Sunday, January 2, 2011

Using Twitter to Build a PLN

Alec Couros
See if u can spot the 1 teacher in your school who's become energized with new possibilities w/social media.

Full credit to Alec Couros for this one!

While I bear little physical resemblance to the happy little penguin, I am no less enthusiastic about the possibilities of social media as a learning tool for busy educators. Count me among the many who are signing on to Twitter and other social media to support their professional growth and their work in schools. Looking around, I'm in good company. In fact, I don't have to look far to find a respected colleague that I currently work with or have worked with in the past, with whom I am able to share ideas, resources, links and extend conversations over time and space. Many people are referring to these connections as "networks" or "PLNs" as in Professional or Personal Learning Networks and I can attest to being deeply engaged as a learner as a result.

Twitter has been an incredible source of learning and perspective. It has introduced me to some amazing educators from around the province, across the country and throughout North America. I'm finding myself drawn to it whenever I have the opportunity. The iPhone allows me to access the feed whether I'm waiting for my daughter's volleyball practise to end, when I'm at the doctor's office, or when I'm tagging along at the mall (not much of a shopper) ... anywhere I have a few moments to spare, I'm able to access posts that are both interesting and relevant to my work as a principal.

Last month, I attended a dinner with the local chapter of PDK and I had the opportunity to sit and chat with many educators who are using social media tools to participate in personal learning networks. At the dinner, I had the pleasure of meeting David Wees @davidwees. David and I had never met in person, nor had I ever spoken to him or exchanged direct correspondence with him but I had met him virtually through the dialogue on Twitter. It was obvious that the introduction through social media enriched our face to face conversation that evening. I felt like I knew David, much like it might feel if I met an author or a media personality I had known from television. At the time, I tweeted about meeting my digital heroes. But it was clear that I had come to know David through his writing. And after meeting him in person, I'm likely to seek out opportunities to collaborate with him in the future. By the way, he's a fantastic writer! David's blog is called 21st Century Educator.

Twitter has also allowed me access intelligent, thoughtful posts and reflections that challenge my beliefs and assumptions from people with whom I already have a working relationship. It all cases the connection through social media has enhanced our relationship, and allowed me to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for their individual perspectives. Here's a few examples:

Doug Sheppard @dsheppard40 is the Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Delta. Doug has a keen interest in technology. He was the first educator to introduce me to Twitter and I'll admit that it took me a while to see it as a valuable tool. As an experienced secondary principal, Doug's been a great mentor to me but we are both pulled in many directions with long days that are filled with various urgencies. Twitter allows people to connect around ideas when it is convenient. And since we both have young children, it's usually well into the evening before there's a chance. As a former science teacher, Doug is a source of some great science-related links. Right now, I copy the links and pass them on to our science teachers through email. Perhaps in the future, we'll convince a few more of them to sign on and follow Doug's Twitter feed themselves. Doug's blog is called Inspired Learner.

Bernie Soong @bsoong and I worked together a few years ago at McNair Secondary in Richmond. He's a great science teacher and we play a fair bit of golf together in the summer but in the last few months social media has allowed us to connect in a deeper dialogue on learning, assessment, and technology. I no longer get to see Bernie as often, but he's ideas are helping me grow as an educator. He has a great blog too: Mr. Soong's Blog

Chris Kennedy @chrkennedy is the Superintendent of Schools in West Vancouver. I first knew Chris as a teacher and basketball coach when he was at McRoberts Secondary in Richmond. Chris is an impressive educator in person but his skillful use of social media has expanded both his influence and his learning network. Re-connecting with him through social media has been a great source of both learning and inspiration for me. Chris' blog Culture of Yes is a must read for BC perspective on educational change.

Finally, I only have to look next door to find Aaron Akune @aakune.  Aaron is a first-rate blogger and thinker and best of all, he is also a part of the leadership team at Delta Secondary School.  It's great to be able to extend our conversations and our thinking through Twitter and blogging (Educating in the 21st Century and Pacer Postand be able to come back to the conversation face to face. Often our conversations lead to a search on Twitter or reflection in a blog post. We started this digital journey together but Aaron has really taken off. I'm very fortunate to be learning so much from him. Check out Aaron's post on Becoming a Tweep! for his reflections on using Twitter as a learning tool.

It's this relationship with Aaron that has me enthusiastic about the potential of Twitter as a tool to support teacher collaboration in our own building. What if we were using social media tools in combination with valuable but limited face to face collaboration time? While we often talk about making cross-curricular connections, could Twitter make it possible? Most would agree that given the choice, face to face collaboration is best, but social media opens up the possibilities of including more participants at times that are convenient and accessible. Conflicting schedules? No problem! While face to face time is often limited by the daily demands of teaching - prepping for classes, marking, extra-curricular involvement, coaching, and life in general, social media is accessible 24/7. Add in benefits such as archiving posts and you have a powerful tool that is surprisingly easy to engage with.

Our DSS PLN is growing! Presently, @aakune, @agoelstevens, @gharkley, @rheagunning, @samotohashi, @kgadowsky, @nicolecruise and @terryainge are recent additions who are testing the waters. In the weeks and months ahead, I look forward to exploring the potential of these tools with even more colleagues at DSS. While I won't admit to having all the answers for "how",  like the little penguin, I'm feeling pretty energized about "why."

Check out this video from the learning blog on Twitter for Teachers for more:


  1. Terry,

    I cannot agree more with what you've said. I have used Twitter to:

    - connect with educators globally and build my PLN
    - establish face to face connections with other educators
    - exchange resources (teaching & leaderships tips, blogs, publications, videos, etc) with other educators
    - access and contribute to collaborative documents such as GoogleDocs
    - ask questions and find out how other educators are solving similar challenges
    - answer questions and provide creative solutions for other educators
    - share my persepctive with other educators
    - challenge my own thinking by reading the perspectives of others

    The beauty of Twitter is that I can customize my PLN so that I can explore my own areas of interest. If a conversation is relevant and of interest to me, I can continue into a deeper discussion at anytime because Twitter is accessible 24/7.

    Twitter has eliminated the geographical challenge where it is nearly impossible to meet in person with others. It has also eliminated the difficult challenge of finding a convenient meeting time for educators who are local.

    I look forward to continuing to broaden my PLN to include more Delta and BC educators, not to mention others worldwide.

    Thank you for the great post!


  2. Aaron,
    Thanks for your comments and for sharing an expansive list of possibilities. When I first became aware of Twitter, it had no appeal to me. But after being re-introduced to it, I was quickly inspired by how people in similar roles to me were using social media to collaborate and build community. As you've pointed out, the tools can be used to support a culture of knowledge sharing and professional growth that many of us are aspiring to. C U Tuesday :)

  3. Terry,

    Thanks for including me in your post! I must admit I feel reborn from my interactions with you and the rest of the PLN. I have had a number of ideas and thoughts inside of me and tweeting plus blogging have given me another avenue to express and grow as an educator. Unfortunately I write this instead during the time when we were supposed to be on the golf course in our annual IceBreaker Event…. Because the ground is frozen solid!

    @bsoong on Twitter

  4. Terry - love the penguin clip - reminds me of the movie :-) His buddies weren't too impressed though!

    It's really cool to see people, one by one, joining into our PLN's. It seems you and Aaron are making pretty significant progress in your school - that's unusual, even today. I haven't seen signficant numbers from any particular school embrace these newer communication channels. Kudos to you and Aaron for starting a movement :-)

  5. Thanks for your comment, Brian. With a PLN, we don't have to look very far for inspiration and great ideas. Steadily, we're seeing people drawn to opportunities for connecting and sharing with others. The challenge as always, is finding the time. Embedding time in to our schedule for teacher collaboration is a start but nurturing a culture of collaboration is a process that we are learning and will continue to learn.

    I've definitely been influenced by discussions on your blog, thanks for reading mine.