I've been thinking about personal learning networks as an ideal model for differentiated professional development. A complaint I often hear regarding in-service time is "how can I use THAT in my classroom?" I brought this up at our building leadership team this week and responded with a question of my own:

What if EVERY professional development session was catered to your interests?
After all, if we're supposed to be differentiating content, process and product in our classrooms, why shouldn't we expect the same from our in-service time each year? I used this Educational Leadership article by Bill Ferriter as an example of how it might be done through the use of personal learning networks (PLNs). I'm happy to report that my building principal thought it was a great idea and asked me to present it at the next morning's staff meeting. I knew that my five minute allotment at the meeting wasn't going to be enough to "sell" the idea and definitely not enough time to thoroughly explain the complexities of what a PLN might look like. Instead, I decided to give a "teaser" to the staff to see if I could recruit five staff members who might be interested in giving the idea a try. Twenty-four hours later, I had the fifth volunteer approach me as I walked in to work and started to make a few copies. I'm in the midst of meeting with each of the five educators and helping them setup their own quasi-PLN through the use of Google Reader and various edublogger RSS feeds. Other social networking tools such as Twitter, the Ning I setup earlier this year, and subscribing to journals via Ebsco's RSS feed will be "phase two" for these individuals if all goes well. Furthermore, I have the green light to use our May in-service time to get all of the staff members in my building setup with their own personal learning network. I'm hoping the five volunteers will not only be able to help with their newly acquired technical expertise, but that their enthusiasm towards the idea will spill over between now and then as well. In my previous attempt to diffuse innovations, my interpersonal communication has been lackluster at best. My hope is that by interacting with these five over the next month that the differentiated professional development model might catch on and be something that we can spend even more time developing next academic year. Look for more posts in the future as this model develops over the next month or so.

Note: This is not my original idea. Others, including Evan Abbey at Heartland AEA have suggested using PLNs as professional development. This is my humble attempt at documenting and sharing the idea as it unfolds so that others, too, may hopefully benefit someday.