Hang in There: On Professional Learning Networks and American Educational Reform

I got into professional learning networks and RSS feeds back in my first year teaching. I wanted — and still want — to become a better teacher.

We all have heroes and at that time mine was Dan Meyer, who posted with humor, insight and pretty impressive media skills on a blog entitled Dy/Dan. Click here. Even though Dan teaches math and I teach English, I found that my teaching grew enormously by reading his blog. I added other voices to my feeder and quickly found a lot of other teachers to learn from.

Unfortunately, my professional and personal networks have been overwhelmed by controversial ideas regarding American public schools. The following responses come from real educators:

Answer Sheet

A Passion for Teaching and Opinions

Tempered Radical

Failing Schools

Practical Theory

Larry Ferlazzo

I could add to this list all day.

My Twitter stream is also being overrun by American political discourse on education. Click here. Or perhaps I should say that criticisms of America’s political discourse on education are taking over my networks.

I’m not saying that these posts are not essential.

They are.

I think these educators feel like they are being ignored and they are turning to these online forums to voice professional concerns about American educational reform. It’s amazing to watch, particularly if you’re interested in the shift of public discourse from the mass media of the 20th century to the networks of the 21st century.

Still, I find it sad that this conversation used to be about becoming better teachers, or it was for me, and that it has been high jacked by celebrity voices. When I close my reader, I am overwhelmed by the frustration felt by so many people in my network. It sounds ridiculous, but I lose sleep over it.

This is despite my being a Canadian and my having taught abroad.

While I am unaware of any data proving that engaging in professional learning networks improves student achievement, I will still argue that my teaching has improved thanks to my professional learning network. I know this based on self-reflection, based on peer and administrative feedback, and based on student feedback. My standardized test scores were good to begin with, but have improved. We could argue that this is a learning curve that all new teachers experience, but if I’m allowed any say as to the causing agent, please allow me to give credit to my network.

Sadly, I haven’t seen Bill Gates talk about these networks on http://ted.com. I haven’t seen American Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk about Jim Burke’s community of English teachers found at the English Companion. I’ve yet to see a documentary about the super power of literature circles. If Oprah has interviewed teachers about the strategies of the National Writing Project or digital literacy, I missed those episodes. I’ve yet to hear Michelle Rhea discuss the rather daunting, complex educational reforms that Alfie Kohn and Sir Ken Robinson discuss. *

But I maintain that this is a really exciting time to be an English teacher. People have a tendency to assess education through the veil of their childhood memories, a perspective in want of perspective. I have a lot of respect and gratitude for my childhood English teachers, but I also feel like I have access to a lot of ideas and tools that weren’t available to them. These tools may not be exciting to people that don’t teach, but I think they have a pretty amazing impact on learning.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is hang in there, everybody.

*Readers will probably note that I am trying to juxtapose celebrity and political posturing on education to the contributions that people with a background in education have made. One celebrity whose voice I have appreciated hearing is Jamie Oliver’s. Click here.

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