5 Trending Topics No Elementary School Leader Should Miss: The PLN

Five trends no elementary school head should miss: this is the assignment my colleague Mary Menacho gave me for my remarks to Elementary School Heads Association (ESHA) members and prospective members at a gathering today at Trinity School in Menlo Park, CA. I’ve tweaked the focus from “trends” to “trending topics” to give myself the latitude to address issues on which there’s buzz, even if we’re not yet seeing considerable traction.  So, one at a time, here are the big five from where I sit, along with a sixth topic that I believe we need to kindle.

#3: The Professional Learning Network

The evolution of the professional learning network – PLN – signals a move away from the belief that we can meet our faculty professional development needs with a one-time, one-size-fits-all lecture from a visiting expert. We’re beginning to think of the adults in our school communities as learners, too, and we’re expecting them to take a more active and strategic role in their own growth.

Thinking of the teacher as master learner is helpful, a mindset for which we can thank David Warlick. The notion embodies two important facets: the importance of considering the learning conditions for the teachers in our school communities; and the value of holding them (and ourselves) up as models for students and parents.

Professional development experiences are becoming more personal: based on the professional goals of the individual faculty member. Teacher educator and author Shelley Terrell argues that this personal approach is not only more likely to meet the needs of the learner, it increases the learner’s likelihood of passionate engagement and therefore makes a more profound impact.

Opportunities to connect with other educators have mushroomed in recent years with the advent of social media, webinars, and online courses. We’re sharing resources on Wikis and Nings, receiving and offering links to worthwhile reading to a customized group on Twitter, and participating in virtual workshops and other experiences. George Siemens offered us his learning theory of connectivism in 2005 – which seems so long ago when we consider the tools available to us now.

Finally, we’re thinking more these days about building a collaborative culture of adult learners. Peter Gow wrote eloquently about this very recently in his Education Week blog post, Collaboration, Cooperation, and Just Plain Sharing, noting the particular challenge in independent schools where teachers are inclined to lean in to their “autonomy.” Gow makes the important case for the school leader’s role in “getting beyond jealousy and a culture of reputation… with a determined effort to start teachers talking about what it means to be an effective teacher, maybe even an excellent one, in their school.”

A fresh look at the needs of adult learners is important not just to schools but to their associations, as well, of course.  The Elementary School Heads Association has had good success with small-group video conferences on topics of interest, including bi-monthly Book Talks. Inspired by Seth Godin’s When a Conference Works (and Doesn’t), we’re thinking about our annual conference model, considering how to maximize our time together, leverage media resources, and create connections that reach before and after an annual conference.

Facilitating the personal and passionate engagement of a productive, collaborative culture of master learners: what a worthwhile goal!

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