By Lani Ritter Hall

On the side, in the middle, questioning, nudging, modeling, holding back sitting on my hands –as the many voices of the members of the Illinois/Ohio cohort storm the NING in conversations related to 21st Century learning. Rich and thoughtful contributions have grown this community and its members’ learning in exciting ways . The many discussions, pensive and reflective, as well as light and spirited, led Darren Persino from Avoca School District 37, Wilmette IL to note:

“Using this (PLP) NING over the last month I have focused, developed, and deepened my thought with in-depth discussions on education more that I ever had before. This venue has allowed me to ask thought provoking questions and also respond to them about the idea of education and technology. The (PLP) NING allows me to communicate my ideas to others as they do the same for me, and it has also has given me the motivation to think about and expand my thoughts. I’m not sure when and where I would’ve done this other than here on the NING.”

One spirited conversation focused on strategies that would help to assure that parents would support and understand the uses of 21st century pedagogies and technologies in the curriculum. Judith Congren from Leyden High School District 212, St. Franklin Park IL shared the success of her district:

“We had a large meeting and invited parents, students and tech experts to discuss our hopes, dreams and our fears. It was one post-it note board of comments. The person MC’ing our “meeting” did a fantastic job of monitoring the discussion. Overall parents wanted their children to have the opportunity to become …digitally literate.”

And voices from across the cohort added their thoughts– from a student run tech night, to surveying parents to learn their comfort level with these technologies, to creation of a social networking site for parent organizations, to asking parents to communicate with students through the 21st Century technologies of blogs and wikis. Now, far more comfortable as a result of the voices raised, they have moved on to deeper explorations of 21st Century Learning in their teams.

The 14 school teams, in face to face meetings and on the NING, are exploring the shifts required by educators in 21st century learning with ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards as a reference. Cary Harrod, a 21st Century Fellow from Forest Hills District in Cincinnati OH, describes this power of this process with her team:

“We spent some time examining the ISTE NETs-T. This has been eye-opening. We all decided it truly gives us a nice “roadmap” of where we’re going. It doesn’t seem quite so nebulous. In looking at the standards, we determined that standard #2 would be one of the biggest learning curves; so we decided to have everyone take that standard, along with a “unit” or lesson we currently teach and look at ways of using technology to enhance students’ understanding of the content. We will share the before and after unit and then discuss whether or not the technology truly enhanced the learning. This group is absolutely beside themselves with the possibilities. They are enthusiastic, open-minded and excited to soak it all up. It has had a profound effect on them already.”

A true sense of community begins to emerge as the many voices contribute to the wisdom of all. Strong passioned voices lead and guide others who are not yet comfortable with the transparency and messiness of 21st Century learning. Where I once might have suggested or pushed in a conversation, now others begin to take that lead. As an almost out of body experience, I hear my voice slowly morphing from that of leader as trust builds and the voices of the community grow and mature. We are on a path to extraordinary learning.

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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