Educators Need to be 21st Century Learners Too…

Amy Heavin
Amy Heavin is the principal at Ryan Park Elementary School, MSD of Steuben County in Angola, IN. She has been a school administrator since 2010, and taught middle school English for 8 years prior. Passionate about curriculum and instruction, she pursues learning opportunities to blend 21st century essential skills instruction with best practices. She is the mother of 3 boys and wife of Angola High School principal.

What is 21st century learning?

It is collaboration.
It is creativity.
It is critical thinking and problem-solving.
It is research and information literacy.
It is digital citizenship.
It is responsible use.

We expect our children to develop these skills. We integrate these skills in our every day lessons so that our students can grow and expand their knowledge. We create spaces so that our students can create and collaborate, whether it is a physical space or a virtual space. We expect our students to be good digital citizens, using devices, programs, and tools responsibly.  We want our students to ask questions and explore for answers.  We expect our students to learn, grow, and then reflect on that learning.

So, wouldn’t we expect the same skills for ourselves as educators and professionals?

If we expect our students to develop these 21st century skills, then we must model them for our students and each other. We must take risks, grow, and learn. We must reflect on that growth and thinking. Eric Sheninger, author of Digital Leadership states, “The best ideas will only become realities through collegiality and collaboration.” If we know that personalized learning to develop skills is best, then educators need to be immersed in it.

A PLN (Professional Learning Network) is each educator’s professional development line with the rest of the world.  It is each educator’s customized network of other educators, sharing and collaborating to push each other’s thinking and knowledge.  Your PLN resides within your school and school district, as well as anywhere in the world.  Building a PLN digitally is an ongoing process and is never finished. It is a rewarding adventure where learning never stops because educators are pushing each other to grow and learn.

PLN: a rewarding adventure where learning never stops


To start building a PLN, every educator must be a part of Twitter. This social network has transformed professional development, making it personal and relevant, anytime and anywhere.  As an administrator, teachers often ask me to attend professional development workshops.  This has been the only professional development they know, and it has been their only way to refuel with new ideas.

Developing a PLN should take precedence over attending workshops, as a PLN can be a wealth of knowledge and insight, and my PLN is available any time of the day.  Educators are now the largest common group of people on Twitter, and I am proud to say I am one of them.  Through this digital social medium, I can create, collaborate, learn, grow, and contribute to others’ learning.  It is the way to stay on top of the latest trends and forward thinking in education. I am always learning with my PLN.

Loving Twitter and PLN

About 3 years ago, I joined Twitter. It was a leap for me, definitely out of my comfort zone. At first, I just followed well-respected and well-known educators around the country, retweeting a few tweets. Now, I have gone from Twitter lurker to active Twitter user. And it has been an exciting transformation. With Twitter chats and hashtags, I have expanded my own learning through my PLN and can learn what I want at any time.  I need to model this fantastic opportunity for my staff so that they can grab ahold of it as well.  If we want to personalize our own learning, then we must take a risk and give it a try.

But, what is 21st century personalized learning if I cannot reflect on my growth and ideas?

A blog is a digital journal. Many educators follow great practice by journaling and reflecting on lessons. A blog makes it public, shares thoughts and ideas with the entire world. It is quite scary to hit the publish button at first, but this sharing of a reflection is a powerful tool in learning and growing.  Not only are my reflections important, but I can follow others’ blogs and learn from them. I can gain insight on important topics, can expand my educational philosophy, and can attain great ideas from fabulous educators. These blog posts are found all throughout Twitter, but I can also use organizational apps such as feedly or Flipboard to sort through the posts as well.

I strive to be a model of 21st century learning.  I am collaborating with other educators throughout the world using Twitter. I am organizing information using tools like feedly and Flipboard. I am creating and reflecting using my blog. I use this professionally, thus demonstrating digital citizenship and responsible use. If I want my students to learn 21st century skills, then as an administrator and as a staff, I must demonstrate those skills as well. And so, to each educator who has not personalized his/her own learning or modeled 21st century skills, start small with Twitter and a blog.

Through these mediums; collaboration, creativity, communication, and reflection can help any educator grow and learn on a personal and professional level.  Start an account and follow 10 new people every week.  Lurk for a while, retweet those tweets that you find compelling, and then take a jump and start sharing what you find. Sharing resources and insight with fellow educators across the country is powerful learning. Then, take this learning one step further, and share it through a blog.

21st century learning is for everyone, not just our students. We must model 21st century learning by growing professionally so that we can better prepare our students for the skills they will need to be successful.

 

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Sebastiaan ter Burg. Post image courtesy of Flickr, Rosaura Ochoa.