By Lani Ritter-Hall

“PLP is getting lost in the deepest, darkest part of the forest, and then depending on each other to find our way out together.” -PLP Handbook

The members of the Ohio Consortium cohort entered the forest together some ten months ago with thoughts of a journey into uncharted territory generating not only excitement and but also trepidation for many. Getting lost, for so many educators who are accustomed to knowing exactly where they are going, is pretty risky business. Despite the fears there were great hopes for the community–

“The hope is that the journey will be greater than the destination.” Bob Beach, Gilmour Academy

That hope was realized, from this perspective, for in the process of this journey of possibilities promised by the exhilarating new landscapes, juxtaposed against the detours and mammoth boulders of daily realities emerged a community working to address difficult issues and help each other clarify thinking to move forward. One of the beauties of community in PLP is someone always is there to help those who are “lost” in finding their way. Initially many found “getting lost” in the shifts and changes in learning introduced through a menu of activities in an online virtual community and through a fast moving Elluminate environment overwhelming and a bit scary. One example of many, in the first Elluminate session, Tim was pushed by another member in a chat conversation that shed light on shifts required by teachers; he subsequently disappeared from the community for some time to later resurface, reflecting and reaching out to all others who might share his feelings–

“As I thought through this more I realized that Debra had pushed me out of my comfort zone. That is when we truly learn, when we are uncomfortable. My encouragement to those who are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated is to look past the emotion and see why you feel this way. Use that understanding to drive you to work outside your comfort zone and begin the true learning.”  –Tim Breuer, Milford

His openness and courage encouraged others to nudge those who seemed lost in the trees–

“I’m wondering if your difficulty in “coming to the table” has more to do with time management or a comfort that exists in established patterns?”  –Tracy Varner, Forest Hills

And to shed a light on their personal feelings and thoughts as the journey continued–

“I know it looks like a lot and we probably won’t get through all of it (in fact I know we won’t) and that’s okay. As I immerse myself more and more into this experience I see how we just have to let it unfold. Let the unfolding begin today.”  – Mary Mitchell, Forest Hills

Unfold the journey did and there was not a time when we were not “depending on each to find our way out together”.  The fabric of community, the trust and relationships that developed, gave rise to a greater sense of identity and purpose and increased collaboration, from which leaders emerged to offer a hand. One example, Cary Harrod’s engaging “The Lurking Cave” post which ended with a personal revelation about lurking that became a light for others—

“I still get that sickly feeling sometimes but I’ve realized that some of the deepest learning I have experienced has been when I put myself out there…when I dare to be transparent in my learning. It has indeed been a huge learning curve but one well worth the climb.”  —Cary Harrod, Forest Hills

To which the community responded, both lurkers and active members, helping each other–

“I have enjoyed reading all the comments on lurking. It has always taken me some time to gain the confidence to put my thoughts and ideas out there for others to read. My group, the e-lumminators, have made a so called pack to move forward in our learning by posting and commenting more in the forums.”  — Nola Jacobs, Forest Hills

“Nola, thank you for your post. I have been a “lurker learner”. Taking on this challenge has been a bit overwhelming to me. I have ironically felt disconnected as a participant but I can say that I am learning from the discussions taking place. I was thrilled to see that you teach first graders. I also teach first graders and don’t know anyone else in PLP that teaches the young ones. Your insight to how you teach your students helped me to reflect the same. I will allow myself to celebrate my baby steps in this journey!”  —Patricia Williams, Fairfield

“To lurk or not to lurk, what is lurking?…as I read through all of the posts, I found myself nodding my head in agreement or sitting back and reflecting or shrugging my shoulders in wonder or question. Lurking is still about degree of engagement to me. What does taking risk look like in transparent learning on a ning. I started to think about what my ‘lurking’ look like as a learner. By nature, I am a ruminator, I just chew on something for awhile and then ping, a response comes in my head. Here is the difference; I typically do not share the thought. Or I only share the thought if it is that safe environment. So it’s time to just put it out there. Ruminating is ok for awhile but sometimes you have to produce milk.”   — Karen Frimel, Berea

As more members of the community began to “produce milk” in the virtual community together, they also journeyed with their school/district professional learning teams designing and developing action research projects.  Often also fraught with wayfinding, the community actively supported teams’ request for feedback and offered support as they transparently shared those journeys in the virtual community and on the cohort wiki.  As this example illustrates, the Chinquapin team emerged from the forest together–

“This project will allow students to rediscover the joy of learning by re-inventing the concept of going to school. Teachers will need to model the behaviors we hope the students will adopt, and they will need to coach students as they find their way. We will need to re-teach the young people at our school how to be learners and how to take charge of their own learning. But we may need to re-teach and re-invent ourselves as well.”  — Chinquapin team

A testament to the power of collaboration and community as teachers chart new paths for their practice and their students’ learning–

“One of the challenges in teaching—and in working with technology in education—has been the feeling that I spend my time in a vacuum, hermetically sealed away from meaningful contact with other adults facing the same issues that I am facing.  PLP has been invaluable to me because it’s given me an environment in which I could develop the skills and resources necessary to make more and better connections with colleagues, experts, and knowledge through using learning networks on a daily basis.  My perspective on what’s possible and necessary has broadened both locally and globally and I can now reach out more confidently to ask questions and provide information.    — Cathleen White, Gilmour Academy

“A paradox of the PLP experience—By opening ourselves up to learning from educators outside the district, we’ve been able to get to know our own colleagues within Milford. ….My experiences with PLP have convinced me that Milford needs to build the foundations for teaching the new literacy of the 21st century. If we do this, our students will be well-prepared for the participatory culture that awaits them.”  — Betsy Woods, Milford

“PLP has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities.  All of a sudden I am supported not only by the top leaders in education, but also by a group of colleagues that are walking the same path and have the same expectations and concerns that I have. My professional growth has been amazing to me. Through virtual sessions and ongoing conversations I now have a deeper understanding of 21st century teaching and learning.”  — Dolores Gende, Parish Episcopal

From getting lost to finding our way out together–

What a forest—

What a community–

What a journey–

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Lani Ritter Hall

Lani is Community Leader for Powerful Learning Practice. She also serves as the “Newbie Maven”, helping along and nurturing newbies to the PLP experience, as well as facilitator for the Connected Coaches. Lani brings more than 35 years of teaching experiences in urban, sub urban, and independent schools at the middle/secondary level in the U.S and Canada to this work. A national board certified teacher, she and her students began collaborating globally in the late 1980’s. Lani has created and facilitated professional development around technology infusion into learning for over twenty years and served in a leadership role for the K12Online Conference for 2 years. She is co-author of The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age.
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