Saturday, 26 January 2013

Why Collaborate?

So much has been happening this week: working on report cards, meeting with colleagues on our School Improvement Team to plan for our up-coming School Effectiveness Review, and following the "happenings" on #etmooc.  And all the while, I've been "curating" (which to me means absorbing the new information and giving it time to curate while I reflect on it) - that's my new word of the week.

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!


  1. Lorraine, you have keyed in on important points -- our PLNs are choices we make to support us in our beliefs, and we need to also expand them to include those whose views differ so that we may challenge or change our beliefs if needed. We can't really grow without those "What ifs." Our PLCs often do provide those challenges -- often we don't have the time to have the dialogue to deal with challenging thoughts and issues, or to work through the conflict so we all learn. The internet allows those who want the challenge to find those conversations. I'm glad we are building our neighbourhoods together, challenging ourselves to be better. Great post!

    1. I've really been trying to determine why our PLNs that we have established through Twitter and Google+ can be so "life-giving" while the PLCs can seem to be just another "burden of the job". I think it is the same phenomenon that makes the etmooc so exciting but an on-line course a duty. It is not just that our ideas are challenged in a PLC, it is more than that, because I don't mind a good challenge...I relish it! It is the negativity. So what is fostering that negativity?

  2. WOW Lorraine,
    You have done some amazing work synthesizing these concepts of PLN and PLC, and I really needed that! I love your comment that states, "I choose to be a part of my PLN, but I didn't choose to be a part of my PLC." How relevant and true. I agree that both are very important, but the PLC is certainly more challenging, whereas the PLN is more inspiring. Your arguments are excellent and I believe this pies will stay with me a long time!

    1. Hi Pamela,
      I'm still trying to get to the heart of while people can be so opposed to the PLC. I think choice is a big part of it, but I don't think I've fully explored the issue yet... I am still curating!
      Thanks for the comment, it helps me to work it all out!


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