What are the qualities of a network?
Only One List Please

I was walking to work the other day and took a 7 a.m. call on that walk. Someone had called me to learn more about our work, particularly the work we have been doing with networks. He wanted to know the history and why I thought it was so powerful. He asked for some examples of impact and asked me a strange question along the way:

“If you could only make one list of what a professional network offers a teacher, what would be on that list?”

I paused, huffing at this point because I was now going uphill on Mercer Avenue and shouting, because the sound of the cars was so loud (for those of you who know Seattle traffic.) Here is what I said a professional learning network  offers teachers:

  • A place to share your ideas and learn about other’s innovations. The Teacher Allies meeting was a good example of this. The teachers had the chance to give and get. It was a meeting and we were not setting out to create a specific network but the teachers seemed to add to their own network at this meeting.
  • A safe environment for professional risk taking and sharing everyday struggles. One teacher said to me last week that she couldn’t understand why she would come back all excited from an experience and share it with her colleagues, but then they would be the last to pick it up. But when she shared it with her larger network on Twitter, it seemed to spread like wildfire. Her Twitter community was a safer place in some ways than her own school. She was ok putting her ideas out there and getting feedback in ways that encouraged risk taking.
  • Real-time support on issues of practice. One teacher said to me, “I don’t Google things anymore. Great ideas come to me because I am part of a larger professional network. When I need something, I can just Tweet it out and I get so many different answers that help me be a better teacher.”
  • A community to hold you accountable for improving your practice. I learned this from our work using a “plan, do, study, act” cycle in our iPD sites. Teachers came to the table with their students’ work because they knew that their colleagues would be expecting it. They held themselves accountable.

After reading Joe Murphy’s book, my list holds up pretty well with the research!