So who’s planning to stop by our Tuesday through Friday conversation on professional learning communities with Rick and Becky DuFour?

I know that Rick and Becky’s newest book Revisiting PLCs at Work has gotten me all fired up about learning communities again, providing me with a set of practical ideas about how to move my own learning team forward—-and I’m hoping that a conversation with other readers will only serve to strengthen what it is that I know about supporting professional learning communities in schools.

If you are planning on stopping by—and if you’ve never been involved in a digital conversation before—here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind:

Make a commitment to being a productive participant:  Digital conversations—like any good conversation between colleagues—are only as valuable as the contributions made by their participants.  That means if you’re stopping by and you have something meaningful to add or a really interesting question for everyone to consider, take the time to make a post!

Lurkers—-or participants who quietly listen—-are learners, too.  It’s just that their silence is a loss for the rest of us!

Listen first, comment second:  Speaking of listening, it is impossible to underestimate how important it is for participants in a digital conversation to review the comments made by other participants in a strand of conversation before making a new post!

Listening accomplishes two key tasks:  First, you might find a question asked by another participant that you can answer, building a bit of digital karma with the group.

But more importantly, if you don’t review the comments made by other participants, the thoughts that you add might be off-topic or the questions that you pose might have already been asked.  Without listening first, you end up being that kid in your third block who raises his hand and throws the flow of the whole class out of the window by sharing something completely bizarre!

Skip the simple responses:  If you think about face-to-face conversations, there are TONS of simple responses exchanged between participants designed to show that one listener agrees with/acknowledges/disagrees with another.  For example, I probably say, “Yeah, Yeah,” or “Right, Right” ten times when talking with my peers to let them know I’m listening.

(When I’m completely jazzed, I tend to shout “Straight up, brotha!” while standing on a table, but that’s a different conversation altogether.)

Those kinds of simple responses only clutter a digital conversation with tons and tons of comments—-so most people don’t bother adding them.  The advice I always give is to make sure that every comment you add is a meaningful contribution to the conversation—-asking a question, responding to a listener, challenging a thought, turning things in a new direction.

That way, learners aren’t swamped by simplicity.

Remember that there is no ONE expert:  Digital conversations are incredibly cool because they bring together people from around the globe who all have different backgrounds and experiences.  It is that collection of backgrounds and experiences that adds richness to digital conversations.

The media specialist from Australia may have some incredibly cool examples of how to solve a common problem in your learning team.  The math teacher from Wisconsin may have a question that challenges you to think about things in a new way.  The principal from Columbia might articulate a thought you’ve been wrestling with for years.

Take advantage of the “collective intelligence” in a digital conversation.  Don’t expect one or two people to ask and answer all of the good questions.  Instead, interact—-because interaction means we learn from everyone.

Find and follow strands that interest you:  I surveyed my kids not long ago about why they enjoy digital conversations, and one theme repeated time and again:  Digital conversations—unlike whole class conversations—allowed students to focus on strands that challenged their thinking and to ignore strands that were boring.  As one of my boys so eloquently explained, “In our digital conversations, I don’t have to listen to Emily blather on about horses for an hour!”

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  When you’re in a whole group, face-to-face meeting, you’re forced to listen to conversation that might just mean nothing to you.  Quickly, you tune out and end up disengaged and unmotivated.

(Think: Faculty Meetings!) 

Digital conversations are different because you get to CHOOSE the strands of conversations—and the commenters—-that you want to follow.  When I’m involved in a digital conversation, I NEVER read every comment or respond to every participant.  It’s just too time-consuming to be valuable.  Instead, I find one or two topics that catch my interest and I invest my time and energy into those questions.

Anyone else have tips and tricks for participating in digital conversations that you want to share?  The way I see it, the kinds of conversation that we’re going to share from September 8th through the 11th are going to become more and more common in the professional growth of teachers, so learning how to navigate them is something we’ve all got to master!

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