Connections and Community in a Modern Learning World

Hey, loyal readers! I blogged a few weeks ago, sharing this Shifting Conversations post on our Modern Learners blog. Cross-posting here as well. If you’re looking for just THE thing to support your professional learning, look no further than MLC. Visit today and join us!


In our last Shifting Conversation post, the 250th in the series, Bruce shared the evolution of Modern Learners over the last five years, a few of the tools we use to thrive (and survive) as a team, and the pivots we made along the way. Since Bruce and Will have spent the past week traveling to facilitate Modern Learners’ Labs in Perth, Auckland, and Christchurch, Missy and I are eager to share more about who we are and what we have in store for you.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we amplify lists of “Skills all Workers Will Need in 2040” and remark, “Did you know our students will be working in jobs that don’t even exist yet?” and with this certain amount of rhetoric comes the reality of living and working in a fluid, dynamic, primarily online learning environment. Occasionally we have to stop and consider what a different time and place this world of modern learning really is, and how it influences not only our work, learning, and connections with other educators, but also our lives and the lives of the children we love.

We often hear in Modern Learners Community and Change School that we do a great job of modeling the way we learn and work in a way that motivates others to embrace the change. We field questions about how we get things done, how we bring new products to the world, and how we support our community with what they need, when they need it. So here’s a bit of an inside look at the ways in which our Modern Learners team connects and works in hopes of supporting educators for years to come.

Geography and time zones know no bounds when trying to bring together our team of five. Eastern, Central, Pacific, Australian Eastern Standard Time – you name it, at least one of us is located somewhere the others are not. Often our ideal work time schedules are off by 12+ hours at a time. How do we accommodate this? We unlearned what it means to have “typical” schedules, spaces, and places. We work all shifts, before kids wake up, after they go to bed at night, before planes board, during breaks of workshops we facilitate,  after connecting to hotel wifi. We hold synchronous meetings in Zoom. We dialogue asynchronously in Slack and co-create and share with Google Drive and Dropbox and Airtable. No matter where we are or what we’re doing, we can connect.

Like most virtual teams, we feel compelled to get together in person once a year (although hopefully our adventures in Modern Learners’ Labs will unite us more often). This past July we spent three days together in Chicago. Physically and mindfully present, we were able to iron out our mission and vision. Certainly, we had a set of working beliefs and a working mission that we had been crafting for several months, but in July we made that our focus. To get to this mission, we asked ourselves many questions:

What do we believe?

What is the message?

What makes us different?

Who is the audience?

Where are we going?

Through a process, we finally settled on our mission:

Our mission is to change the school experience for children around the world by putting the focus back on learning.

We are now charged with living that mission by developing meaningful, unique learning experiences for school administrators, teachers, and those invested in education. We are pursuing various paths to do so, each important to the overall construct of who we are as an organization and what we value.

I’ll first speak to the component of Modern Learners that consumes (in a good way) my day in, my day out, my creative energies and my love of learning, and that’s Modern Learners Community. I’ve written before about the power of networks; I’ve advocated for learners to “connect” for nearly a decade. I’ve been the direct beneficiary of connections made with other inspiring educational leaders who have supported me and shaped me as a leader, especially in my early days as an elementary principal.

But it’s in recent years that I’ve noticed less of an impact from the open social spaces I used to frequent, and that more learning opportunities arise in close-knit communities of practice based on a foundation of trust, shared understandings, and a commitment to personal learning. The networking opportunities in open social are still very real and available, and an educator who invests time and energy into following certain hashtags or posting to social spaces can eventually find information and people to support her learning. But it’s getting trickier to navigate those open waters, and often the content we see in our feeds is not dictated by our preferences alone, but by algorithms and behind-the-scenes methods controlled by social and political influencers. Open social is messy. It’s frantic, it’s often fraught with hate, and it can distract us from the task at hand: learning.

Learning through connections. Connections to ideas, to people, to questions, to support, to diversity of thought, to resources. Connecting to learn.

Our goal of building a strong community of practice begins fundamentally with a belief in connectivism (George Siemens, 2004) and in acknowledging the vital importance of curation in a time of incredible abundance of resources and information. As Siemens says,

A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected. (Siemens, 2007)

Inside our community, we make it a priority to craft a space for learning that includes carefully curated content, allowing our members to explore freely through topics and subjects and dialogue with other learners in a way that allows them to think and reflect transparently. It’s a safe space, one that allows the learner to be vulnerable and to share and gain perspectives. But due to the nature of our platform, the learners have incredible power in shaping their own learning paths – they, too, can share content and have access to other community members synchronously and asynchronously – our face-to-face Zoom sessions have been some of the most profound learning experiences I’ve encountered thus far. There are master classes and book studies and events. Inquiry and agency are at the heart of our interactions within the community, and right now, at over 500 members, we are seeing the incredible benefits of network effects and interactions inside a community that frees the learner from distractions of open social. It’s a space to commit, to challenge, to be challenged; a place to engage and a place to learn. Together.

As we attempt to meet the personal learning needs of our members, we know some school leaders and teachers want to be involved in specific types of experiences – thus Change School cohorts are now run out of our main Modern Learners Community platform, and alumni have access not only to one another in a Group within MLC, but to the community at large. For life!

So, where do we next focus this movement to change the school experience for all kids? To help put the focus back on learning for school teams in local settings, we’ve established Modern Learners’ Labs, because while powerful learning can occur in digital spaces, it’s nice to spend the day in the same room with passionate educators who bring their questions, ideas, and leadership strategies to the collective learning experience.

Looking for a deep dive into particular topics of interest such as inquiry, student agency, assessment, and leading modern learning initiatives that matter? Then our Modern Learners’ Courses are for you. Coming this fall, our courses are not about one-way interactions around content; they’re about community. Because when you join us for a course, you have access to MLC and can collaborate, co-create, and dialogue together. Courses come and go, but community continues to evolve and grow as your learning needs do.

As the end of August nears, it’s back to school time for many learners here in the US. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with this experience. With trying to create the perfect learning environments for kids and keeping up with the latest school initiatives and changes. As our August MLC theme is all about the relationships of learning, we hope you’ll take the time to focus on relationships, first. Your collegial relationships with one another. Your relationships with learners in your care and their families. And your relationships with self. Make your own learning a priority. Commit to connect.

Our modern learning world thrives on connections. We want to help connect you to the most thought-provoking minds and inspiring practitioners who are doing great things for kids. Together, we’ll reimagine the school experience for all learners. So, we seek more voices. We need you! Hope you’ll join us this year in one capacity or another.


5 More to Explore

  • Back to the Blog by Dan Cohen, via Stephen Downes – “Meanwhile, thinking globally but acting locally is the little bit that we can personally do. Teaching young people how to set up sites and maintain their own identities is one good way to increase and reinforce the open web. And for those of us who are no longer young, writing more under our own banner may model a better way for those who are to come.”
  • Modern Learners Podcast #49 – Relationships, Leadership, and Learning with Superintendent Dr. Joe Sanfileppo– Our latest podcast is a great way to get energized for a new school year!
  • EDUCAUSE Releases the 2018 NMC Horizon Report – EDUCAUSE acquired the rights to the report after NMC dismantled earlier this year – and check out Audrey Watters’ A Horizon Report History
  • Flogging the Dead Horse of RSS by Dean Shareski – What is the most effective, efficient way to scour the feeds that pass through our channels every day? If not open social, might a return to a reliance on RSS be in order?
  • Will and I both started reading Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom by Young Children at School, by Carla Shalaby, after catching the Twitter conversations around #CleartheAir facilitated by Val Brown. Eye-opening, awe-inspiring, causes you to reflect inward on the experiences between you and students you’ve worked with in the past and the ways in which you’ll change your perspectives and actions moving forward.
  • Change School 6 kicks off THIS WEEK! Don’t miss your chance to be part of this intense 8-week sprint that builds your connections and capacity for change, and lifetime membership in a passionate community of coaches and leaders who help you make it happen.

Connect to learn. Seek to understand.

I’ve advocated for educators to use social to connect, for learning, for quite some time. I do this even when my pleas have fallen on less-than-enthused ears, or when someone can’t quite comprehend the scope of how being a “connected educator” has changed who I am as a teacher, and as a leader, a thinker, a creator.

I know for sure that it has fundamentally changed me as a learner.

I’m currently teaching a graduate-level technology & communications course for aspiring principals, and networks & communities & PLNs & all the rest are part of our course explorations. My students are really stepping it up in terms of their blogging game. Would love for you to take a look and comment if you have the opportunity!  We recently reflected on Dean Shareski’s ideas around sharing and our Moral Imperative to do so as educators. See blogs by

Taylor, Steven, Laurie, Bernadette, and Ralph

 

So, yes, I feel good sharing about sharing. About making sure the educators I work and learn with can connect with others to develop supportive circles of friends and resource knowledge bases and be in touch with the latest and greatest in the world of education and educational technology and leadership.

But, you know, as much as social used to be a space where we went for inspiration, for support, and for meaningful conversations filled with constructive feedback, it’s kind of morphed into a space where I get a really icky feeling every time I’m there.

Last night I chatted with Jeff Bradbury and Sam Patterson on the Tech Educator podcast, and we talked about connected educators and learning with social and how the spaces have evolved so much since the beginning, both in good ways (many more educators participating, new tools to help us connect in different ways) and in bad ways (tendencies to stay in our bubbles, algorithms taking command of who we interact with and how, not amplifying marginalized voices, a constant stream of noise and promotion). The time spent recording our thoughts was not nearly enough to delve into all that is good and all that is broken in the world of social learning.

I don’t know if it’s the medium, or the message, or the heightened state of anxiety that exists among teachers and leaders and humans in general, but I may in fact start to steer teachers clear of open social spaces if they’re looking for genuine engagement and discourse.

I love a well-constructed, respectful conversation on Twitter. I enjoy people who post things that make me go, “Huh. I didn’t think about that perspective before.” Or, “Oh. That thing I just shared absolutely amplifies my privilege and maybe I need to think twice about what I say, how I say it, and whose voices I’m sharing.” In our quest to move Beyond the Buzzwords with our Modern Learners work, I do insert myself into chats such as #satchat pretty regularly and try to offer questions and comments that push the boundaries of what people are generally posting and thinking about some topics around “educational innovation.” But I always try to do that from a place of deep respect for the educators in this space and a genuine interest in moving the conversation forward.

There are people who enjoy sharing platitudes and pick-me-up statements via social, and I am not one of those people. There are people who love personally attacking other users, or amplifying their work just to smear it, and I hope I am not one of those people, either.

But I get why it happens.

They’ve had enough. They’ve seen enough. The levels of frustration they experience when they’re told what “good teachers” do or what “everyone” should try are beyond measure. They’re exhausted. They feel like they’re not being heard. They feel attacked.

And so what’s lacking in these spaces, and in leadership circles in general, is our inability or unwillingness to seek first to understand.

Seek to understand.

Before tweeting, before posting, before sharing…. read once. Read again. Do some background fact-checking and learn more about the person behind the account, or think about the message you wish to share and examine it from all possible angles. Where does the privilege lie? Where does the motivation come from? How might someone who isn’t in your position/race/class view this information? How can your subsequent interactions with users and content create a more robust learning space for people who are engaged? How can you amplify messages and voices that push us to be better? Better thinkers, better learners, better people?

There are alternatives to learning in open social, and more and more educators are gravitating to more clearly defined spaces that better support deep conversations around teaching and learning. They’re joining together as tribes of people who are committed to a movement. These types of communities are moderated, have clearly established norms, and they’re sometimes behind a paywall or require a subscription. But I think what people are beginning to realize is that there is incredible value in such a space, and the cost is minimal in the grand scheme of what is added to their learning, plus the fact that the platforms being used are algorithm and noise-pollution-free.

Our space is ChangeLeaders Community, and we’re growing, and it’s exciting. We need more voices, though –your voice. We need more diverse representations of leaders and learners and we hope you will consider joining us, for the betterment of the entire community.

I don’t tweet as often as I used to, and I certainly don’t blog with the regularity of my early blogging years, but these spaces are still such an important part of who I am as a learner and leader. Every day I find meaning in the interactions. I want us to commit to making these spaces the height of what we try to create

More to Explore/See/Do:

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Friends don’t let friends use Chromebooks for CoolMath.

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels

This post was originally posted in ChangeLeaders Community… I’m the community manager there and we love to curate, share, and discuss topics of interest in the educational leadership and innovation realm. Think you’d like to join us? (You do.) Clickity click.


Bruce (Dixon) called my attention to GoGuardian‘s recently published “research” findings about how Chromebooks are being used in classrooms. Titled The 2018 Benchmark Report: A Four Part Seriesthe company is looking to provide insights into “emerging trends” in Chromebook usage. If you are using Chromebooks in your schools or are thinking about how to approach technology integration in your organizations, do give it a look.

But read it with an open, inquisitive mind. I, for one, am still on the hunt for the actual research publication that helped generate the infographics shared on the GoGuardian site. I would love to know more about which types of schools were included in the research study (it mentions 5 million K-12 Chromebook users, but are the students enrolled in schools who pay to use GoGuardian’s services?), how the data was collected (seems to me most of it was pulled right from the tracking features included with GoGuardian), and other components of the research framework. Until I find that, I’ll have to take some of these published findings at face value.

Survey says!

Andy Losik (STEM teacher, Helpful Guy) recently blogged a reflection to these findings: An American Chromebook Crisis: new report shows sad trends of how students are using the devices.

Crisis? Clickbait for sure.

Sad trends? Perhaps.

As Andy summarizes,

In short a huge amount of Chromebook use is being spent on educationally questionable video games, low level assessments, and YouTube with the two highest trending websites for over 5,000,000 learners (after G Suite for Education) being CoolMath Games and Renaissance Learning, the parent company to Accelerated Reader and other assessments.

I totally believe this is happening. But I’m apt to believe this is a people problem, not a Chromebook problem.

Before Chromebooks were made readily available at a seemingly irresistible low price point, there were computer labs. There were PCs. There were Macbooks. There were iPads. And I’ve worked in districts that use all of these devices, and those who are 1:1 with Windows devices or with iPads are just as susceptible to this problem as Chromebook-using schools, where the devices are used as: expensive paperweights, and/or digital replacements for traditional student assignments, and/or venues through which kids use digital content providers meant to “personalize learning”, and/or a place where kids get to play games of choice as behavioral incentives, and/or only in the classrooms where teachers are comfortable with the presence of the devices, and/or only in a situation where the Haves get access and the Have Nots are at a disadvantage because they do not, and/or ways to keep kids quiet.

CoolMath, for one, a game website that a) perhaps just recently infected Missy’s computer, and b) requires little to no preparation for use in the classroom, is among the top visited sites according to the survey.

Wildly disappointing, which means the purchase of these devices is a really expensive investment in something that amounts to not much more than babysitting.

In terms of G Suite for Education use, check out this summary:

Now I don’t love the heading here, it’s a bit confusing to someone who knows Google Sites is an application in and of itself, but compared to Google Docs (which likely includes use of Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings – could be for substitution-level projects, could be for more detailed creations, we don’t know), YouTube is the next most frequently visited site in the Google realm according to this survey.

That could be a red flag if students are using YouTube for basic consumption. Lots of districts run into bandwidth problems because students stream music and videos from YouTube all day while they’re working. (I stream Pandora or Spotify while I’m working, don’t you? I don’t know very many people that work and create in complete silence). Which is why a lot of schools block YouTube in its entirety.

But what we also know is that YouTube is the place to go when you want to learn something new. When you need detailed instructions on how to do something, when you want to hear from others about their own experiences. It’s a place to share learning. It’s a place to help you kickstart your own learning.

It’s one of the places you can go when your school doesn’t provide you with the resources you need to help you move forward on your own learning journey.

How are students using Chromebooks? From the report:

Let all of that sink in. How many of the above bullet points involve student creation or critical thinking? How many do you think are a result of personal learning for students? Probably not even the ones stamped PERSONALIZED CONTENT.

So, what is the real crisis?

The problem emerging with Chromebooks is that because they’re shiny and new, because they’re relatively inexpensive, because the districts next door are going “all in” with these devices, administrative teams are being influenced to take the plunge. Why invest in a few hundred Macbook Pros, for example, when we could outfit every single student with a device?! 1:1 with Chromebooks!

We will be so innovative!

There are schools whose students learn, create and share masterfully with Chromebooks. There are schools who are 1:1 with Macbooks whose students fall short of what we’d consider ideal creation and don’t really make their learning visible.

What makes the difference?

The real crisis surrounding technology integration is a leadership crisis.

It’s a vision crisis. It’s the crisis that most of our schools are built around teaching cultures, not learning cultures. It’s a lack-of-clarity crisis.

Wrong: Hmm, should we get more devices? Maybe Chromebooks. They’re on the cheap. Teachers, can you think about how these can support your instruction? Teachers, can you think about how these will allow you to deliver content? Can we think about programs we can subject students to that will allow us to more easily collect assessment data? Will our test scores go up if our kids start using these devices? How can we control what kids do on these things?

Right: What do we know about how modern learners learn most powerfully? What do we believe are important elements of a classroom experience that will help students thrive as learners? How can the use of device(s) support all students in this capacity? What types of devices will allow students to be the do-ers, the programmers, the creators? Moving forward, what’s our plan to make sure that happens? How can we foster environments where students are agents of learning, where they decide the how, when, where, what of using devices?

GoGuardian’s report doesn’t necessarily make me reconsider the use of Chromebooks in schools. It makes me even more cognizant of the fact that school leadership and technology teams need to recommit themselves to establishing purpose, defining learning in their organizations, and developing strategies and device acquisition plans that will allow students to uncover learning in this information-at-your-fingertips age. That rarely involves the purchase of one type of device and/or one type of program that will meet the needs of individual learners.

Would love to hear from you in the comments. From your perspectives, what’s working with technology integration? What’s not? Can you provide examples of how the devices are supporting powerful learning, and could you explain why you think that is?

 

P.S. In full disclosure, I am a Google for Education Certified Trainer and I do a lot of work with G Suite, Chromebooks, and learning with teachers and administrative teams across the country. But for me, as often as possible, I try to help them make sense of it all. Why do you need these devices in the first place? What can students learn with these devices at their disposal, and how will they share that learning?

Stop teaching digital citizenship.

Yeah. I wanted you to click on that title. Thanks for stopping by! 😉

Yesterday I spent the day at #DigCitNYC, hosted by Google in their NYC location. 100+ educators/Google for Edu trainers/consultants/parents/teachers/ businesspeople/learners joined together to talk about the ideals of digital citizenship and how Google’s products & services can support those efforts.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living a double professional life. I spend much of my time inside ChangeLeaders Community, where, as community manager, I encourage members to push and challenge and share with one another and we try to think differently about school. We don’t emphasize the use of technology in schools. We don’t particularly care for ambiguous, overhyped buzzwords like personalized learning and digital citizenship, and we’re working hard to bring real change to organizations. We always try to put learning first. ChangeLeaders is a closed community run through Mighty Networks and intentionally serves as an interactive, safe space for discourse. No noise to inhibit learning.

I also work as an educational consultant and spend many days with teachers in my role as Google for Education Certified Trainer. Consulting days are often tool-centric. Technology-centric. Lots of free tools shared. People want to know what’s out there, how it works, and why they should use it. We tinker a lot, both with ideas and with apps & services. I try to muster all the energy in the room to keep things focused on what strong pedagogy infused with a kick of technology looks like, but we almost always use the little time we have to explore tools & tech & techniques.

Yesterday, Stephen Balkam from FOSI shared 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting, Kerry Gallagher shared the latest from ConnectSafely, and Google team members and teachers shared as well.

Not surprisingly, there was lots of talk about “teaching digital citizenship.” Not so much about learning.

Are we making these lessons relevant to students’ lives? I heard one teacher in the audience tell a peer, “We do teach this stuff. But they hear it, and then they just go back to doing what they were doing.” So for kids, when does it sink in? What stories do we need to tell? Do they need to tell us?

Teachers, principals, parents… we’re still operating in fear-based mode when it comes to misuse of technology in schools. And absolutely, there need to be strict disciplinary measures taken for illegal and bullying behaviors. But for off-task behaviors? When I hear a teacher say something like, “If you’re not careful with the computers, you’re going to get worksheets,” I roll my eyes. Which is what his/her students probably do. Doesn’t seem much like a learning-forward sanction to me.

Lots of the digital citizenship activities out there are pretty contrived. Search for the digital footprints for these 3 make believe characters and fill out this worksheet sharing all you could find. How about, Use Google search and images to find out everything you can about your teacher? Or principal? Or a public figure that students are interested in? They’re doing it anyway. What’s going to be more effective? A worksheet? Or creating conditions for that type of activity to be done in class, with supportive adults, who can then finesse discussions and allow kids to really delve into their findings and implications? Are we considering the broader importance of helping students become digitally literate, not just well-behaved online? I reviewed Doug Belshaw’s work on digital literacy back in 2013, worth a read.

Yesterday we worked in small teams to share two hopes and two fears on this topic, and it seemed the majority of groups hoped that we could better engage families and parents in this discussion, and fears were that many teachers don’t take seriously their responsibilities to include digital citizenship lessons in their classrooms because they see it as someone else’s job. Or, they don’t address these issues because they don’t have the resources.

The resources are out there, and most of them are free. Whether you choose from Google’s Be Internet Awesome or Common Sense Media or any of the ConnectSafely resources, you can put together a fairly comprehensive curricula based on the needs of your students.

The resources or lack thereof, in my opinion, aren’t the issue. The issue is that teachers, and many other adults in students’ lives, do not have command of their own digital lives, and they lack the confidence to discuss these issues in meaningful ways with students. The adults are still trying to make sense of their digital worlds, strike a balance with online and offline time, seek to understand just what the heck kids are doing and sharing via social networks, and I think for many adults, it’s easier for them to live in a bubble and ignore the digital crisis that’s emerging, or simply say to kids, “This is bad for you. No phones in class. No social networks. No internet. No no no.”

Take a step back from the curriculum, the scope and sequence, the online programs.

Look at your students. Listen to your students. Work in time for morning meetings, advisory meetings, student-led forums, student digital health task forces. Educate the teachers. The administration. Help every adult who impacts a child’s life be confident with their own digital lives. Help them understand safety & security, privacy & data, the opportunities and the risks the internet provides. Together with the support of as many families and community members as possible, make a plan to address this that involves student learning, not “teaching digital citizenship.”  

Last week Will Richardson wrote What is the internet becoming?  We need to reflect seriously on the spaces kids are frequenting, their behaviors in those spaces, and whether or not we’re doing our best to mitigate the risks that come with online interactions while also taking advantage of the connections, enhanced communications and collaborative opportunities the internet provides.

My hope? The children in our care now, the ones who are trying to finesse their digital literacy skills, will be the people who can help bring rational thought, joy, and truth back to online spaces. They can be the ones who start to demand honesty in publications and news reporting outlets, respectful discourse in online communities, and equal treatment of all.

We have to put our own insecurities aside and help them do it.

 

Are you ready for Change, Leaders? A Community invitation.

Photo by William White via Unsplash

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working with one of the finest teams in educational leadership and innovative teaching & learning, and I’m pretty darn excited about it.

That team is Modern Learners.

If you’re not familiar with the work of Will Richardson, Bruce Dixon, and Missy Emler, be sure to visit Modern Learners now and listen to their podcasts, read the Shifting Conversations content, and get to know the lenses through which school leaders should seek to bring together shifts in beliefs and changes in practice, all influenced by the context of the world we’re living in today.

So what have we been up to? Will, Bruce, and Missy have ignited a spark in educational leaders through their work in Change.School, “a powerful 8-week online experience for educational leaders who are serious about designing and creating relevant, sustainable change in their schools and districts.” Change.School participants are serious, dedicated, innovative leaders who are looking to move their schools forward in powerful ways. As a result of the work in those cohorts, the need became apparent for a space where fellow administrative colleagues, building-level leaders, and teacher leaders could come together and delve into issues and ideas relevant for today’s school leaders.

Enter ChangeLeaders Community: 

“Where courageous educational leaders get real about learning and schooling.”

Networks are really important to me. I’m not the educator I was ten years ago, and connected learning is one of the reasons why. The ideals of connectivism really resonate with me, and I don’t think you can be a successful leader without a formidable, knowledgeable, supportive network. That being said, many educators have, in recent years, embraced the idea of developing a Personal Learning Network aka PLN, and using the connections made via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+ to name a few), to support their learning and professional development. (If you are new to connected learning, be sure to read Why do I need to reinvent my PLN? and My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever! to ground yourself as you continue navigating these waters.)

For the past two years or so, I’ve felt kind of meh about PLN-ing. Interactions from typical social spaces haven’t done much to influence my thinking and learning. There has to be more. It’s been hard for me to get excited about what I read, see, and experience in Twitter and on Facebook, even in groups dedicated to educational chit-chat.

And why is that?

Because networks are not communities, and well-crafted communities better support learning.

Networks are important, of course, because with every connection made, collective knowledge can emerge. In Network vs. Community by Clint LaLonde (2010), he shares a remark by George Siemens who attempts to distinguish between networks and communities. In short, there are more explicit norms and expectations for participation in communities. And in ChangeLeaders, we expect participation from our members and know that our community will thrive on member contributions!

Will our ChangeLeaders Community develop into a true community of practice? Our hope is, yes. A community of practice as defined by Wenger: “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” As Downes (2007) states, “Learning, in other words, occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community.”

CLC is about conversations, learning, and change.


So, here’s the thing. ChangeLeaders Community is something you subscribe to, and after your 30-day free trial ends, there’s a cost. That immediately turns some people off, and it causes others to shy away who, in my opinion, don’t stop to consider that the small expense is actually a huge investment in one’s own professional growth and learning. I use a number of free digital tools in my work and learning, but I have no problem paying for others that add value to my life. Good (usually) ain’t free.

The ChangeLeaders Facebook group was not a true learning community. It lacked versatile tools and capabilities to propel learning forward for its members. And, it seems as though every day, I see one or more of my Facebook friends jumping ship. Because Facebook. Through the ever-changing feeds and advertisements and algorithms, learning gets lost. And you’re bombarded with distractions.

CLC is a space that eliminates the clutter and allows its members to focus on the task at hand: How do I grow as a learner so I can ignite change in my organization? That can happen through the use of Mighty Networks and the continuing contributions of its members (over 300 members thus far!)

A CLC subscription is far less than a few Starbucks visits each month or a magazine subscription or the purchase of one of the latest educational fad/innovation books or a membership to a professional learning organization that you may or may not get any actual benefit from. We’re confident that through your willingness to engage in our community, you’re going to be challenged in your thinking and make real strides towards change, far more so than you could ever achieve in “free” spaces like Twitter or Facebook groups.

What will we explore in ChangeLeaders Community?

  • What learning is and what it isn’t, and the gap between what we know and believe about how we learn best and what we actually do in schools.
  • The trends, technologies, and changes happening in the world that really matter to our work in schools and that we need to understand in depth.
  • How educational leaders are building their own capacities to lead change in their communities.
  • What reimagined, modern practice in schools looks and feels like.

ChangeLeaders Community offers

  • a space where you can find signal among the noise – carefully curated content in a dynamic interface that fully engages participants and acknowledges the importance of their contributions in this space
  • jargon-free, buzzword-free, platitude-free discussions focused on change
  • critical friends who will challenge your thinking and support your change efforts
  • contributions not only by community members, but also by Will Richardson & Bruce Dixon in their Shifting Conversations posts
  • frequent, live collaborative sessions via Zoom, during which members can come together, build relationships, and tackle difficult change issues (Monday, October 23, 8 PM ET- you won’t want to miss “ChangeLeadership: Laying the Foundations for Creating Relevant, Sustainable Change in Schools” led by Will & Bruce!
  • the opportunity to reflect on practice, set goals and develop artifacts demonstrating professional growth, all while supported by a group of critical friends and colleagues
  • perhaps even a bit of fun!?

We hope you will courageously join us, we really do. But if you don’t, no matter which networks you frequent and spaces you visit, be sure to participate. Give back. Often. Because as Siemens says,

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state. I’ve ranted about this before, but there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding.

Welcome to Change, Leaders! Let’s create some change.

-Lyn Hilt, ChangeLeaders Community Manager