Electronic Teaming for Singletons in a PLC

One of the questions that I’m asked all the time as an advocate for both professional learning communities and teaching with technology is, “How can digital tools be used to support the learning of singletons in our schools?”

The answer is that there are two steps in any effort to develop electronic learning teams.

First, many singletons need help simply finding peers who teach similar content areas and grade levels.  Tackling that challenge can start with Twitter.

A microblogging service that allows users to post short (140-character), public messages to the web, Twitter makes sharing ideas and resources with one another easy.

More importantly for singletons, however, Twitter makes finding peers to learn with—no matter how alone you feel—easy.

You see, THOUSANDS of singletons have started to use Twitter to network with peers.  Better yet, they are organizing ongoing conversations around common hashtags—short, searchable phrases included at the end of every message.

Here are direct links to the hashtag conversations of some of the most active singleton groups on Twitter:

#musiced : Music Educators

#agedu : Agricultural Educators

#careerteched : Career and Technical Educators

#physed : Physical Education Teachers

#ushist : US History Teachers

#tlchat : Teacher-Librarians

#langchat and #flteach : Foreign Language Teachers

#ece : Early Childhood Educators

#artsed : Fine Arts Educators

#esol : English as a Second Language Teachers

#spedchat : Special Educators

While the content being shared in each of these conversations is bound to be valuable for any singleton teacher, the potential connections are even MORE valuable. 

Consider signing up for a Twitter account and then reaching out to new partners in new places.  It’s really not as intimidating as you may think! 

My favorite collection of resources for teachers new to Twitter is this Kim Cofino blog entry

Check it out and start experimenting.  You’ll be a pro in no time. More importantly, you’ll find content specific peers to learn with in no time, too!

The second step to creating meaningful electronic learning teams is to begin joining together in more sophisticated digital homes.

You see, PLCs aren’t just groups of teachers who are sharing resources with each other.  Instead, they are groups of teachers who are engaged in sustained, collective inquiry around their practice together.

PLC expert Rick DuFour and his Learning by Doing coauthors define the core work of PLCs as:

“An ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students that they serve.”

No matter how much I love Twitter, “recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research” just aren’t possible in 140-character messages.

But it IS possible to use digital tools to engage in “recurring cycles of collective inquire and action research” with far-flung peers. 

Some electronic teams use free tools like Skype to videoconference weekly and Google Docs to develop shared assessments and lesson plans. 

Others use asynchronous tools like Voicethread to maintain ongoing conversations on important instructional concepts and PB Works to warehouse team content.

I’ve been recommending that digital novices interested in electronic teaming explore Wiggio.  Another free service, Wiggio stands out because it makes ALL of these collaborative actions possible from behind one login.

After creating a group that includes the singleton peers that you want to collaborate with,  you can use Wiggio to create common assessments and to warehouse shared lesson plans. 

More importantly, you can conduct regular video conferences and maintain ongoing asynchronous conversations with each other. 

This ability to bring together tools that make every collaborative task possible in one place will resonate with many teachers.  While techies might be comfortable with service-switching when collaborating, most teachers will be much happier with one new tool to learn!

Whatever tool you pick to build a collaborative home for your electronic learning team, remember that your priority should be to implement collaborative practices that look just like the work being done by peers on traditional learning teams.

Develop sets of essential outcomes.  Create common rubrics and exemplars of accomplished student work.  Set criteria for student mastery and deliver common assessments.  “Meet” regularly to talk about instruction. 

In the end, that commitment to a structured process of collective inquiry focused on student learning is the hallmark of every successful learning team, whether they’re gathering in person or online!

____________________________________

Related Radical Resources:

Twitter for Singletons

Twitter as a Tool for Professional Development

Twitter Hashtags for Educators

14 thoughts on “Electronic Teaming for Singletons in a PLC

  1. Srtaracz

    Thank you so much for this information. I am just now getting into Twitter and am finding it invaluable, but I also like the idea of creating a home for an electronic learning team. I am going into my first year as a singleton Spanish for Spanish Speakers teacher, so I will definitely take a look at using PB Works or Wiggio.

  2. Musictchrschram

    Thank you for building these PLN possibilities for “singletons”. It is helpful to find a blogger who recognizes the loner position of the “specials” in education. I hope to connect to people through blogs that are directed towards Music Education. Twitter is helping me do that. In the last two days, I found 6 Music Education blogs, which are commented on in my site. I hope all you music educators out there connect to new ideas and new people.

  3. Kris

    I read this article on a recommendation during a workshop about PLN’s. The links and tools are great, especially for novices. Everyone needs to start somewhere.

  4. Spedresource

    Recently I have been working on using sites like Twitter, Blogger and the like to grow a PLN. This post was very well timed because being a singleton is the exact reason I am so interested in connecting with people. One of the issues I have had with looking for resources or blogs is that some of the jobs are so specific many of the sites aren’t as helpful.
    I want to show others how helpful PLNs and PLCs can be, but there always seems to be an issue with time. In my perspective, that start up of a PLN/PLC can take more time, but isn’t the end result supposed to be to help make teaching more effective? Granted I’m only on my second day of even knowing what a PLN is =)
    ~Katie

  5. Bill Ferriter

    Did y’all see this brilliant bit that Sheryl wrote explaining the differences between common frameworks of adult learning?
    I wanted to spotlight it. If you read nothing else in this comment strand, don’t skip this.
    ________________________
    I believe that by attending to the development of knowledge for, in and of practice, we can enhance professional growth that leads to real change.
    Out of networks(PLNs)we acquire knowledge for practice, we make connections, we share our knowledge artifacts.
    But we do not usually make a commitment to each other to go deep and foster change (Like we do in PLCs and CoPs) Our focus is on ourselves as individuals and what we want to learn and what others have to share.
    In CoPs we can go deep in understanding knowledge of practice. We go beyond classrooms basics and beyond sharing links, what we are doing and jokes.
    We look at our practice systemically. Our focus is on self directed learning and improvement as a collective. We develop a collective identity.
    And in PLCs we can develop knowledge in practice by talking about what we have done (things we learned about in the network) and what worked and what didn’t and why.
    ____________________
    Great stuff, Sheryl. Thanks for sharing it.
    Bill

  6. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

    I would take it one step further and include communities of practice. PD in the 21st Century is a 3-pronged approach.
    Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999a) describe three ways of knowing and constructing knowledge that are often found in PLNs, PLCs, and CoPs.
    Knowledge for Practice is reflected in traditional PD efforts when a trainer shares with teachers information produced by educational researchers. This knowledge presumes a commonly accepted degree of correctness about what is being shared. The learner is typically passive in this kind of “sit and get” experience. This kind of knowledge is difficult for teachers to transfer to classrooms without support and follow through. After a workshop, much of what was useful gets lost in the daily grind, pressures and isolation of teaching.
    Knowledge in Practice recognizes the importance of teacher experience and practical knowledge in improving classroom practice. As a teacher tests out new strategies and assimilates them into teaching routines they construct knowledge in practice. They learn by doing. This knowledge is strengthened when teachers reflect and share with one another lessons learned during specific teaching sessions and describe the tacit knowledge embedded in their experiences.This sharing happens in PLCs.
    Knowledge of Practice (CoPs) believes that systematic inquiry where teachers create knowledge as they focus on creating questions about and systematically studying their own classroom teaching practices collaboratively. This allows educators to construct knowledge of practice in ways that move beyond the basics of classroom practice to a more systemic view of learning.
    I believe that by attending to the development of knowledge for, in and of practice, we can enhance professional growth that leads to real change.
    Out of networks(PLNs)we acquire knowledge for practice, we make connections, we share our knowledge artifacts. But we do not usually make a commitment to each other to go deep and foster change (Like we do in PLCs and CoPs) Our focus is on ourselves as individuals and what we want to learn and what others have to share.
    In CoPs we can go deep in understanding knowledge of practice. We go beyond classrooms basics and beyond sharing links, what we are doing and jokes. We look at our practice systemically. Our focus is on self directed learning and improvement as a collective. We develop a collective identity.
    And in PLCs we can develop knowledge in practice by talking about what we have done (things we learned about in the network) and what worked and what didn’t and why. Our focus is on students.
    Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S.L. (1999a). Relationships of knowledge and practice: Teaching learning in communities. Review of Research in Education, 24, 249-305.

  7. Amy

    Hi Bill, Having the combination of an online PLN and a school-based PLC works best for me as teacher. Often, I will seek inspiration from teachers on twitter, for example, and then perform inquiry in my classroom, reporting back to both my twitter PLN and my school PLC. In my mind, the two work together to inform and improve teaching and learning. I use google docs with both my PLN and PLC…now to only combine the two would be greatly advantageous! Thanks for the post.

  8. Mary Lou Carroll

    I have been a singleton Latin teacher in a rural high school. For many years I was the only Latinist in the district. The value of a good listserve should not be forgotten in the race to embrace Twitter. The Latinteach Listserve has been a godsend for me at times and has definitely changed my teaching practice for the better.

  9. Dave Bircher

    Bill,
    I like this post as you discuss the PLC philosophy and discuss ways of connecting teachers. As I have tried to motivate and encourage staff to build a network over the past year, your listing of specific hashtags helps as well. Using Skype to connect with other teachers is important too. Small schools have struggled to form PLC’s as a teacher may be the only one in their building at their grade level, etc. These tools, including Voicethread, can assist teachers in forming their specific PLC’s and networks in general.
    Still sunny in North Carolina?
    Dave

  10. Gcouros

    Thanks Bill for your post. We recently talked about the importance of PLC time and in this day and age, I see that schools are thinking a lot about doing them in a model where time is provided either after schools, or during the day. Although it is essential that we ensure that we have some face-to-face time with our colleagues, there are only so many hours in the day and coaching, families, extracurricular, etc., often interfere. Do we not need lives outside of the school? We need to start looking at PLC’s in a little bit of a different way and think of synchronous and asynchronous ways that we can connect to one another. Why can’t I connect when the time is best for me? I can still share those ideas, and often, when I do, they will be archived in a way that is there for later.
    Just rambling but still, we should be able to connec the two. “We have the technology.”

  11. Bill Ferriter

    Your comment is spot on, Scott. My goal is to show people how to use PLNs to spot potential partners for the more structured, organized, focused work of PLCs.
    And while I think administrators should be responsible for creating structures that make PLC teaming efficient and possible for everyone, if teachers want to seek out partners—or if school leaders just dont provide them—I see no problem with teachers building their own teams as long as those teams are intentional about the work theyre doing. If theyre choosing essential outcomes, giving common assessments, studying best practices, theyre a PLC no matter who picked their partners.
    What I love about your thinking is that Ill bet you believe that just because teachers CAN find their own partners doesnt mean that principals are off the hook for creating the structures that enable meaningful collaboration for everyone.
    Thats a message I can definitely support.
    Bill

  12. Scott McLeod

    I see important differences between PLCs and PLNs…
    PLCs: a small, intentional, structured group of role-alike teachers that comes together to examine student work and teacher practice and uses student learning outcomes to inform instructional improvements
    PLNs: a larger, more haphazard, unstructured, likely-online learning community. May or may not be role-alike teachers. May or may not be very focused. Likely not using student learning outcomes in a formal, structured way to inform instructional improvements. And so on…
    I’m not knocking the worth of PLNs. I just think that PLCs need to be more purposeful and structured and focused IF they’re to do what they’re intended.

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