The image to the right is a visualization of those people in my Twitter network with whom I have the most exchanges. I like the image because it shows the interconnectedness of my personal learning network (PLN) – there are lots of conversations taking place all the time. My network is diverse and includes people with whom I work regularly, people with whom I have shared interests (education, technology, literacies), people I have met at conferences, and people I have met through others in my network. My network is both local and global, including people with whom I live (my hubby) and work, people throughout Canada and the United States, and people across the globe in Asia and Australia. Although we are connected by our shared interests, there are enough diverse views on those interests to make the network productive and challenging, as well as supportive and efficient.
In 2004, James Surowiecki wrote The Wisdom of Crowds, an examination of the idea that a large group of people is collectively smarter than a small group or an individual. Surowiecki talks about how a large and diverse group provides you with information you might not have anticipated:
In other words, experts don’t know when they don’t know something. That’s why it’s worthwhile to cast a wider net, and why relying on a crowd of decision makers improves (though it doesn’t guarantee) your chances of reaching a good decision. Relying on a crowd rather than an individual improves your chances of finding information that you didn’t know was out there. (278)
One of the greatest challenges facing Principals and Vice Principals who must assume the role of instructional leader is staying at the leading edge in terms of instructional practices, curriculum revisions and new tools and materials for the classroom. It isn’t reasonable to expect to fit time in to delve deeply into all of the ‘new’. Having a strong network both within your school, within your board, and even beyond gives you the advantage of having a large group of people to provide insight, information and feedback in all of these areas. I think it is the collective wisdom that we gain by being part of a learning network that makes it not only worthwhile, but crucial.
getting things done
If you believe that we still have a long way to go before we can say that we are providing the very best education for every single student in our system, then being part of a connected, challenging and supportive network becomes an imperative. In Tribes author Seth Godin discusses the powerful potential of a connected group of people to effect change:
A movement is thrilling. It’s the work of many people, all connected, all seeking something better. The new highly leveraged tools of the Net make it easier than ever to create a movement, to make things happen, to get things done. (5)
Connecting with those whose passion and purpose resonate well with your own provides the opportunity to bring about changes, regardless of how seemingly small, that draw us closer to the realization of something bigger and better – in our case a system wherein all students can attain high levels of achievement.
Godin explains what occurs as the conversational net is cast wider:
The movement happens when people talk to one another, when ideas spread within the community, and most of all, when peer support leads people to do what they always knew was the right thing. (23)
Doing the right thing. That is at the heart of it, but it is often difficult and draining. Having the courage, as well as the know-how, and bolstered by a strong PLN of passionately committed people, to do the right thing by each and every student might be the very raison d’etre for networking.