Use Your Connections, Build Your PLN

AASSA was great, there was a lot learned AND you met a lot of really intelligent people!!  So what do you do now?  As I’ve written already there’s plenty of reflection to be done and once you’ve thought through everything there are goals to be set.  There’s one more thing to attend to in order to bring your conference experience full circle.  Your network.

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Long gone are the days of trading business cards (for most of us anyway.)  We’re in the digital age now, but connections are still as valuable as ever…maybe even more so!  Developing and fostering a professional/personal learning network (PLN) is perhaps the most important thing you can do as an educator, especially an international educator!  Sometimes in the international world we get stuck on an island, a PLN is the best way to connect and share ideas.


LinkedIn is a great resource for contacting professionals.  Some people use it to share and discover articles and news.  Personally I think there are better tools for that sort of thing but to each their own.  My recommendation for LinkedIn is to establish connections that you can count on as a professional network for the long term.  Think of this as your binder full of digital business cards.  A great resource for the future.


I’m a huge proponent of Twitter.  You may have noticed at AASSA that I was pretty active on Twitter.  To be honest, I’m not usually as active as I was that week.  However, a conference like that is made for Twitter.  My Twitter usage varies depending on my schedule and what I have to share.  However, I consider it as one of my top resources as an educator.

Building a network of people to follow on Twitter takes a little time.  However, it’s not hard and as your understanding of the Twitter-sphere grows so too will your PLN.  Follow these easy tips and you’ll quickly have lots of wonderful ideas flowing down your feed:

  • Follow your colleagues.
  • Look at who your colleagues are following, then follow some of those people.
  • Use Twitter’s suggestions, it’s amazing how smart Twitter can be 🙂
  • Go back to the #L4LAASSA feed and follow anyone who had something insightful to say.
  • Ask…feel free to reach out and ask people who to follow, I’m happy to make recommendations.

Twitter Chats:

Once you’re established on Twitter it’s time to start discovering Twitter chats.  These “conversations” usually last for about an hour and are centered around just about any topic.  Search here for educationally focused chats (warning: this page is a bit overwhelming.)  Once you’ve identified a Twitter chat you’re keen to join, do just that…join the conversation (this article does a good job of explaining how and why to join Twitter Chats.)

Twitter chats are a fantastic source of learning, networking, and sharing.  The amount of learning that takes place in a quality Twitter chat is amazing.  Think of it as a very focused session at a conference, except it’s crowdsourced and not just one person talking at the group.  In terms of sharing, this is a perfect place for you to share ideas you’ve been thinking about and get feedback from peers.  Lastly, the networking and bonding that happens in a Twitter chat is really cool.  The people in your PLN start to become virtual friends who you can rely upon.

As educators we enjoy the reality that we’re never done learning.  So once you’ve gotten your head around all of those notes you took at #L4LAASSA, it’s time to build your PLN and continue your professional growth.  I’m happy to help, if you’re looking for support please reach out at any time!


AASSA – Where do we go from here?

I’ve been reflecting on all of the learning from our time in Lima, there certainly was a lot of it and I’m confident it will keep me busy for quite a while.  I went through all of my notes and took notes on the notes.  I’m trying to synthesize my learning and make connections from one session to the next.  To be honest, it’s hard work!  However, a conference like this should be the genesis of great ideas.  Too often we leave a conference, class, meeting, etc. with new learning but it gets quickly set aside as we return to the shuffle and hustle of “school.”  I wrote earlier about a strategy to ensure success while working toward goals, but how do we choose those goals?


“Less is More” – Priorities Matter

Drawing on a few of the key phrases from the week, I’ll start with “Less is more”.  Looking through my pages of notes I can’t help but get a little overwhelmed.  In total I had about 24 pages covered in scribblings (not to mention the newspaper I decorated with ideas and thoughts while flying home).  Add all of the resources shared on Edmodo and Google Drive and there’s a lot to go through.  So where to start?

I’m starting with the “less is more” concept.  I’m starting with me.  Before I can commit to new initiatives or goals I need to take a look at what I’m currently doing.  There’s only so much time in the world, priorities need to be evaluated.  So, that’s what I’m in the process of doing.  How is my time spent?  What are the non-negotiables?  What can be reduced?  What should be set aside for the time being?

“Think Big, Start Small, Learn Fast” – Patience is a Virtue

On Wednesday I spent the day with the Innovation Academy at FDR.  I really enjoyed the  experience of learning about the progressive program they’ve created but it was even more special to learn about how they’ve gotten to this point.  The real key, that I can see, is that they started small.  They didn’t get in over their heads and they learned along the way.  These guys had a long term vision and they worked methodically toward their goals (they’re still working to grow and improve!)  

Once I figure out my priorities and create the time and opportunity for myself to launch into the next great idea I’ll be sure to follow this maxim.  I’ve long been a proponent of working slowly, often at odds with those who want to dive in head first.  It takes patience and confidence in both yourself and the idea to go slowly.  As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  It takes time and patience to create something great…Think big, start small, learn fast!

“Stay Foolish” – Disrupt, push forward

A sign on the door in one of the IA classrooms read, “Stay foolish.”  I love it!  That, along with the implicit messages from Ewan McIntosh and Martin Skelton, left me with the idea of being disruptive.  The thinking we have today in schools is too much in line with the status quo.  Where are we going?  Seemingly nowhere if we look at education and where we were 5, 10, even 25 years ago.  Sure the technology has advanced but have the philosophies?

I’m pretty sure I haven’t come up with the “next big thing” in education but there are certainly some ideas that are capable of disrupting the status quo and the “usual” educational thinking.  One of the early commercials for Apple discusses the idea of challenging the status quo and thinking differently.  It’s prophetic in a way, at the time of this commercial Apple wasn’t yet the world leader in technology that they’ve become today.  But their ideas, their “foolish” thinking and challenges to the status quo have literally changed the way we communicate.  

How can we “push the human race forward” by staying foolish and disrupting the status quo?

Using What You’ve Learned

This morning at #L4LAASSA we were lucky enough to welcome Ewan McIntosh.  He helped us disrupt our thinking in a major way.  Have a look at the 10 takeaways from Ewan’s presentation:

  1. Provoke
  2. Curate wonder
  3. Ask the right questions
  4. Create a War Room (project nest)
  5. Capture the thinking
  6. Design discussion
  7. Drive towards problem-finding
  8. Take risks
  9. Build, build, build
  10. Know why

One of MY major takeaways/reminders from this session is that this this isn’t a one day workshop or keynote.  This HAS to be an ongoing thought process.  I think this is quite obvious to everyone involved, however dedicating the time to continue the journey after returning home is always the challenge.  In fact, it’s the same for any long term change project…the hard part is keeping the momentum going.

While sitting in front of Ewan McIntosh it’s very easy to get excited and brainstorm ideas.  But come Monday morning the “real world” comes crashing back down and there are proverbial fires that need to be tended.  So how do you take a great idea and keep it alive?

Whether it’s something taken away from a conference or even the idea to start a diet, how do you follow through successfully?  To me the concept is easy, it’s the implementation that’s tough.

Set Aside Specific Time:  

Setting aside specific time in your schedule is very easy, holding yourself to that time is the hard part.  What happens when “something comes up”?  Do you scrap the time you had allotted for your continued professional growth?  Usually, and unfortunately, the answer is ‘yes’.  This time must be sacrosanct, don’t waiver in that belief.

Find an Accountability Partner:  

This can take multiple forms.  First off, and maybe easiest, is to find someone who has the same goal/focus as you and work together.  Meet together once a week, set appointments and hold each other to them.  If you’re working with a partner there is an extra motivation to hold yourself to this time, you don’t want to let that person down!  A second option, if you’d rather work alone or on a different project, is to partner up with someone who has a goal, any goal.  Even though the goal isn’t the same you can check-in on progress and support each other throughout the process.  Most of us work better as a team, we’re collaborative beings by nature…go with it!

Reflect Publicly:  

Of course this requires more time…maybe.  See, reflection is one of the most important parts of the equation.  Without this you’re not going to move very far down the path toward success.  So, when you reflect (which you should be doing anyway), do it in a way that you can share publicly.  Perhaps you make audio notes while you’re in the taxi, maybe it’s a group chat on Voxer, or maybe you just take a picture of your War Room, white board, or notebook and share it to a blog.  Sharing publicly creates two things: another level of accountability and an opportunity to receive feedback.  Put yourself out there and see what comes back!

If you can put these three pieces in place when you’re working on a long term goal there is no doubt that you will see success.  A little bit of time up front will pay big dividends on the backside.  Don’t be afraid to invest a little time in yourself!!


iLEARN – Engaging Students in Their Learning

Officially, Day 1 of the AASSA conference today was exciting.  Dan Kerr and I spent most of the day in the same sessions learning and digesting together.  Something we’ve been thinking about for a while now is bringing PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) down (or up!) to a student level.  During a session focused on feedback with Bill Cotter and Kelly Paredes we had a chance to think a little further about what this might look like.  Take 2 minutes and 47 seconds to listen to our reflections and thoughts about iLEARN (individuals – Lead, Engage, Assesss, Reflect, Network).


Trying to Place the Roosevelt Innovation Academy in Context

The first thing I have to say is that if you haven’t read or listened to my colleagues reflections from Day 1, do it…now!  What an amazing group of educators, and the level of thinkers that have joined us on this adventure at Academia Cotopaxi is down right phenomenal!   

Today I went to the preconference led by the amazing team behind the Roosevelt Innovation Academy.  Again, wow, what an inspiring group of educators.  This group has reimagined what education can look like, they’ve inspired kids and the results are out of this world.  We were lucky enough to speak directly with a handful of students from the IA and it was rewarding to say the least.  We spent the morning learning about the program and sharing in some of the results…the CrepeZ cart was absolutely yum-tastic!!  

Charged with reflection for our collaborative learning blog I decided to try something different this week.  Visiting FDR is exciting for me for many reasons, one of which is that my good friend Michelle Juhasz works here as an Associate Principal.   A few years ago I sat with her at an EARCOS conference in Thailand, she took notes in a mind-mapping style.  I was intrigued but haven’t been motivated to try until now.  So, here is my mind map for today.  I actually did two, which I’ll explain further…

This is the second “mind-map” that I made.  The first was what we were “taught” about the IA.  This one comes from a discussion we had as a group of AC colleagues at the end of the day.  We talked about how this (the IA) could work in our context.  With people from every corner of AC involved in the conversation you can see it went in a lot of directions.  The IA is in the center, a rocket ship blasting off into the future.  My drawings are lame attempts at art but they help me visualize the ideas.

Have a look…what do you take away from my mind-map?