We are gearing up for this year's Dublin Literacy Conference on Saturday. This year marks the 21st year that we've run the conference and I have been thinking about this year's speakers and reflecting on the ways my own professional learning has changed in the last 21 years. Learning from others--formally and informally--has always been a huge part of my own professional growth. 21 years ago, I had no idea what a Personal Learning Network (PLN) was, even though I am pretty sure I had one. I have always been lucky to learn from so many others who are passionate about kids and teaching. With Web 2.0, our learning networks have expanded in ways that we couldn't have imagined 21 years ago.
For years, Mary Lee and I had attended NCTE and other literacy conferences and we were connected to a group of literacy educators across the country. We valued what we learned from that group. We looked forward to those few times each year when we could learn from so many of our most important mentors. Learning face-to-face was the only option and we were limited to learning from only the people (mostly literacy teachers) who attended the same conferences that we did.
When we started blogging, I remember what fun it was to discover voices of experts we didn't know. We found so many other people out there who had the same beliefs about books and reading that we did. The thing that struck me early on with blogging were the powerful bridges that were being built naturally because of the networking tools that had become available. We never figured our audience would be anything other than elementary teachers. But now, when we say we are part of the "Kidlitosphere," this group includes teachers, librarians, authors, readers, illustrators, parents, publishers, editors, and advocates for children's books. Web 2.0 has helped people come together that had no way of finding each other before. Each person plays a different role and the ability to have ongoing conversations with this amazing group has been powerful.
I think this type of thing is happening every minute. Because of all of the networking tools available, we are better able to share expertise and learn from people we may not have been able to learn from before. Just as the Dublin Literacy Conference will host speakers whose expertise is in both literacy and technology, other conferences have done the same. When Kylene Beers chaired the annual NCTE Convention a few years ago, she brought in speakers that talked about issues around 21st Century Literacies. For me, that convention introduced me to yet another group of amazing people whot I could learn from. Two years later, after finding new blogs and networking on Twitter, I am looking to expand my own learning by going to a summer conference that focuses more on the changes that technology is bringing, than one that focuses on literacy alone. I feel extremely lucky to have these networks so readily available. My own professional learning has been amazing over the past few years. I learn from someone new every single day.
I worried yesterday when I read the following blog post at LIBRARIAN BY DAY. I absolutely believe that school and public librarians have an important role in new literacies and that funding for libraries is a very important issue. But to imply that we are the only ones who can do this goes against all I believe about the work that we do. To say that any one group (or place) can or should be totally responsible for something so huge seems crazy to me. I know from my own learning, that to presume that others--those with a different area of expertise--are not as important, goes against all that learning is about. It is our work together that will make a difference.
I agree with Bobbi Newman at Librarian By Day in the fact that we should all believe that the work we do is the most important work--not because it is, but because when we believe that, it means we are doing the work we are supposed to do. But, we are at a time when we have the opportunity to bring groups together that have never been able to have this kind of ongoing dialogue before. Being open to learning from and with people with different sets of knowledge and skills or different ways of looking at the world can and will have a huge impact on our learning if we let it.
I have been in many roles as an educator and the one thing that I am certain of is that each and every role is an important one. None of us could or should do this work alone. It is by bringing our thinking together that we can do our best for children. I believe we are extremely lucky to live in a time when these networks are so readily available. Because I have been able to learn from and with people whose expertise is different from my own, my work is so much better. It has been a powerful experience.
PLNs are about more than our own personal learning. It seems bigger than that. PLNs of the 21st Century have given us the opportunity to bring groups together that have never been able to have ongoing talk before. I have already seen the power of that over the last few years. I think we each have a role to play in all of this. We need to take advantage of the ways in which we can learn from people and groups we haven't had access to before. I can only imagine how far we can go as more groups collaborate to share and grow understandings. It is an exciting time to be a learner.