My cousin has been following my blog, she's always had a keen interest in Education. Lynda and I frequently like to analyze the current education system and discuss our "ideal" for what education could and should be. She is an excellent "critical friend" for me as I reflect on my practice.
This week, Lynda said: "I don't understand why the big push for collaboration? What is wrong with individual ideas? Individual work? Why have we decided that committees are suddenly productive?"
So the goal of this blog post is to synthesize all that I have been curating this week so that it somehow makes sense to me and to use that newly gained knowledge and understanding to help respond to Lynda's question.
I participated in Alec Couros' Blackboard Collaborate Session on Connected Learning. In the chat box, people commented on how much more they appreciated their PLN (Personal Learning Network) over their PLC (Professional Learning Community). I have been deliberating over those comments all week. I've also been reading all of the posts by Sheri Edwards whom I have connected with from our etmooc community. Sheri has been synthesizing all of the blog posts on Connected Learning we've been reading - her most recent post is called "Building Neighborhoods".
I believe it was Ben Wilkoff who coined the term "neighbourhoods" to describe like-minded individuals with a common vision who connect together to share ideas and learn from one another. Sheri has created a neighbourhood via our blogs, a wiki, twitter and a diigo group for middle level educators. I am so honoured and excited to be included in this Personal Learning Network. Sheri says, "These neighborhoods support each other in efforts to transform education, to make changes for our students' futures".
I now see my PLN as a group of educators who share a common vision, who question together, seek answers together, and explore together. How is this different from the Professional Learning Community I am a part of at my school? I choose to be a part of my PLN, but I didn't choose to be a part of my PLC. Does that make the PLC any less important? I don't think so.
The difference is that a PLC might not share a common vision. In fact, our opinions might be quite divergent. That can make working in a PLC sometimes less than easy. How does this relate to Lynda's question about asking our students to collaborate? When we work together in a PLC, we have a common goal - student achievement. But we don't always agree on how to achieve that goal. Working in a PLC often involves having to defend my beliefs and philosophies. It also demands that I listen to and consider the opinions of others. Could I get things done more quickly on my own? Definitely! But working with people who think differently than I do forces me to re-evaluate my thinking. I wouldn't do that if I only ever worked on my own or with people who think the way I do.
I think someone posted this video sometime in the last two weeks on Google+. Margaret Heffernan expresses the importance of listening to divergent opinions far better than I ever could.
So what does this have to do with our students? I think our students need to be "connected" to like-minded individuals that help them to "grow" their beliefs and understandings. But I think they also need to collaborate with people who may or may not agree with their beliefs, because it is only through questioning that we really get to test out our understandings and theories.
This means that as educators we have a job to do. We can't just group our students and say "work together". We have to explicitly TEACH them how to work collaboratively together toward a common goal. How do we disagree? How do we respond, question, re-think? How do we learn from one another?
And I think we need to give our students time to "curate" all of the new ideas that they are being exposed to. I know my brain needs plenty of time to curate!