21st century teaching, Administration Technology Planning, Catholic Schools, Nets-A, Professional Development, Uncategorized

Professional Learning Communities Online

Professional Learning for the 21st Century Looks to the Cloud

Tulips - Spring Bloom

Choosing a new form of professional development produced meaningful and lasting results for our schools.



Technology and Education conferences present a great opportunity for learning and growth for attendees. Since conferences are chock full of information and because schedules are packed, it is always a good idea before you go to stop and think about what you would like to accomplish.

Before attending ISTE 2008 in San Antonio, I had a particular goal in mind.  As Director of Technology K-12 at the time for the schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I was looking for professional development that could meet the following criteria:

21st Century Professional Development Aims

  • Reach – Reach a large number of Teachers and Administrators at 20 high schools (1000 teachers and administrators approximately)
  • Result – Benefit students. Enrich their learning through new technologies and digital resources (20,000 students)
  • Focus – Technology infused and 21st Century learning focused. Keeping abreast of what was new was important.
  • Quality – Delivered by academically focused educational professionals who were knowledgeable of new trends and available to answer our questions. Also being that we were a group of Catholic Schools I wanted to be sure our choice worked well with our school’s vision and understood the importance we placed on our faith based environment.
  • Interaction – Collaborative, Professional Learning Community oriented
  • Capacity Building– Future focused and allowing individuals and groups to expand on what they learn.
  • Champion Building – Create a group in each school who would learn, implement, share and encourage
  • DeliveryONLINE – It had to take advantage of online learning for teachers. Not only would this be efficient and practical. It would expose the participants to the world of connected, digital learning.
  • Easy to Assess – It would have to provide a means of assessing progress.  There would have to be an end product that schools would produce. This would build in a way to measure the benefits and also build in accountability.

That was a tough bill to fill. The conference was coming to an end. I had attended every professional development session I could find that had an online professional development component. No luck. One more session.

I went in to the PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) session hosted by Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum Beach. I heard about a new type of professional development. They discussed their work in building professional learning communities around 21st Century learning which would take advantage of online learning shifts and social learning. It would last throughout the school  year and would be job embedded. This sounded perfect for our needs. Soon we were looking forward excitedly to a new type of professional development. Far reaching, job embedded, collaborative and online.

New Forms of Professional Development Leads to New Types of Discussions

Soon new conversations were taking place. Our schools could connect with other archdiocesan schools across the broad geographical area. Our educators could connect with one another and learn from other educators around the world.

Soon our teachers and administrators were talking about

  • Wikis, Blogs, Twitter, Nings = Tools
  • Collaboration, Reflection, Community = Engagement
  • Change, New Ideas, New Ways of Teaching and Learning = 21st Century Mindset


“Conversation is food for the soul” Mexican Proverb

Fast Forward

During past school year, for the third year in a row, a cohort/community group from our Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was formed through Powerful Learning Practice (PLP). The cohort begins in the fall and throughout the year is infused with the best learning that 21st century technology has to offer. In the spring, final projects are completed and then showcased in an exciting culminating event attended by all team members. At those culminating events our schools share what they have learned and discuss plans for the future.

Read about the work of some of the schools who participated here (Mercy Vocational) and here (Father Judge High School) , here Archbishop Ryan and here (Cardinal O’Hara High School). This is just a small sampling of our school’s projects.

Having participated and watched our schools learn and grow via the cohorts has been wonderful. The program was expanded to our elementary schools also. In many of the schools the teams chose professional development of their own faculty as their PLP project. This helped to spread the concept of 21st Century learning in their schools. For others, they chose a school wide or classroom project with students. St. Anastasia School in Newtown Square is doing a school newsletter integrating various subjects and storytelling. St. Pius School is having the students create videos about their science lab projects.

Thinking in New Ways

Accomplishing today’s professional development requires that we stop and think. What is best? What will produce the results we want for our children? What will provide the best support for teachers?

New conversations are necessary. New forms of learning for administrators, teachers and students can bring about the 21st Century classrooms we need.

Related Information

Action Research PLP 

Creating the Vanuard, Jamie Mackenzie

Cohorts for the 2011-2012 Year



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