Julie A. Cunningham

Academic Advisor

Essay for SBPS

4 Comments

I just completed an application for the Teacher Intern Program at Stanley British Primary School, and I wanted to share the essay.  Rather than obsessing over word-smithing, I chose to speak from the heart and ship what I had to say. Here it is:

Describe an experience which you feel has been significant in your development as a person going into the field of education. What connections can you make between this experience and your beliefs about children and education?

Personal. Learning. Network.  PLN.  The single most significant experience in my life as an educator is the time I spend learning from colleagues world-wide.  As an experience, it is daily and dynamic, yet timeless, so I refer to it in the present tense.  My PLN is an alive and active thing which grows, changes, and morphs to meet my learning needs.  It permeates my life as the participants in it move from colleagues to mentors, mentors to friends, and friends to family.  I have cultivated this robust learning community through personal interactions, Twitter and blogging over the past two years.  My network is both local and global, unlimited by geographic location or timezones.

Although I cherish face to face interaction with local learners, the time constraints and differing schedules can keep us from collaborating.  I do meet weekly in a video conference with two other technology teachers, but spend much of my time learning in asynchronous environments.  I just returned from attending EduCon 2.3 at Science and Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA…. from my living room.  (I’d encourage you to mark your calendar for next year!) I spent the weekend sitting in sessions via LiveStream, talking with educators via Twitter and Skype about the concepts being shared in the sessions.  I will spend the next week reflecting and writing about those sessions in my blog.  I will spend the next months continuing those conversations through various online and in-person means.  I will count the days until the CoLearning conference in Loveland, CO on February 26 when I can learn and share more from other passionate educators locally about similar topics.  (Note: Registration is still open for CoLearning- it’s free, local, and I invite you to come learn with me.  More info and online registration at http://colearning.wikispaces.com/)

In order to be a teacher, one must be a learner for life.  This is the cornerstone of my belief about teaching children- I am modeling life-long learning and growing life-long learners.  It is not about the math problem of today, or the spelling word of yesterday- learning is about finding and engaging with a child’s interests and passions to develop a love of learning.  My PLN provides me ample opportunity to personally develop and model this learning process. My professional development is my responsibility, and my great privilege through my PLN.

For the past two years, I have been regularly engaging with a community of learners in several different areas. As co-learners, our interactions sharpen, challenge and refine each other’s thoughts, beliefs and philosophies.  The time I spend with these people, both in person and online, rejuvenates and energizes me.  We debate, share resources, learn and grow…. together.  Through my PLN, I am exposed to ideas and concepts that I might never have uncovered alone or connected with in such a profound way.

I connect with people throughout the world, raising my global awareness level.  One of my first Twitter mentors happened to live about an hour away from me, and she allowed me to come spend 3 hours talking with her at her school.  She showed me her classroom, her lesson plans, and answered question after question. ((Words are not enough to thank you, Kelly Tenkley @ktenkley .  You are an amazing educator and friend.))  This year, I have had the pleasure of being mentored by an experienced 4th grade teacher in Wisconsin who is focusing on a student-centered classroom. ((Enter Pernille Ripp, of @4thgrdteach awesomeness!)) We met on Twitter, read each other’s blogs, continued the conversation on Twitter, and now Skype regularly to share ideas and work through challenges we are seeing in the classroom and our professional lives.  I also am working with a 3rd grade teacher in Australia who is creating amazing online spaces with his students. ((That’d be you, @mitchsquires .))  I met him on Twitter as well, followed his classroom blog, commented on his student’s blogs, shared those with my students, emailed to hash out ideas on upcoming collaborative projects, and finally Skyped with his classroom and mine.  More recently, I’m learning from an elementary principal in Canada who speaks at international conferences on education.  He takes the time to answer questions I have, to read and comment on my thinking, and I learn and grow so much from the process. ((And last but certainly not least, @gcouros .))  There are countless others who I interact with via reading their blogs, participating in their online interactive presentations, and talking with them on Twitter.  I have the opportunity to mentor as well, through my PLN, paying forward the time energy that my mentors invest in me and ultimately helping children in hte learning process.

My snapshot experience this year stemming from my PLN was interacting with Mitch Squires’ class in Australia.  Because of my online network, my students now understand:

  • Time zones (When can we talk with our Aussie buddies when we’re both at school?  Can we?)
  • Seasons & hemispheres (Why is it snowing here and they are almost out of school for summer vacation?)
  • Cultural language differences (Can you say “Mum” instead of “Mom”? Or Jumpies kangaroo crackers instead of Goldfish fish crackers?)

Those are just three very complex concepts that my young students were able to learn and now own…. through my PLN.  My learning contributes to and facilitates their learning. We could have read a book about those concepts or researched on a website, but instead we were able to talk to real students about their lives.  I know my worldview has been profoundly changed through this global interaction.

From my experience as a learner in my PLN, I can make the following connections:

  • Children learn best when following their interests and passions.
  • Children need to connect with their global community in order to solve real-world problems.
  • Children need to engage in a robust community of learners, which is developed in their classroom but not limited to those walls.

Ultimately, one cannot teach and lead a classroom of learners while remaining stagnant.  Students need adult learners in their lives who model the process of learning. Education is fundamentally about the process of learning.  And teachers?  We need to be the in the business of being professional learners.

I invite you to join me on my learning journey, and would love to introduce you to some of my global friends.  You can find me on Twitter as @techfacil or visit my blog at www.julieacunningham.com.  I also currently maintain a classroom website, www.mrscunningham.org, have developed our school’s student blogging portal at http://blogs.berthoudelementary.com, and elementary school site at www.berthoudelementary.com. I would welcome the opportunity to learn and grow from those of you teaching at SBPS because I believe you are doing amazing things.  Join me, would you? Let me learn with you.

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4 thoughts on “Essay for SBPS

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  3. Perfect!
    Getting teary as I read it and it hits me once again what an amazing thing this PLN is. That people from around the world would stop and take time to help us shape our learning, mentor us, encourage us- beyond incredible! I don’t think there are many who can grasp just what a powerful force for change and growth it is!

    • ACK! I’m just realizing I didn’t footnote you, somehow, Kelly. YOU would be the awesome teacher who let me come visit you in real life and spent so much time sharing and encouraging. That time was an unparalleled gift to me, my building, and all 430 of my students. Thank you.