Recently I was asked to write an article for the European Council of International Schools Shortcuts Newsletter about using web 2.0 tools to develop professional learning communities for international school teachers, at an introductory level. Having just finished giving a presentation on that very topic in Qatar, I, of course, had lots to say (not quite as eloquently as others, unfortunately).

As usual, I figured I would share it here… Though if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already developed your very own (and totally fabulous) PLN, so any advice or tips you can add would be greatly appreciated!

The 21st Century Educator: Embracing Web 2.0 Tools in Your Professional Practice

After working as an international school teacher for the past eight years, I am all too familiar with the isolation of teaching abroad – being the school’s only teacher of a certain class or grade level, having limited professional development opportunities compared to your home country, and being without a support network for feedback and inspiration.

However, all of that changed when I started to embrace web 2.0 tools in my professional practice. I went from isolated and alone to supported and inspired in just a few short months! The power of web 2.0 technologies to help me communicate, collaborate and connect with like-minded educators amazes and inspires me. In all honesty, I have learned more in the last year and a half than I had in the previous six and a half years combined.

The development of a personal learning network (or PLN) is absolutely essential for any successful 21st century educator. This interconnected network of learners whom you select based on interests, skills, or experience will soon become an integral part of your daily learning and thinking.

Here are a few tips and tricks to get started developing your own personal learning network:

Join a Social Network

We’ve all heard of MySpace and Facebook, and while those are great ways to connect with friends and colleagues, an even better place to start is a social network with a focus, like Ning. There are quite a few networks on Ning that center around teaching and learning. Here are a few of my favorites:

Set up an RSS Reader

Once you’ve gotten a taste of all the amazing work that is being done by educators around the world, you’ll most likely want to keep up with those teachers you find especially interesting or insightful. The best way to do that is using an RSS reader like Google Reader or Netvibes.

Once you’ve set it up, your RSS reader will aggregate all of the new posts on those fantastic blogs in one place – like an e-mail inbox for websites and blogs. Instead of scrambling around trying to find all the best new posts, just sit back and let them come to you! Another excellent development is the new “shared” feature in Google Reader, which brings all of your address book contacts’ favorite posts into one place in your RSS reader.

For those who prefer listening to reading, Apple’s iTunes Store provides perhaps the easiest way to download and listen to the huge selection of educational podcasts available online – for free, of course!

Attend Amazing Conferences (For Free!)

Over the past few years more and more conferences are either happening entirely online, or offering unrestricted content from physical conferences online, using web 2.0 tools. These conferences utilize social networks like Ning, blogs, wikis, podcasts and vodcasts as a format for presenters to share their work.

Instead of requiring attendees to physically fly to a central location, all presentations are posted in a central place – available anytime, anywhere – for free! Not only is this a great way to learn about new techniques for your 21st century classroom, but you can also see a wide variety of web 2.0 tools in practice. Here are a few highlights for the upcoming school year:

Become a Blogger (and a Twitterer)

Once you’ve gotten an idea of the web 2.0 world in education, you may want to add your voice to the mix. Everyone has something different to offer and there is an audience for every author in the demographic “Long Tail” of global education. In order to really bring your network together, you will need to share your own thoughts and learnings with your PLN.

Blogs and Twitter go hand in hand. A blog is the perfect space for thoughtful reflection, a place to connect your learning and create something new. Twitter is a powerful tool for sharing quick snippets of your thinking, for connecting with others, and for widening your information consumption a little bit at a time.

Develop Personal Connections

There are many free, web-based tools to help you connect with your PLN through video or audio chatting. Many expats already take advantage of the free, and very easy to use VoIP provider, Skype, but there are many more ways to connect to your network. A venture into Second Life could be a great way to meet more teachers and explore new potential teaching tools. Services like FlashMeeting, WizIQ and Elluminate offer comprehensive options for teaching and learning together – with your PLN, and potentially with your classes.

Embracing the power of web 2.0 is as simple as having an open mind and a sense of adventure. There is more to see, hear and experience than one person could ever consume. Take a look around, you’re guaranteed to find exactly what you need, right when you need it!

Note: Of course as soon as I sent the article off, I realized I had forgotten a few key things like social bookmarking, and some helpful books I read before I started. What else am I missing?

Tags: 21stcentury, internationalschool, 21st century literacy, technology, curriculum, development, professional development, training, web2, teachers, ECIS, Shortcuts, PLN, network,

46 thoughts on “First Steps Toward Becoming a 21st Century Educator

  1. Kim,
    This post is timely for me. My NECC group is meeting up this week and I think one of our challenges will be making social networking accessible for newbies since we’ve been sipping the Kool-Aid for a while now. Thanks for these baby steps to get me thinking in those directions again. I think you gave just enough info– enough to stretch without overwhelming your intended audience.

  2. Kim:

    You already noted my one addition, which is the tie in between blogs, twitter, and delicious, all linked through RSS. All three allow for connections and communication between like-minded (and sometimes not-so-like-minded) individuals. It continues to amaze me how “conversations” spill over between what I see my network bookmarking, what they are twittering about, and what one reads in blogs.

  3. Blogging…would you rather…have your staff read blogs or keep their own?

    What’s your first move?

    Perhaps the answer is obvious…but my experience tends to suggest otherwise.

    Oh, precious time, you are an amazing preventer of PLN advancement.

  4. My experience has been EXACTLY as you write and describe. Thank you for your very helpful post. I have linked this post for people with whom I work to think of it as a “walk-through guide to enter the 21st Century.”

    The fruit is there for the picking. You just have to reach out and stretch a little.

  5. Susan,

    Thanks! It’s always difficult to strike that balance of interesting enough for people who know a little, but not overwhelming for those that are new. I’m glad this was on target!


    I totally agree – I think the real power in all of these tools is the combination of all of them together. That’s when you really get an idea of what’s important and you can really work together with a wider network to push your thinking forward.


    I think you need to read blogs before you start to keep your own, but that’s just my feeling. I think part of blogging is reading (and commenting) on others. Without that it’s just a journal. But, in some cases, even though teachers might not be getting the full effects of blogging, it makes sense to just start them on their own blog. In the end, I guess it also has to do with personality types. Some people benefit from experimenting on their own, others like to lurk. I try to meet my teachers where they’re at, rather than force a standard on them.


    Thanks! Glad to hear I’m on track here! I love your fruit analogy – so true!

  6. Hi Kim,
    Thank you for this splendid guide Post. I’ll show it to my colleagues in school, I couldn’t explain better to them what to become a 21st century teacher is all about.

  7. Kim,
    Your blog is very enlightening and has helped me to better understand the steps needed to becoming a 21st century teacher. I am beginning to emerse myself in many of the web 2.0 tools and beginning to introduce my staff to small tools. It will be quite a journey. Thank you for sharing your expertise in the field. I look forward to learning more from you!

  8. Thanks Kim
    Succinct, sensible, achievable.

    I will test your suggestions with the willing at work. Having jumped in the deep end 3 months ago, I am now confident enough to help them with your suggestions. I’ll let you know what they thought of it all.
    Web2.0 the Best Learning since sliced bread…..

  9. Kim,

    Thank you so much for your blog. Am I very new to the world of technology but feel it is so important in a teaching environment in this day and age. Your blog gave me the baby steps I needed to further understand what I am doing. Without your help, I feel I would be going at this new journey completely blind. Thank you again for sharing your experiences.

    1. So glad my blog has been helpful for your Katherine! Best of luck in your new online adventure!

  10. If i were a teacher like you i would also want to use web 2.0. I really like your ideas and what you wrote on your blog. I really like the world of technologyy!!

  11. Kim,

    I am currently going back to school to teach after ten years in the world of business. Your blog was one of a few blogs recommended by a professor. I have found it to be one of my favorites. Technology is definitely an area I will have to become more comfortable with in order maximize its benefits in the classroom. I think you blog will help me move in that direction. Thanks for the great ideas!


    1. Kristen,

      I’m so glad you’re finding my blog useful (and wow! one of your favorites, too, I’m flattered!). I do think its important to feel comfortable enough with technology to allow yours students to explore and be leaders in the classroom, but all it takes is an open mind and willingness to learn! Good luck in your new career!

  12. Hey Kim,

    I want to thank you for your great information on this blog. I publish a Technology Integration online newsletter each week in my school distrcit called “Digi-Know” and I have been sharing your article on how to become a 21st Century Educator for several weeks…one tip at a time. Just wanted to say thanks so much for being online and sharing your insight and knowledge!


    1. Donna,

      Thanks so much for sharing this post! I love that you’ve broken it down into separate sections too – what a great idea!

    1. @Chris,

      Yes, Ning moving to a paid model is a big disappointment for many of us. Time to find another social networking tool that will provide a similar service!

  13. This is great information! It will be very helpful with building my PLN.


  14. I’m Ashley Goodwin and I am in Dr. John Strange’s EDM310 course. I think it’s great that you have brought to light all of the different methods of being a 21st century teacher. We have learned blogging and are going to learn how to create a PLN. I did like that you brought up communicating with like-minded people. I think that’s a very important aspect of teaching (exchanging ideas, learning from others, etc.) I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your post!

    1. @Ashley,

      Thanks! Glad to hear you’re learning about all of these aspects of teaching in the 21st century. Sounds like a fun class.

  15. Kim,

    The last few months I have enjoyed reading some of your posts on blogging with students as well as starting podcasts etc.

    I found this post particularly interesting to me because this week, for a graduate course I am doing, we were talking about Professional Learning Communities. I was just thinking about how difficult it can be to be isolated in an international school and think you’ve given some excellent ways to make it easier (I love how you give such clear steps so that it makes it easy for people to try things out!)

    I especially think this kind of linking up with teachers around the world is valuable because it encourages us to lead our kids into these kinds of global connections when we experience the value of them for ourselves. I have been hoping this year to use my blog as more of a global connection for my students.

    Thanks again for all your useful information!

  16. Kim,

    Thank you for all of the valuable insight and resources you share through your blog and on Twitter. Over the last year, I’ve realized that both formats of communication have been some of the most valuable professional development I have received as a teacher.

    That said, I still feel like a Web 2.0 newbie and was wondering if I could ask you a question about blogging etiquette. If you want to add a person’s blog to your own blogroll, is it bad form to do it without writing to them and asking permission first? For example, I get a lot of great ideas from you and think that my (very limited) readers would benefit from finding their way your blog as well. As a blogger, would you want to be contacted by someone first before they added you to their blogroll? There are a number of blogs I’d like to include on my blogroll, but I want to make sure I proceed in a way that is respectful and appropriate.

    Am I thinking about this too much? I’d appreciate any advice you can give me.


    Chris Young

  17. This post was truly inspiring. I am in an educational technology class right now and I’m loving it. Your blogs are so helpful and detailed and I always look forward to reading them!

  18. Thank you for this article! It was very thorough and helpful. I am also subscribing to your blog (something I’ve never done before).
    Ling Huynh´s last blog post ..Tool #1

  19. I have found all of the methods you have been talking about in this post to be true. I love how teachers once they find out something new they can’t stop talking about it to others always wanting to help each other out. I was excited to see that the many tools you were talking about are major portions of the course that I am currently taking in educational technology. It makes me sad to realize how many great things I have been missing out on due to my “low” tech skills. I can’t wait to see how much student engagement will improve after I implement some of my new found skills and resources.

  20. Kim,

    Technology (IT) is definitely an area I will have to become more comfortable with. I am very new to this world of IT but feel it is so important in this day and age. I want to learn more but I am not IT savy. I know I have been missing out on new skills and as a teacher I am willing to learn to use web 2.0. One step at a time! We must creep before we walk! Thank you for opening my window to new experiences.

    Thanks again for sharing all your useful information!

  21. This was a very imformative article. While I am familiar with Web 2.0 and a few other links that you have exposed us to, there are quite a few that are new to me. I find web 2.0 a great tool and as you have mentioned, you can find a lot on it. I have experienced second life but I found it not as user friendly as I would like. It may have changed by now because this was back in 2010. I am also familiar with wikis, podcasts, blogs and a few others. Thanks for sharing with us.

  22. Very interesting ! It is good to have tools that can be used to help a teacher like myself who wants to know more about technology use and is able to learn about it independently.

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