I read a post from a good friend and incredible education thinker, Tom Whitby. If you don't follow him via Twitter yet, you should, but more importantly you should follow his blog (although if you follow him on twitter you will naturally be led to the other). Tom recently posted a post called "If Twitter is not PD, What is it? While it depends on your definition of Professional Development, I agree with his viewpoint. Twitter may not have forced me take notes, create a project, or receive some form a college credit, it has absolutely increased my knowledge and increased the amount of influential and innovative educators I have learned from. Tom Whitby is one of those people. I finally had the chance to meet him recently at a Tweetup event at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago. He is almost a caricature of the professor like image I had in my mind, developed from his miniature photo along with deeply thought provoking and well worded posts. While we only exchanged a few words and a handshake (he is an extremely popular and pursued gentleman) his enthusiasm and positive nature were written all over his face.
So, what made this conference so different from the myriad conferences and workshops that I had been to before? I have attended a National Summit on PLC's in Phoenix. It was also incredible and it immensely increased my knowledge of PLC's and how they should work. I was able to hear internationally known researchers and authors, even the developers of the term Professional Learning Community were there....but the satisfaction and connection to that experience is diminished compared to that of my experience at #ASCD13. I would leave the PLC Conference or the SLATE Conference, or other previous large, multi-day conferences, and return to my hotel room and then later to my district and have no one else to reflect with or share notes with and the reflective piece of it tended to stay in my head. Sure, sure...I would share what I learned with my staff. I would present PowerPoints and share photocopies of information I had collected, but there was something lessened in that experience. If someone had a question about what I was sharing, or a challenging viewpoint, I had to rely on my own memory or reflection of what I had gleaned.
Having the opportunity to attend the ASCD National Convention this year in Chicago was an inspiring and exhilarating experience for me. Not only did I have the opportunity to listen and learn from some of the most incredible education leaders around the world, but I was also provided the event to meet face to face with Tweeps I had connected with on Twitter for over a year. These same people that had made digital imprints on my learning and growth were now going to be there live....smiling and expanding on their 140 character limitations from the Twitterverse. Was my mind building this up into something HUGE??? Yep. Was I disappointed with the realization of this event. NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST!! These friends (and I do not use that term loosely) were just as excited to meet me. We shook hands, hugged, and chatted about things we had joked about online. We jumped into stories that had been shared via Twitter or through blogs, like old friends from high school would reminisce. It was truly an incredible experience that I will never forget.
This becomes the power of a PLN. By attending the #ASCD13 conference with other members of my #PLN that I have had detailed discussions with, shared resources with and reflected on various educational topics with, I was going into sessions armed with a multitude of minds and experiences. We could chat online during the session, we could talk after a session as we moved on to another, and we could meet later that night and discuss the most powerful thing we learned that day. Moreover, we could go back home, reflect some more and then meet on Twitter again and share, beat up, or improve on what we had gained from our experience there. There is always a member of my PLN that remembers it a different way, heard something I missed, or had an experience that I just haven't encountered yet.
So while I know many of you have colleagues friends or acquaintances that are also in the teaching profession, and that you can turn to them and ask them questions, and that they may be very capable and knowledgeable, are you really pushing your boundaries by limiting yourself to this same group that is most likely so local to where you are? If they are the the co-worker that is right down the hall, or even a friend from a neighboring district, have you really extended your reach? Has the box of experience really been pushed to its limits, or is it just a comfortable stretch?