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Hi everyone,

Do you have a moment to share your thoughts about your experience here?

Background: my school is one of 33 participating in a statewide (NJ) program exploring professional learning communities (called "PLC Lab Schools".) I believe in the power of OLCs so I've offered to help the NJDOE set one up for the initiative. The problem: these communities are so easy to build - but so hard to get "right!" I'm doing some research before we go any further.

Here are my questions ... I'd be grateful if you'd answer any of them (or even share something totally unrelated):

1) What makes this community successful?

2) What keeps you coming back?

3) What are the key roles in an OLC - who does what - to keep it relevant, interesting and meaningful?

Thanks so much!

-kj-

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“Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.”
- Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge

Kevin Jarrett
Technology Facilitator, K-4
Northfield Community School
Northfield, NJ USA

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Hey Kevin, I will do my best here:

1) What makes this community successful?
The people, the willingness to share, the sense of welcome regardless of one's PLN experience, and leadership that models well.

2) What keeps you coming back?
The discussions like this one.

3) What are the key roles in an OLC - who does what - to keep it relevant, interesting and meaningful?

Leaders, who often will emerge, model participation. In particular they take the role of replying and supporting the particiapation in the conversation. It is also important that all in the OLC feel welcome and believe that they indeed, have something to add to the conversation.

Just my few thoughts.
Thanks Ed!

On the subject of encouraging leaders to develop ... have you seen anything specific in OLCs that fosters that kind of environment? Or is it more a function of the people who happen to join? I the case I am dealing with, the universe is fixed (the lab schools have been chosen) ... and I'm wondering what the 'mix' will be (how many might be predisposed to such things ... vs. not. Know what I mean?

-kj-
I can say from my PLP experience that when the official community leaders support the emerging ones that engenders new leaders. Clarence Fisher is an excellent example of a great community leader. He replies, and asks questions that encourage more discussion.

I think the biggest hurdle in establishing a thriving community is to get teachers to be open to the idea of collaboration. Since most don't see collaboration as the great learning concept that it is, it is difficult to get them to see it. But once they do, that's it, they're in.

So I would say to be sure that you select some good leaders to get the ball rolling if you can.
Thanks Ed - agree with you about PLP - I had the opportunity to be a part of the NJ PLP cohort. Bud Hunt was outstanding as our community leader, as were all the visiting experts we had visit from time to time. They really knew how to answer questions with questions.

Also agree with you about getting people to see the value of collaboration. In the Ning we've built for my district, it's been a mixed bag. Despite having had the majority of our teachers join the Ning, only a small group participates actively. Even using some of the examples of collaboration that have paid off for other teachers, many are still reticent. What strategies have you found successful to get them to see the value?

Also, we won't be choosing leaders - they'll self select. I think we'll have several, but it's too early to tell. We will be queuing this up on Thursday 1/7 as a group for the first time...

-kj-
Kevin, our experiences with the ning at our school have been similar. It has grown slowly with tons of members, but a small group of active participants. But I see things coming around. We have teachers using ning and edublogs in their classes and sharing their successes and challenges on our ning. It is not the majority, but it is growing.

Support from the top is critical. If admins are on board, that is helpful.

Not assigning leaders may actually be a good thing. The lack of hierarchy in an OLC can really help it to fly.
Thanks Ed!

What in your opinion does 'support from the top' look like? Active participation? F2F discussion about the Ning (like at faculty meetings)? All of the above? Something else?

Great to hear your group is getting traction! Keep up the good work!

-kj-

p.s. I just came across this very helpful article, posted by user K Epps on http://voicethread.ning.com/:

Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html

Great stuff - really pulls it all together!
Kevin, thanks for the links, I will check them out over the weekend.

I think admins need to lead face to face and in the OLC. Simply being positive about it and encouraging participation goes a long way.
Indeed, but there so many other demands on my busy admin's schedule, having them make time for this type of work - just doesn't seem to be a priority, understandably (and sadly). Is that the case for others as well? Or do some of you work for admins who are as "into" OLCs as we all seem to be?
Our administration is starting a Ning for our own internal use. I think that once we're comfortable and engaged with the process, we'll be able to multiply it and bring in the teachers. This is one time that a top-down approach I think can actually be beneficial, because if the teachers see and hear the admins talking about how they're using their community, it will promote it among staff members.
1) What makes this community successful?
People and their willingness to engage in the conversation.

2) What keeps you coming back?
resources and the conversations

3) What are the key roles in an OLC - who does what - to keep it relevant, interesting and meaningful?
new ideas that challenges and brings one into the conversation. The free flow of ideas that while I may not agree with makes me think and reflect.
Thanks Ernie!

So you're saying the conversations - particularly new and challenging ones that make you think - are the strongest hook.

What's the best way to prime those conversations going forward - seed topics?

-kj-
Ernie, excellent point. Often for me, the posts that challenge my thinking are the ones that I tend to read and post to.

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