By Dean Shareski

Being part of 3 cohorts and witnessing and hearing the work of 4 others I’m trying to get a feel for these geographically diverse communities.

As someone who is charged with a leadership position in my own district and trying to achieve much of the same kind of work as PLP, it’s a wonderful learning experience for me.

It seems questions like, “How do we systematically move our teachers forward?” “What do we do with resistance teachers?” “How do we sustain momentum?” “How do we get momentum?” and you can add a few more standard questions are ones that leadership deal with all the time.

What’s exciting is the model of online communities that is now gaining validity among these districts. I don’t think all districts are ready to invest in online communities as an integral part of teachers’ professional learning. That’s because most of our leaders have never experience it. Fortunately with at least the leadership in these 7 cohorts somebody gets it.

I’ve been teaching pre-service teachers online for the past few years and while I still long for face to face experiences, it’s what happens online that make face to face experiences rich and meaningful. Teachers and students are busy people. Spending even 3 hours a week in a class usually offers little time to engage with each other. That’s the power of these communities. They provide an opportunity not only to learn beyond face to face experiences, but provide a space for people to get to know one another. I love this quote from one of my students as she reflected on our class experience.

…this is my only university class that I know every student by name, and know at least one important thing about them. This is really weird, because I wouldn’t have been able to do that even in high school.

PLP is based upon building communities and building communities doesn’t happen in the limited times we gather face to face. Inside many of the NING communities, I’ve enjoyed looking at people’s pictures, seeing them challenge one another and asking good questions and even having a little fun. You come and go as you please, you choose topics and conversations that engage you and you decide when you’re ready to jump in. Many of these things are not easily replicated in face to face settings for many reasons. Getting to know people is often overlooked as people jump into an online learning experience. If learning is truly social, then these spaces must allow people to be themselves and be social.

So as I reflect on what’s working here, I know that ultimately sustainability and change only occurs with a culture that values risk taking and innovation combined with strong support. PLP is providing this with the use of expert voices and the constant activity within each group.

One thing I do know. When I have discussions with teachers about change, many understand we should change but complain about the lack of time to do it. Meaningful change will never occur if teachers only want to invest in a few PD experiences throughout the year. Meaningful change does occur when strong communities are developed and that takes time. The online experience of the PLP cohorts is creating this exact environment. I’m just happy to be part of it all.

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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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