Winding down and yet still pumped up, some educators from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia community reflect with me upon our 8 month journey together into connected learning, upon working with their teams as critical friends, upon being a fellow, upon growing and learning, upon the often roller coaster ride that makes Powerful Learning Practice PLP.

The caring, compassionate educators from the Archdiocese became connected learners as we discussed difficult issues around digital citizenship in our online community of practice; they grappled with digital safety, with school filtering, with cyberbullying, with strategies for helping young people become good digital citizens. They became connected learners as they worked with school teams to scale what they had learned to their faculties and to design and develop problem based learning units for their students. They became connected learners as they developed more extensive PLNs through conversations with “experienced” voices within the community and through dipping their toes into blogs, Delicious and Twitter. As I pushed and suggested, cajoled and encouraged, they engaged in self=directed learning developing strategies and skills that then transformed their practice. I celebrated and celebrate their growth and accomplishments as they shared exciting stories of students engaged in 21st century learning.

For Patricia O’Donnell, principal of St. Patrick School and team leader, developing the capacity of their local professional learning team, growing as critical friends was important to their learning.

“In most cases, it has been critical friends who have helped me to stretch and grow. Of course, trust is a major component. I wish more people would think this way, especially teachers. Most often we think we are weak or dumb and don’t want to be in that position. However, when we trust and take the leap, and have people observe and give us their feedback, only good things can happen!..We have definitely grown in recognizing each others gifts and strengths. We are very comfortable asking each other for help – laughing with each other and sometimes laughing at our selves – it has been a wonderful growing experience for each of us. I think the way we did it is simply by spending so much time with each other – we meet very frequently and that has helped us build trust among our group!”

For Gene Carboni, a teacher at Father Judge High School and 21st Century Fellow, connecting with 2 new teams at the elementary level and facilitating their first year PLP journey enabled growth for both he and the teams he Fellowed.

“The 2010-11 school year was my third year as a member of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia PLP cohort. This year as a PLP Fellow working with two grade schools enabled me to grow as I shared my previous experiences with the teams. St. Bedes got to present their project at the culminating event. I was proud of them. We used the Ning and email to stay in touch as well as a F2F meeting during the winter.”

For first year PLPer Carol Polinksy, a teacher at St. Francis of Assissi participation in the online community of practice was compelling and one she’d recommend.

“PLP was a wonderful experience and I hope to participate again next year. You only need to spend about fifteen minutes per day in the NING and you will be amazed at how quickly you will grow professionally. The NING is a “classroom” with multiple teachers who have experience with various web tools. You are in control. You decide what you would like to learn and how much time you would like to spend per session. The leaders and the members of the groups are patient and work with you nonstop by answering questions, showing examples. The new techniques and tools that you will learn to use will enhance your classroom and your personal life.”

For third year PLPer Gene Carboni who shared his Fellowing experience above, the extended journey has been full of emotion and continuous learning.

“The three year ride I’ve been on has been frustrating, tiring, and enlightening all at the same time. I get frustrated because I can’t understand how more of us (educators) are not clamoring to hop on board. Tiring because I am constantly on Twitter, reading blogs, gathering information to send to fellow teachers, participating in Elluminate sessions, and trying to stay on top of the next hot topic or idea. Enlightening because I have found I can do all of the aforementioned tasks while working a second job and still have time for my family. My family is most important to me. My experience with PLP has trickled down to my wife, Elaine, an 8th grade teacher who has grown along with me and now shows me a thing or two about working with a Learning Network to develop 21st Century Teaching Skills and Styles.”

And for Alissa DeVito, a teacher at St. Joseph/St. Robert and team leader, her journey into connected learning although messy has resulted in meaningful growth for she and for her faculty.

“… when leaving the opening meeting on day one, I felt confused, overwhelmed, and quite honestly, unsure of my thoughts on the cohort. Would it overwhelm my time? Did I have enough skill? How would I lead my team of tech-phobics? Throughout the year, I did have to commit my time, but it was toward something so important that it became second nature. I spent the year learning as my students do – hands on, in depth, and in a reflective manner. I learned quickly that I had something of value to add to the community, and I was fully supported when venturing out with new tools and techniques. As hard as it was to keep my team members involved at times, by the end we all worked together. I feel the project we created was meaningful to us and our faculty.. It is something I would not have been able to do without PLP. I left the culminating day feeling the exact opposite of what I had felt 8 months earlier – I was confident, knowledgeable, and with a desire to continue moving forward.”

I honor their reflections and their commitment to transform learning for their students through their own immersion in 21st century learning. It is in this reflecting that the potential of connected learning is even more visible; it is from this reflecting that we realize more fully our collective aspirations “to continue moving forward”.


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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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