Professional Development: With a Little Help From My Friends

Stages of PLN adoption -

Stages of PLN adoption -

I laughed out loud when I saw this illustration by Jeff Utecht about professional learning networks. I am one of those people who gets carried away with the excitement of new learning. I can lose hours on the computer, following those “rabbit trails,” as my classmate, Shirley, calls them, as I move from one blog post or RSS feed or tweet to the next. I laughed even more when I read that Jeff, like me, has a spouse who reminds him that “PLNs are very powerful, but they are not all there is to life.”

As we discussed professional development in class this week, our discussion leader, Dawn, asked a challenging and important question: “How do we begin to support teachers’ pedagogical change?” We talked a lot about personal learning networks. I like David Kapuler’s description

A Personal Learning Network or PLN is a dedicated learning environment unique to each individual.  . . . this is a place where people create their own environment which helps them to grow/learn. This can be done in many different ways through collaborating, blogging, social networking, etc.  [The] goal is to learn and share knowledge and to find a passion and follow it to the best of your ability.

I began to think about my own change and growth over a 38 year career. How did I follow my passion? To paraphrase Fulghum, All I really need to know I didn’t learn in school. I learned it from colleagues, mentors, and friends. I had a personal learning network long before I ever heard the term, but of course I’ve been involved in many types of professional development.

Judi Harris wrote a  four-article series (all available online here) published in ISTE‘s Learning & Leading with Technology f(February – June/July, 2008.) She writes

Educational technology-related professional development (ETPD) can take many forms. It varies by:

  • general purposes and goals;
  • the specific learning objectives that ETPD sessions and programs address;
  • the curriculum content areas to which they are related;
  • the student grade levels for which the strategies and tools presented are appropriate;
  • the instructional approaches recommended;
  • the professional development models used to structure the ETPD sessions;
  • and the ways in which the professional development is evaluated and/or teacher learning is assessed.

I first encountered Judi Harris through the Telus Learning Connection, or . Her research and guidance helped shape this Alberta endavour, which is ‘organized in a “cascading” or “train-the-trainer” model, in which teacher-leaders participate, then provide ETPD for their peers’ (Harris, 2008). I remember being elated when I was chosen as a teacher-leader, thinking I would be given training in technology implementation. Turns out I was expected to deliver the training. Fortunately the collegial nature of the participants allowed me to learn on the job as I partnered with various mentors.

Another valuable professional development experience was collaborative learning, which Harris describes as “The most desired—but unfortunately, also one of the least frequently practiced—collaborative learning model is one in which teachers engage in classroom visits.” Our district instituted instructional walkthroughs  like these (thanks, Ruth) as a way of looking at teachers’ best practices in the classroom. Instead of bringing in outside experts who preached about the latest and greatest, we utilized the expertise in our own schools.

Teachers volunteered to be observed and a group of teachers, administrators, and central office staff spent a day at a school. They would visit 6-8 classrooms, observe for 10 minutes in each, and then discuss their observations. Next we began using professional development time to do this in our own school. We set up days where teachers and administrators would visit 6-8 classrooms where teachers would share a best practice.

These were incredibly popular pd days. Later teachers were given release time to do more observations. Lots of teachers volunteered  — the message was that every teacher is an expert in something. This practice built our school of 100 teachers into a pln. It also opened our principal’s eyes about some heretofore unacknowledged great teachers, and encouraged teachers to ask administrators into their classrooms.

Another major pd tool for me was the listservHere Peter Milbury describes how the incredible resource LM_NET (short for Library and Media Network), began in 1992, growing from 60 to over 10,000 members worldwide. Through this resource I was introduced to top library/information professionals, including Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, Mike Eisenberg, Alice Yucht, Kathy Shrock, and many more. I felt like this tl commenting on VoiceThread, “Instead of feeling like the “only one” in my building, my PLN . . . reminds me that I’m part of a community.”

I learned more about being a tl from LM_NET than from any other single resource. I still subscribe today, and consider the members an essential part of my pln. A bonus is that, as Cathy Nelson describes, now I can follow their blogs via RSS feeds and keep up with the latest news of them on Twitter.

As teacher librarians we are asked to deliver pd to our staff. Harris reminds us that One Size Doesn’t Fit All. Guhlin advises us to Light the Flame, “to move from professional development as a special event  . . to a continuous flow of learning.” Ketterer (June/July 2008) offers “A Professional Development Menu,” with choices ranging from “whetting the appetite” – “Trainings: Focus on how to use a specific . . . application” to “the fuel to keep going,” a “common scheduled lunch focused around a tech teaching tip.”

 In “Coach, Nurture, or Nudge How Do You Learn Technology Best?” Ketterer (May, 2007) reminds us that teachers learners have a preferred style. You’ll recognize these people in your staff room.

  • Coaching Style learner – willing to take risks at integrating technology into their curriculum with support from a colleague they can trust—a “coach.”
  • Nurturing Style Learners want to be nurtured as they learn new technology skills.
  • Nudging Style Learners – often traditional teachers with big success in the “way things are;” skeptical about “where technology is going today.” They need to be gently pushed, prodded, and cajoled into learning how to integrate technology.

As you develop your own personal learning network (see Sue Waters’ wiki for even more tips), and help build and support the one in your school, I recommend to you this video from  Will Richardson, web 2.0 in schools guru. And I do hope you will make me part of your pln — I am @cjpeterso on Twitter. See you online!

References (Non-hyperlinked)

Ketterer, K. (June/July 2008). A Professional Development Menu. Learning & Leading with Technology, p.11.

Ketterer, K. (May 2007). Coach, nurture, or nudge: How do you learn technology best? Learning and Leading with Technology, p. 21.

This Week’s Road Trip – Social Bookmarking

Ford Focus Commercial

Packing the Car

Why start with a car commercial, you ask? Ever had one of those “Ah hah!” moments of revelation when the layers of your brain finally slid into place, and you found yourself wondering how you could have been so stupid? Would you believe I had one of those moments while I watched this Ford Focus commercial on TV?

It is sad but true – or really neat depending on your perspective – but I finally “got” tagging when I saw this commercial. To me this is the ultimate demonstration of the pull technology that is the Web 2.0 culture: the car buyer pulls all of the options he wasn’t out of the tag cloud surrounding him.

This integration of the concept of tagging gave me the mental set I needed to try out social bookmarking this week. And I love it!

First Stop:

I began by looking for video tutorials about social bookmarking. First of all I watched the Common Craft video, Social Bookmarking in Plain English, which uses  as its example site.  Lee Lefever’s simple three steps, signing up to a service, tagging sites, and “being social” by looking at other people’s bookmarks, gave me the confidence to explore further. After all, I had already used Backflip as a way of storing bookmarks on the Internet. Now I just needed to add the tagging component. I decided to start using

After I added my personal bookmarks I decided to experiment with the social aspect. I searched for tags having to do with crochet, and by adding and deleting tags was able to collect bookmarks dealing with crocheted afghan patterns. Remembering my RSS lessons from last week, I decided to add a feed for this collection to Bloglines.

Next Stop: Diigo

I knew that I also wanted to explore Diigo, so I searched YouTube and TeacherTube and found Emily Barney’s video, “Social Bookmarking: Making the Web Work for You.” This gives a wonderfully clear explanation of how social bookmarking works, and then goes on to explain how to use Diigo.  

If I were working on showing teachers how to do social bookmarking, I would use all three of these videos as part of the training (but of course not all at once).

Pit Stops on the Journey

This past week I

  • Set up accounts for Diigo,, and Furl
  • Installed the toolbar for Furl but had to uninstall it as my computer kept hanging and crashing. I decided to just experiment with the other two applications
  • Imported bookmarks from both my computers to both those accounts
  • Exported the bookmarks from both accounts and imported these into the other
  • Set up Diigo account so that new bookmarks are also automatically added to
  • Added email contacts to Diigo
  • Searched for other users’ bookmarks on crochet afghan patterns by using tags
  • Created a RSS feed for Diigo for crochet afghan patterns
  • Found Will Richardson on Diigo and looked at some of his bookmarks
  • Found Joyce Valenza on Diigo and subscribed to a feed from the Teacher Librarian group she belongs to
  • Investigated educator accounts on Diigo – I can’t join as I don’t have a school email address at the moment
  • Created WebSlides of some of the sites on social bookmarking I collected (see right sidebar).

Deciding Which Route to Take

Each of the sites I investigated has its pros and cons.

  • I found easier to use, as it has a simpler, cleaner interface and it seems more intuitive to me, and easier to navigate.
  • I love the fact that it is as free of ads.
  • The Help pages are easier to navigate than Diigo.


  • All the ads in Diigo definitely slow down search results and navigating pages.
  • Diigo has more features; the highlighting and commenting features are really valuable.
  • I can easily add contacts from my email address book in which I can’t do on – very useful when you want to email colleagues your bookmarks.
  • This is the fully-featured site I’d want to teach students how to use, especially since you can create an educator account.

Some Bumps in the Road

1. Information Literacy – Critical Evaluation

In his “Social Bookmarking” chapter in the book, Coming Of Age: An Introduction To The NEW Worldwide Web, Terry Freedman identifies one critical concern. He says, “There are downsides, [to using social bookmarking] of course. The main one is the flip side of the coin, that is to say, if looking for information is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack, what social bookmarking does is to increase the size of the haystack! That is not an argument for not using it, but it is an argument for making sure that students are taught good information-searching skills, including the ability to evaluate the plausibility and accuracy of the information they find.”

2. Issues with Tags  

Freedman also points out an inherent problem with tagging: ‘A good example is “e-learning”: it would be a good idea to use “elearning” too!”‘

Tagging requires the use of only use single words, so you have to join words in phrases, such as socialbookmarking or social_bookmarking. In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Richardson states that “tags that are more than one word usually use an underline to separate the words” (p. 96).

Unfortunately that is not necessarily the case. There is no standardization except what individual users, groups, or communities decide on. One would need to work on this with students or teachers in order to standardize tags. When I was searching for crochet patterns in, for example, I discovered that I could use the tag “patterns” and get results containing the tag “pattern,” but not vice versa.

Spelling counts too. I found plenty of bookmarks with the word “socail” as one of the tags.

3. Issues with Filtered Sites and Downloading of Toolbars

Many school districts restrict the downloading of toolbars and buttons; in my high school students were unable to download anything on to the computers, including bookmarking sites. As part of an initiative for using these resources, teachers would have to work with their administration and technicians to overcome these issues.

4. Privacy Issues

As with all public web sites, the possibility exists that students will encounter some inappropriate content. The Diigo Educator Account provides some safeguards to students. Only teachers and classmates can communicate with students. Ads presented to student account users are limited to education-related sponsors. Students can only communicate with their friends and teachers, and their profiles aren’t included in the People Search feature.

Reasons To make the Journey

Miguel Guhlin’s article “Diigo the Web for Education – From TeleGatherer to TelePlanter with Diigo” gives an eloquent explanation of why social bookmarking tools are so important for our students. Guhlin says,”New web tools allow you to do MORE than just gather great resources; they allow you to explain why they are great, put virtual post-its on them, and then share that care package of great resource links with your comments with your audience of choice.”

Guhlin goes on to quote Dr. Judi Harris:

  • 1. We all begin on the Web by “telegathering” (surfing) and “telehunting” (searching. This we can do pretty well. What we don’t do very well yet is to take educationally sound steps beyond telegathering and telehunting).
  • 2. We need to help our students and ourselves “teleharvest” (sift through, cogitate, comprehend, etc.) the information that we find, and “telepackage” the knowledge that results from active interaction (application, synthesis, evaluation, etc.) with the information.
  • 3. Then, we need to “teleplant” (telepublish, telecollaborate, etc.) these telepackages by sharing them with others…who use them as information in their…
  • 4. …telegathering & telehunting, and the process cycles back around again.

Are you helping your students make the shift from surfing and searching as telegatherers to becoming teleplanters? [Emphasis is mine]

The End (Not) of My Journey

The mind boggles. I could tear down my whole library web page, the Web 1.0 page, the Read Web page, and start again. Shortly the grade 10 students in my former school will be starting their Shakespeare research project. I am itching to work with a class. Students can use Diigo to collect, highlight, annotate, and tag resources on their topics, which include the Shakespeare controversy, the Elizabethan theatre, the Great Chain of Being, William Shakespeare the man, Elizabeth I, the plague, the Spanish Armada, and more. Instead of the page for this project I created, students can contribute what they have found while their teacher and I provide guidance and support. We can teach evaluation and critical thinking skills, building this in as a stage in the project.

And our students become teleplanters.

Did I mention I LOVED working on social bookmarking this week?