When we look at the pressure for school leaders to also function as technology role models and leaders, the task can seem unduly daunting. There is too much to learn. The internet is too wide. How can we possibly add this task to our myriad of responsibilities, we wonder.
The real wonder is to be found in embracing the change and seeing that it can be done. It is a challenge we are obliged to accept. The challenge that faces us is that outlined by Eric Scheninger: “It is time for the profession of education to catch up to society. In order to start moving schools in a better direction we must help leaders experience the true value of technology. Once this happens they can begin to better model expectations for others, which will result in sustainable changes leading to transformation. Our students deserve and demand better.”
When asked what two things he would advise educational leaders are the most important to enable them to lead change, the writer, Will Richardson responded: “build a learning network online, and make your learning as transparent as possible for those around you.” Richardson makes the point that learners should share their learning and “be effective models for living in a transparent world.” In a sphere in which we all have the potential and opportunity to contribute, shouldn’t the development of a personal learning network be an obligation, at least an objective, of all educators who lead learning, both inside and outside the classroom? Imagine a world in which educators can be effortlessly connected through a global network of professionals with similar interests who face common challenges. Consider the power of being able to share ideas, expertise and an exchange of discussion topics that are moderated and organised free of charge. Contemplate the profound dynamic of the members of such a democratic network sharing things they have learned and are learning purely out of a common desire to learn and connect. Then envision the educator who, despite being aware of this rich resource, chooses not to participate. I’d like to see the kinds of powerful alternatives to this learning opportunity that school leaders (who make such a decision) are utilising.
There is no doubt that engagement with social media as a means of role modelling effective technology use – and also as a means of demonstrating that we, too, are learners – involves time and, for many, even risk. I know of several colleagues who consider Facebook to represent a threat to their professional standing, who are keen to separate their personal and professional worlds. To go further and publicly share ideas, questions, and beliefs on Twitter and a professional blog is a risk too far for many. But if part of our job is to encourage risk taking, then as George Couros contends, we should be prepared to take risks ourselves: “There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning. We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.”
The question inevitably always comes down to time. Where is a school leader to find the time for blogging and things like Twitter in already over-filled days? The Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, observed that “through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.” Kavanagh was referring to the period of Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas in the Christian calendar. Beyond the religious realm, there are, I believe, natural periods in the school year when it seems appropriate that we consciously slow our pace, begin to breathe a little more deeply, and pause for reflection with our students and colleagues.
The desire (in some cases, demand) to cover content is the enemy of reflection. But we can all step off that treadmill and probably should now and again. Imagine a scenario in our schools where, periodically, we turn the lighting down, and make reflection, mindfulness, and independent learning our priority? This is where we find the time. We make time. We can set this tone. The school year tends to be a mad, frenetic dash towards an end that we can make stressful for ourselves if we don’t slow down now and again.
As we approach the holiday season we should offer all students and teachers the opportunity to slow down the mad race, to reflect on their learning in personal blogs or portfolios, and to engage with other learners around the world through an exchange of ideas on Twitter. It’s a simple idea. Together we can model effective technology use, recharge our batteries, reflect and learn at the same time.
We do this for a purpose. Few would object to the view that there is an exciting and, for many, untapped world of possibilities available to educators today. How do we ensure that teachers and school leaders actively engage in a personal learning network? It is not such a daunting task. We are not trying to absorb the entire internet. Narrow the perceived enormity of the undertaking. We can start small.
Follow some good educational writers on Twitter. Share some good articles you come across. Accept, as Flannery O’Connor once remarked, that the act of writing is an act of self-discovery and start to ask yourself what you really believe in and are passionate about. Record your ideas in a blog. Start to share. Listen to others. Interact. Create. Collaborate. It’s a manageable world, an easy way to learn; an active way to lead. Before you know it, you have a Personal Learning Network.
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.