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Feb 04

Chris Smeaton

Finding your PLN

I recently read an article published in the ATA News suggesting that teacher’s autonomy and choice for pursuing growth plan goals had slipped. The article, “Teachers want a balanced approach to PD” is based on longitudinal data from the Alberta Teachers’ Association. In the ATA 2010 PD Survey only 44.4% of respondents reported a high degree of autonomy and choice in pursuing growth plan goals. This was compared to 51% in 2009. This one year dramatic drop (6.6%) has produced the opinion of the writer that, “teachers no longer feel as confident as they once did that they are in control of their own growth plans.”

Teacher growth in Alberta is governed by the Teacher Growth, Supervision and Evaluation Policy set forth by Alberta Education. This policy was a vast improvement to the cyclical evaluations that occurred in the past by making the assumption of competence for those teachers on continuous contracts. As a result of this policy, teachers are required to complete an annual professional growth plan that:

(i) reflects goals and objectives based on an assessment of learning needs by the individual teacher,

(ii) shows a demonstrable relationship to the teaching quality standard, and

(iii) takes into consideration the education plans of the school, the school authority and the Government, or the program statement of an ECS operator;

In the perfect world, systems and schools develop plans that align with their mission, vision and values and support the goals of the province or state. These plans are developed in a collaborative culture with considerable staff and community engagement. This alignment (in theory) should be carried through to the individual teacher to ensure that everybody in the entire system is moving in the same direction. However, in the imperfect world that we live in, various permutations of the above actually occurs. From my vantage point as a superintendent, it is a challenge finding the right  balance between achieving alignment and providing autonomy to our teachers.

The autonomy and choice of professional learning speaks of relevance and engagement. And I would suggest that finding a Personal Learning Network through social media like Twitter, can provide that autonomy and choice. Since engaging with Twitter in June 2010, I have been able to connect with and learn from educational gurus, trustees, administrators, teachers, parents, and community members. I’ve been involved in Twitter chats based on my need to learn or from simple interest. I have the choice of having it in the background constantly, checking it once a day or once a week… the choice is mine. I can search what I want and connect/follow with who I want. Twitter allows me complete autonomy.

But more importantly, Twitter has allowed me to connect with others who challenge my thinking and provide me with alternate perspectives. I get to express my thoughts and test my theories. I read more! I write more! I think more! I learn more! And… it is all about what I want or what I need. So the next time you want choice in your professional learning, engage in Twitter and find your PLN.

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