REFLECTION AND ANALYSIS OF MY PLN
LEARNING HOW TO FLOAT,
AND DIVE IN WHEN I WANT TO
I have always been “rabid learner” with an innate need to learn and connect (Baker-Doyle,2017). I enjoy seeking out new ideas, new technologies and new ways of learning, taking pleasure in the discovery of new concepts which snowball into whole new ideas and ways of teaching and learning (Krutka, Carpenter & Trust,2016). Therefore, I had what I believed to be a well-established PLN (Professional Learning Network) before I started exploring Connected Learning as part of my M.Ed. studies in Teacher-Librarianship. However, just because I was already “doing it” does not mean that I was doing it well, or with any real structure. The last five months have seen me become much more reflective, thoughtful and deliberate in my professional online learning.
Connected learning is a form of self-directed and self-motivated learning (Moreillon,2016, Oddone,2018). When people participate in connected learning, they are driven by self-identified learning needs, their own individual interests and passions (Lupton, 2014). This “new form of learning” has been around for millennia but has been more widely enabled by the development of the internet, Web 2.0 and social media. This has empowered people to pursue their own passions, connect like minds and collaborate efforts with people all over the globe (Ito et al, 2013) and build their own “uniquely personalised, complex systems of interactions consisting of people, resources and digital tools that support ongoing learning and professional growth”(Krutka, Carpenter & Trust, 2016).
Originally, as my connected learning map attempts to illustrate, I had many diverse learning passions. They were based on my professional experiences – I have been a classroom teacher, a gifted & talented coordinator and a teacher-librarian. To work out where to focus my efforts to develop my connected learning network was initially quite overwhelming. Then I was nominated to participate in a leadership course and was the only teacher-librarian invited. Trying to work out how leadership could look for a teacher-librarian was perplexing. This was the catalyst that lit the fire, the passion that is needed for this form of “Do It Yourself Professional Development” (Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011).
Whilst I was interested in many facets of education my PLN of those interested in leadership was extremely small. The Facebook groups to which I belonged and the people and associations I followed on Twitter, whilst sometimes referring to leadership topics, were predominantly focused on other aspects of being a teacher-librarian. Considering myself a novice in this field I was looking to hear the thoughts of others and did not have confidence that I personally had anything to offer on the topic. Upon reflection, this mimicked my attitude towards all my Professional Learning Network (PLN) interests. I was more of a lurker, a curator or downloader, and whilst happy to hit the “like” button, or make an occasional comment, I was not a regular or confident contributor. I believe that this is partially a personality factor, but more a result of coming from a background of educational institutions where staff are constantly reminded to be extremely cautious in their online activities, promoting a “walled garden” approach to online activities (Sharples, 2008). I realised that my position as a “linear linker” where I was a passive consumer, a “lurk and learner”, was going to need to change if I was going to more actively participate in my PLN (Cook et al, 2016, Oddone, 2018) .
Different social media platforms vary in their focus, style and ability to enable PLN connections (Jones, 2015). Whilst YouTube was seen as the 2018 Top Tool for Learning (Harts, 2018), Twitter appeared to be a more appropriate platform to explore for further development of my PLN. I had previously dipped into Twitter, joining in 2011, but my activity had dwindled with time (in February 2019 I was following 30, followed by 10, and 36 tweets – predominantly retweets). I began to follow “leadership gurus”, teacher-librarians and authors, tentatively beginning to comment a little more often. Retweets often sent me down rabbit holes, following breadcrumbs and ascertaining whether the person who had been retweeted was “worthy” of my Twitter time. Making decisions about who to connect with, what to learn, and what to focus on was itself a learning process (Siemens, 2005). Authors, such as Jackie French, Jessica Townsend and Samantha Wheeler, whilst not part of my Librarians as Leaders focus, were enthusiastic and inclusive conversationalists, which gave me more confidence to participate further in Twitter discussions. Learning how to use Tweetdeck enabled me to experiment with following hashtags much more successfully. This helped me to filter my tweets and keep focused on specific topics.
Different social media platforms provide varied cultures of interaction. Twitter was not my only source of connected learning. I took tentative steps to interact more in Facebook groups focused on Teacher-Librarian issues. After some exploration I realised that the younger demographic, visual and informal nature of Instagram was not conducive to the relatively formal nature of educational leadership. I joined connected learning groups that were part of the “walled garden” of my school system, becoming a more active member of the Yammer Librarians group, and the “Looking to Leadership” Teams group. However, I was still looking for my tribe, those who might be able to help me to understand what leadership looked like for teacher-librarians. To be truly connected I needed to contribute more, to feedback more, to be more. I needed to stop regurgitating, and start participating (Reynolds, 2019, Ito et al, 2013).
DIPPING MY TOES IN
– AKA TIME TO CREATE AND INTERACT
My first move was to begin to “own” my online professional personality. I changed my pseudonym Twitter name to my own name, @AnniGold96 despite some continuing reservations, and began to initiate conversations on Yammer. My next step was to open my wonderings with the world.
Blogs (or Web Logs) are a useful way to document thoughts reflections, and professional growth (Way, 2012, Oddone). They are particularly useful because, as a web-based document, they can be hyperlinked to from a variety of social media platforms. My first blog was a reaction to my feelings of frustration, not being able to envisage how the theories of thought leaders on leadership applied to teacher-librarianship in the context I work. I was quite proud of the writing of this blog and promoted it on my personal Facebook page, all the Facebook librarian groups that I was a member of, Twitter, Yammer and Teams. That night I checked my feeds repeatedly, to very little avail. Maybe it was because it was a Thursday night I surmised and comforted myself. By the end of the weekend my beautiful blog had received 11 likes on the various Facebook sites (5 from the US, 2 from Canada, 1 from New Zealand, 3 from Queensland), 5 likes on Twitter and nothing at all on any of my system platforms. It was at this stage that I felt a little discouraged. However, several critical incidents invigorated me.
Initially, it was the power of the face to face connections, and within system colleagues that revitalised me. Many teachers at my school (friends on Facebook) had read the blog and fed back positive comments in the staff room and playground. One sought me out on Twitter and made a request to “follow” me. That helped for several reasons, most importantly to alert me that my privacy settings were restrictive to truly connecting with anyone outside my very small Twitterverse. She had also recently made the decision to try to expand her PLN, so we began to support each other’s efforts.
Secondly, people began to comment upon my post on Yammer. When one of the system administrators began a supportive critique, it encouraged others to also participate. Some comments revealed that I was not alone in my wonderings
Great post Anni! I do feel as conflicted as you do about which of the “L’s” my T-L role encompasses.
P.S. I think I am the “squeaky wheel” in my school. Keep up the good work!
Others contained recommendations for particular “leadership gurus” who were more useful or pertinent to the life of teacher-librarians. However, it was the system administrator’s words that truly resonated for me
You are a leader already; a Teacher Librarian is a leader (we don’t always get the title ‘leader’).
I think that the very act of learning and sharing shows how you might move forward
– in dialogue, discussion, collaboration and growth.
Be a THOUGHT LEADER!
Refreshed by the discussion I had provoked and the ideas I had gained from reading and listening to the recommended thought leaders I spent further time in reflection. If I was to be a thought leader, using my skill set for the greater good, I wanted to change some of my daily reality, but wondered how and if it was possible. Again, I turned to my network “Brains Trust”, asking some of big questions that were bothering me. I constructed a “Survey Monkey” online survey containing nine questions, eight multiple choice and one open answer question. Hoping for a better response than my previous foray I posted on a number of teacher-librarian Facebook groups, my Twitter feed (now open to search through hashtags), Yammer and on a last minute whim, OZTL_net Digest.
The response to my request for people to answer this survey was completely overwhelming for several reasons. After two days there had been 68 respondents to the survey, after four days there had been 127 responses, after a week it had plateaued at 138 responses. I found looking at the replies and, in particular, the comments made me feel exceedingly connected. I was not alone, there were many teacher-librarians feeling the same frustrations and joys as me. Many participants requested that I write another blog and feedback what I had discovered. This led to my realisation that many teacher-librarians were just like I had been, they had read the blog, just not commented.
However, not all responses were positive. My impulse to post a request on OZTL_net Digest led to a much less pleasant, but ultimately valuable, learning experience. As I had identified when researching which social media platforms to participate on, different platforms have different cultures (Moreillon,2016). The informal nature of my request, and the platforms to which I had made it, did not recognise the different cultures and their norms. I had thought that if someone did not want to participate, they did not have to, and that was the end of it. However, I received a rather terse email alerting me to the fact that one participant on OZTL took umbrage to my casualness. At the time, I ignored her response and kept my focus on the positives. Upon reflection, this probably compounded rather than resolved the issue. Others became involved in advocating for me and my naivete. I now look back at the resulting communications and realise that, whilst somewhat confronting and discomforting at the time, they did provide a truly valuable learning experience – in online culture and etiquette, and in leadership.
My second blog entailed details of the results of the survey, my musings on the results and a brief infographic of what I considered the most pertinent points. Again, I posted on Facebook groups, my personal Facebook page and my Twitter feed. There was a supportive response from work and system colleagues. The small reaction from Facebook group participants again illustrated the reticence of teacher-librarians to engage more in conversations. However, it was increasingly obvious that my changed Twitter privacy settings were enabling much greater audience outreach. My first blog looking at leadership had now been visited 214 times, the second blog 31 times in less than 4 days (maybe the first topic was more interesting, maybe it was people considering whether they would respond to the survey). Several of those who viewed the blog have privately messaged me with further discussion points, recommendations or support. The most telling evidence that I am becoming more connected is the growth of people following my Twitter feed (currently 115 followers).
Twitter has been an extremely valuable resource, both for learning and for building connections like-minded peers. I have read countless interesting articles and reflections upon general and educational leadership, and tentatively begun to initiate discussions. Building connections and interacting with other students and teacher-librarians has been more energetic. Some have become aware of my interest and their recommendations that I explore the work of other teacher-librarians who are also rumbling with the idea of teacher-librarians and leadership have been invaluable.
LEARNING TO SWIM
Have I actually contributed to the learning community in relation to facilitating others’ learning? Maybe, maybe not. I am not naive enough to think that I can make a large contribution in only two blog posts over three weeks. However, I think that I have looked at the idea of teacher-librarians as leaders from a different perspective; linking the concepts of teacher-librarianship and more generalised leadership or educational leadership. Maybe I have provoked people and offered a conduit to further discussion. I think that I may have even annoyed some people and I am cognisant that I need to be more aware of the sensitivities and cultural expectations of others. I am very hopeful that my tiny voice will promote more open dialogue exploring the opportunities that fully utilising the skills a teacher-librarian can provide.
I do believe that the points I have raised are pertinent to my own professional life, they have come as a result of inquiring into leadership and management styles (part of which involves inner reflection), and so maybe these ideas will resonate with others too. I am aware that there are a very passionate group of teacher-librarians concerned with the loss of librarian positions who are showing great leadership (including Students Need School Libraries). My focus is more introspective, looking more at how teacher-librarians are able to individually enact leadership, whereas they are systemic, more “big picture”. My current interest is on a particular facet of leadership, difficult conversations - I wonder if the majority of teacher-librarians being female, and the perception of librarians as dragons in cardigans (Sydney Morning Herald, 2011), is part of the problem – it’s not just a societal perception, but also one within individual schools. Maybe we are looking at two sides of the same coin?
WHERE AM I NOW? DIPPING AND DIVING
My connected identity has undergone some transformation, and it is interesting to note that my screen time has actually decreased as I have become more connected. This reflects my identity as an “evolved connector” (Oddone, 2018). I have spent time refining and managing my PLN, developing relationships seeking conversations and connections. This is hardly surprising considering I identify as a “social constructivist”, believing that learning occurs through connections between people; through seeing connections between ideas; and involves cultivating and nurturing networks of connections who are able to express a diversity of opinions and perspectives in respectful ways (Siemens, 2005). Whilst still having moments where I become too involved and fall down the rabbit hole, I have become more disciplined and strategic, curating connections who help me to avoid “information overload” as they also filter information, and “if it’s important, I’ll hear about it” (Way, 2012). I am learning that I can contribute to ideas and discussions, but still struggle with believing that my voice is worthy of being heard, so I take solace in the words
“the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of
connection is our fear that we're not worthy of connection”
My styles of learning within the personal and pedagogical arenas have grown from simply linking with other members of the network, learning when and where needed, to more stretching, discovering and exploring new ideas and expanding my understanding for future learning and practice (Oddone, 2019).
My digital footprint (Lupton, 2016) now includes a greatly increased usage of Twitter, content creation on Pinterest of articles on leadership and two open access blogs to add to the myriad of interests and internet shopping that it already entailed. I think that any “digital archaeologist” in the future would probably classify me as a questioning and reflective person, struggling with philosophical concepts, able to transfer ideas to different contexts, and quite unashamedly feminist.
INTO THE FUTURE?
I found being required to contribute and create to a PLN extremely confronting and invented several extremely creative methods of procrastination in order to avoid possible conflict, embarrassment or invisibility. However, it has been an overwhelmingly inspiring and invigorating experience. The connections that I have made, both with people and ideas have been astonishing. I look forward to my ongoing connected learning journey – without the distraction of having to analyse it for assessment. However, I am very aware I need to remember that remember that online media is a great way to learn and interact with people and ideas, but it is not the only way.