This month I wrote an article for Perspectives in School-based Issues (SIG 16), speaking to the benefits of professional learning communities (PLC). Professional learning communities are the ultimate form of collaboration (DuFour & Eaker, 2010). But consider expanding your boundaries a little further. Consider virtual PLCs; online communities through Twitter, Facebook, and online discussion threads. That’s right, social network sites and online forums can support your professional development, all from the comfort of your living room.
When I bring this up to my colleagues or friends, many groan… it’s one more thing, and how can you possible learn anything in 140 characters? Consider this:
- A nationwide study revealed only 16% of school staff perceived adequate collaboration in their schools (Jaquith, Mindich, Wei, & Darling-Hammond, 2010).
- One-third of public school speech pathologists travel between two or more schools (Edgar and Lugo-Rosa, 2007), thereby complicating the ability to meet face-to-face with colleagues
- Professional development is meaningful when it is learner-centered, and by choice (Morewood, Akrum & Bean, 2010).
Virtual discussion forums can provide:
- Opportunities to globally network with colleagues (Davis, 2012). More than just sharing hyperlinks and lesson plans, chatting with interdisciplinary teams and other educational staff, has broadened my perspective as a practitioner.
- Online forums foster a chance to reflect (Davis, 2012). I have learned from the #slpchat colleagues, the #slpeeps, #spedchat folks, and the #edchat folks enormously. Many of these groups hold regular chats either every week or at least once a month.
- Access information, or ask a question whenever you want (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2009). Anyone with a smartphone can troll Twitter, or participate in an online discussion, any time of the day.
- Access the only information that you need (Davis, 2012). Social network sites are completely dependent upon the user. This make finding information learner-centered, and not a boring, mandated, policy-driven affair.
- A way to feel connected and supported (Hur & Brush, 2009). Sometimes getting out of your own workplace can help you regroup after a tough day.
So go ahead, dabble a little. Then advocate for yourself. Talk to your administrators. Write it into your professional development plan. Use the hyperlinks in this blog the and references listed below to support your case. Social network sites can be an affordable, meaningful tool for learning. For all the push to individualize learning for our students, doesn’t it make sense to do the same for those who teach them?
Dr. Kerry Davis is a city-wide speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are my own and do not represent those of my employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.
DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (2010). Revisiting professional learning communities at work: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution.
Hur, J. W., & Brush, T. (2009). Teacher participation in online communities: Why do teachers want to participate in self-generated online communities of K-12 teachers? Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(3), 279-303. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/learn/publications/journals/jrte.aspx
Morewood, A. L., Ankrum, J. W., & Bean, R. M. (2010). Teachers’ perceptions of the influence of professional development on their knowledge of content, pedagogy, and curriculum. College Reading Association Yearbook, (31), 201-219. Retrieved from http://www.aleronline.org/