Electronic teaming for singletons in a PLC

One of the questions that I’m asked all the time as an advocate for both professional learning communities and teaching with technology is, “How can digital tools be used to support the learning of singletons in our schools?”

The answer is that there are two steps in any effort to develop electronic learning teams.

First, many singletons need help simply finding peers who teach similar content areas and grade levels.  Tackling that challenge can start with Twitter.

A microblogging service that allows users to post short (140-character), public messages to the web, Twitter makes sharing ideas and resources with one another easy.

More importantly for singletons, however, Twitter makes finding peers to learn with—no matter how alone you feel—easy.

You see, THOUSANDS of singletons have started to use Twitter to network with peers.  Better yet, they are organizing ongoing conversations around common hashtags—short, searchable phrases included at the end of every message.

Here are direct links to the hashtag conversations of some of the most active singleton groups on Twitter:

#musiced : Music Educators

#agedu : Agricultural Educators

#careerteched : Career and Technical Educators

#physed : Physical Education Teachers

#ushist : US History Teachers

#tlchat : Teacher-Librarians

#langchat and #flteach : Foreign Language Teachers

#ece : Early Childhood Educators

#artsed : Fine Arts Educators

#esol : English as a Second Language Teachers

#spedchat : Special Educators

While the content being shared in each of these conversations is bound to be valuable for any singleton teacher, the potential connections are even MORE valuable.

Consider signing up for a Twitter account and then reaching out to new partners in new places.  It’s really not as intimidating as you may think!

My favorite collection of resources for teachers new to Twitter is this Kim Cofino blog entry.

Check it out and start experimenting.  You’ll be a pro in no time. More importantly, you’ll find content specific peers to learn with in no time, too!

The second step to creating meaningful electronic learning teams is to begin joining together in more sophisticated digital homes.

You see, PLCs aren’t just groups of teachers who are sharing resources with each other.  Instead, they are groups of teachers who are engaged in sustained, collective inquiry around their practice together.

PLC expert Rick DuFour and his Learning by Doing coauthors define the core work of PLCs as:

“An ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students that they serve.”

No matter how much I love Twitter, “recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research” just aren’t possible in 140-character messages.

But it IS possible to use digital tools to engage in “recurring cycles of collective inquire and action research” with far-flung peers.

Some electronic teams use free tools like Skype to videoconference weekly and Google Docs to develop shared assessments and lesson plans.

Others use asynchronous tools like Voicethread to maintain ongoing conversations on important instructional concepts and PB Works to warehouse team content.

I’ve been recommending that digital novices interested in electronic teaming explore Wiggio.  Another free service, Wiggio stands out because it makes ALL of these collaborative actions possible from behind one login.

After creating a group that includes the singleton peers that you want to collaborate with,  you can use Wiggio to create common assessments and to warehouse shared lesson plans.

More importantly, you can conduct regular video conferences and maintain ongoing asynchronous conversations with each other.

This ability to bring together tools that make every collaborative task possible in one place will resonate with many teachers.  While techies might be comfortable with service-switching when collaborating, most teachers will be much happier with one new tool to learn!

Whatever tool you pick to build a collaborative home for your electronic learning team, remember that your priority should be to implement collaborative practices that look just like the work being done by peers on traditional learning teams.

Develop sets of essential outcomes.  Create common rubrics and exemplars of accomplished student work.  Set criteria for student mastery and deliver common assessments.  “Meet” regularly to talk about instruction.

In the end, that commitment to a structured process of collective inquiry focused on student learning is the hallmark of every successful learning team, whether they’re gathering in person or online!

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Related Radical Resources:

Twitter for Singletons

Twitter as a Tool for Professional Development

Twitter Hashtags for Educators