Over the past few weeks of organizing and hosting K12Online LAN parties, reading about Seth Godin’s new book Tribes, and following the various blog posts from the Connectivism & Connecting Knowledge course offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, I have made a bit of a realization:

As much as I love working with students and teachers, and being at the center of 21st century learning at ISB, what would be most useful for our teachers is actually being connected to other teachers at school that share their interests, and can help them learn and grow in the direction they want.

It’s not that I can’t do this with and for our teachers, but if I want this growth to be sustainable it can’t be about me (or about any individual at the school). It has to be something that teachers can do themselves. They have to know who they can reach out to, who has the knowledge or information they need, and who can help them move to the next step.

So, really what I need to be doing is figuring out how to connect our teachers to each other. As odd as this may sound, considering that we all work in the same physical structure every day, many of us don’t know teachers in other divisions (I hardly know any high school teachers, even though this is my second year at ISB) and we most certainly don’t know who is interested in which aspects of teaching and learning in a digital world. Because our days are so jam-packed and busy, we actually need a way to connect asynchronously – even though we are in physical proximity most of the day.

I’ve known for many years just how powerful a network can be, but I seemed to always focus on making those connections with individuals outside my day-to-day work environment, the benefits of being able to find a like-minded colleague without having the fortune of physically sharing a teaching space. But, over the last few years, we’ve planted enough seeds around the school, spread out throughout each division, that we actually may have a network of learners right here, working together every day, and we just haven’t realized it yet.

At our last ISB21 Team meeting, we talked about this and Jeff and I came up with an idea: start a social network at school using our Elgg install. We can create a group, Jeff and I will populate it with relevant information, videos, images, etc before inviting other teachers, and then share it with our dedicated early adopters so they can add even more. Eventually we can share the group with the whole school to see where it goes. Even if we only connect a small group of teachers that wouldn’t otherwise be connected, it will be worth it!

Here are the benefits we’ve thought of:

  • It’s hosted at school, so it’s fast and we don’t have to rely on an outside connection (often tenuous at best in Bangkok) – a better choice for us than something like Ning.
  • It’s private, just for ISB staff, which may help teachers feel safer sharing and learning in a new environment.
  • We’re planning to run a survey using ProfilerPro in January (Chad’s brilliant idea) which will graphically represent areas (and individuals) where the school is strong in their use and understanding of technology. This survey would allow teachers to find other individuals in the school that have the skill set their looking for and the social network would provide a place for them to connect outside of their extremely busy school-day schedules.
  • By allowing teachers to learn from each other we’re enabling them to be self-directed and independent, while still providing a basic structure for how to get started. This could be a gateway to developing a more international personal learning network once they see the value of connecting this way.
  • By connecting our various seedlings around the school, we’re hoping more will grow. The “look what she’s doing – I want to do that too” mentality.
  • By using this tool for their own learning, teachers will be more likely to see how relevant appropriate it can be for classroom use.
  • By connecting peers to each other, we’re taking away some of the dependence on us, allowing individuals to continue to sustain their learning beyond our tenure at the school.
  • We could invite incoming teachers into the group before they arrive, allowing them to get a first-hand look at what teachers are learning about at ISB.

What do you think? Are we onto something? Is something important missing? Has anyone else tried this at their school? What were the results?

Marietta Diner by The Rocketeer
Interlocking (fins) toy #2 by Ctd 2005

8 thoughts on “A Home-Grown Connection

  1. It’s worth a go Kim. OK – it would be great if all our colleagues were willing to broaden their networks as you and I might, but the reality is many of them won’t. And if your ‘inhouse experience’ is rewarding they might be more willing to go global later…..might… :)

  2. Fantastic Idea- I’ve thought before of starting a Ning for staff but didn’t think it would fly. My mistake, I should start it even if we start with 2 or 3 of us- if the seeds aren’t planted they won’t grow. We could make it in Moodle as a forum for the shy digital immigrants. I know my LS director would love it.

    I also love the idea of establishing it for new staff coming in- what a great introduction to the school and a way to create bonds before arriving on campus.

  3. Kim,

    I’ve tried it in different ways, and as Michael pointed out, most of them still won’t connect for many different reasons, excuses, lack of time, fear, no interest…Once I created a YGroups when there weren’t still so many online collective spaces to create communities. What happened was that still teachers waited for me to “feed” the system.

    Right now, I’m trying a totally different approach. First, a very small group is using “Yammer”, an institutional microblogging service. It’s fantastic. Worth giving it a try! So, we’re using it to communicate, share resources, talk. There you can even have private and public groups. OK. now we’re inviting motivated and engaged teachers to join and they can invite others. This time, we won’t invite everybody. I’ve read many times that a community is not created, it grows. So that’s the idea. We’re starting small, and maybe some who are out will feel the urge to join.

    A second approach is the following, we’ll start next year a project for new teachers, the ones who were just hired. From the beginning, they will be part of an online group to share their first steps at school, ask questions, have a mentor, ask for help. If these start with a “collective” perspective, we have the hope that in the future it will have a bigger impact on the institutional teaching culture as well.

    I don’t want to discourage you at all, and I follow what you do and your enthusiasm. We’re are optimistic, dreamers by nature, but what I’ve realized is that I can’t imagine that everybody will have my own passion and excitement and I can’t “provide” teachers with that. I can just open the channels to make change happen, but not imprint change in everybody’s mind. So, I learned that if I can motivate one to look for sustainable professional development, it’s good enough. If it’s a group, excellent!

    Just my two Brazilian cents! Please, keep reporting how things go.

  4. Yeah….and I blog a lot! I can’t hold a candle to you. :)

    I do think we’re on to something, although I like Carla’s idea of using a twitter like device to help them connect.

    One thing I like about our Elgg as anytime someone posts to the group you get an e-mail saying that there is an update…much like Facebook. I think this will help people connect. E-mail is the center of our communication and by putting the link right there in front of them…some of them will click on it.

    Here’s the thing…if we’re not willing to fail we’ll never know if it would work. So here’s to us…and our little experiment. :)

  5. Hey, Jeff. I totally agree with “if we’re not willing to fail we’ll never know if it would work. ” And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past years, failing, succeeding, trying new approaches and finding out what is sustainable, what is not.

    As for Yammer, I just wanted to point out that you can receive emails with the updates you choose in the setting. We’re going to try it now because of the emails possibility, keeping a record of our conversations, projects, the possibility to create private and public groups, and the desktop app it has. Also, because it’s really user-friendly. Let’s see where we all head to. I’ll keep following you guys!

  6. @Michael,

    Yes, we’ll see how it all turns out. I do agree that not everyone is willing to put in the time or energy, but if it’s possible for us to make it easy, and as you say, rewarding, they might be just a little more likely. Even if they just end up communicating and collaborating across divisions, that would be enough for me. It’s always amazing to me how bad school’s are at tapping into internal expertise – we need to be connecting teachers locally as much as we try to connect them globally.


    I am really excited about the new staff piece – I think the frequent turnover of international school staff is a definite struggle, not just for the remaining teachers trying to keep some kind of consistency, but also for the new teachers coming in trying to figure out how the new school works. I hope this is a good tool for them, we’ll have to wait and see until next year to get any feedback, though!


    I agree that many teachers may not want to make the effort. This is more about enabling those that do. We have a great group of enthusiastic teachers that are spending tons of free time connecting with others at our after-hours K12Online LAN parties, and quite a few others that are always looking for support. If we are able to connect those people on a regular basis, and in a way that doesn’t require them to leave their classroom or their house (or go through me or Jeff to find each other), they might connect even more frequently. Even if it is only a small group, our job is to service and support everyone at the school and the early adaptors are a critical important group – especially if we want the whole school to move in this direction.

    I totally agree that a community is not created, that it grows. All we’re doing here is putting in the structure to allow the community to grow as needed and desired by the members. This was actually something that our community of LAN party attendees determined we needed at the school, so even though Jeff and I were the ones to create the group, the community members were the ones that decided we needed it.

    I totally agree about opening channels and motivating teachers to be independent, in fact, that’s exactly exactly what we’re trying to do here!


    It’s been a productive weekend, what can I say?

    This is why I like working with you, Jeff. You’re always willing to try something new, you’re not afraid to fail and you always embrace challenging ideas with a positive and enthusiastic approach. I really appreciate that!


    Thanks for the details about Yammer – sounds like a great tool to test with our early adopters.

  7. Thanks for linking to my post – glad you found it useful. Simon Brown is using Yammer within his organisation and has also found it works really well – so might be worth considering.

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