher with a lot of heart put their good intentions to the best use and prevent themselves from being burnt out? How do you answer the extreme complexities of the urban demographic and students in the poverty margin without becoming jaded or causing more damage? Too often teachers resort to meeting the status quo and adopt a mindset of just getting through the day or getting through the year. The author points out that teachers end up falling into the trap of focusing on all the impediments of their work because it provides short term therapeutic benefit but is ultimately a dead end for effective teachers As a teacher in training I have a lot of high ideals about the kind of impact I want to make, because I want to be a teacher that genuinely empowers his students. 

The book points out that part of the issue where things go wrong for a teacher is they come in with naive expectations and assume that their good will, high ideals, and simply having their heart in the right place will be enough to accomplish their goals in the classroom. Michi points out that our experiences have been coloured through by teacher stories and feel-good movies which has set unrealistic expectations about what can be achieved in only 10 months. When reading this I would say I have to agree. Particularly, films like “Freedom Writers” come to mind as a movie that perpetuates this ideal, and gives teachers the impression that they are lone crusaders in the fight for justice in their schools. This is not true however as the author said that she was able to find many caring teachers in every school she went to, so one of the steps a teacher should take towards achieving their goals is by forming alliances and support networks with fellow teachers. The bridge between the reality and the ideal needs to be built through a team effort. 

Something else that struck me is how the author emphasized the importance of small details within the big picture, such as doing things to improve the environment in your classroom because social justice in practice is as much about the environment you create as it is about the explicit lessons you teach. Gregory Michi continues to emphasize a focus on the little things as a way of slowly taking ground. Too after teachers bite off more than they can chew instead of trying to win one battle at a time. I find this encouraging and also very helpful because now I understand that change doesn’t need to occur all at once across the whole day. We can focus on one subject area for even once a week and use that as a starting point for investing in a more engaging class. As Michi says, “You can’t do everything you planned or imagined but you can always do something.”

Finally, I think the thing that influenced me most from this story is the understanding that we can’t always expect results to be obvious. We can’t expect every aspect of our teaching to be constantly giving our students a new perspective on the world. We can’t see ourselves as failures when every moment isn’t an “Aha!” moment for students. It’s important to understand that the impact we make will likely be gradual, and often times have to trust that what we’re doing is really genuinely helping to give students a deeper understanding, a deeper sense of self, and a deeper sense of empowerment.

Stories That Shape Our Lives: Unwrapping The Holidays

In Dale Weiss’ story he relates his experiences in dealing with holiday controversy at his school. Being jewish, he felt obligated to challenge the cultural norms of the school that was heavily in favour of celebrating christmas. While he believed in what he was doing he also learned that he had not taken the appropriate steps to consider everyones feelings on the matter and had offended many teachers who only wanted to pass on something that was important to them onto their students. He encourages the reader and schools to create an environment where people can still cherish christmas but students who don’t celebrate it aren’t being made to feel deviant or abnormal.

How Stories Shape Our Lives: Teaching Controversial Content

In this story, Kelley Dawson Salas talks about that struggles of teaching controversial content which usually means anything to do with social justice. There are many challenges in the way since parents and administration are not always on board with the idea of children being made to think about things like homosexuality. Furthermore, social justice matters are generally not implemented in the curriculum so delving into them with class requires a departure. Kelley says that ultimately though the only person who has the authority to decide what you teach is the teacher themselves, and they must respond to the responsibility to educate their students on how to live in the 21st century.

How Stories Shape Our Lives: Working effectively with language learners

This article by Bob Peterson and Kelley Salas stresses the importance of delivering curriculum in a way thats understandable to students who don’t have english as their first language. It gives tips on how to make communication with these students easier like speaking slowy, preparing EAL students ahead of time to participate in class lessons, avoid asking students if they understand infront of the whole class, and rely more on visual cues such as posters, videos, illustrated books. Working with small groups is one of the most important things that can yield a lot more benefits and understanding to EAL students.


How Stories Shape Our Lives: Curriculum Is Everything That Happens

This article is an interview with Rita Tenario and she outlines a few things that brand new teachers should understand when heading into their first job. She says that a political consciousness that actively pursues social justice is imperative, along with having a deep understanding of where their students come from culturally. She explains that curriculum is everything that happens, including relationships, attitudes, feelings, and interactions.