Student PLNs: It’s All About Relationships

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April 28th, 2011

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Week 2 with Liz Castillo from Kamehameha Middle School in Honolulu, Hawaii


When I think about why I love teaching so much, it really comes down to one thing….relationships.  Although I have a passion for teaching my content and using technology, the heart and soul of why I do it is because of how I feel about my students.  It is my students who inspire me to learn and to continually strive to be a better teacher.  I have also seen how relationships (both positive and negative) can directly impact learning and motivation.  Students may not remember all the facts that we teach them, but they will always remember how we made them feel and the relationships we formed with them as their teacher.

Relationships also play a significant role for students.  Since I am a middle school teacher, I am reminded of this about every 3 seconds of the school day.  Students are often faced with the challenges of building the right friendships, fitting in, and being liked.  For many of my students, this can sometimes be more important than doing well in school.  The lure and popularity of social networking for our students further reinforces this.  We need to start asking ourselves how we can use social networking to motivate our students for learning.  We need to connect them with others in meaningful ways that go beyond socializing.

I believe that the first step we need to take is to embrace and accept our students’ need for building relationships and socializing.  No matter how hard we try, students will always be looking for ways to stay connected.  Even if schools try blocking and banning cell phones and restricting social networking websites, students will take advantage and find any opportunity to stay connected with each other.  By utilizing tools like Edmodo, we can motivate our students and teach them proper online etiquette in a safe environment.  We can use their need to connect with each other as a way to facilitate the learning of our content.  Furthermore, we can create a positive learning community where students are continually learning from one another.

I don’t think that technology should be used for technology’s sake.  I believe that the technology tools should support or enhance the learning process.  The focus should always be on the learning objectives.  In the beginning of the year, before any technology is introduced, our students spend time building community.  It is such an important part of what we do and believe in at our school.  We make sure that students work on forming positive face-to-face relationships with one another through team building activities and setting behavioral agreements.  Students are given as many opportunities to get to know each other, build new friendships, and practice positive interactions in a safe learning environment.  We are fortunate to be able to do this through service learning projects that take place outside of school where these skills can be further reinforced.

I know that the time that we spent at the beginning of the year on building these positive relationships directly impacted the success of my students being able to create a student PLN.  It was also important to provide guidelines for the students before introducing them to Edmodo.  I found it to be a great opportunity for me to talk to them about appropriate behavior and the similarities and differences between face-to-face and online interaction.  What I like most about Edmodo is the secure and controlled environment that also allows students the ability to connect and comment on mostly school related topics.  I say “mostly” because I also learned that allowing them to post social (yet appropriate) comments are also part of the fun.  It definitely was the thing that hooked my students and they haven’t stopped yet.

I’d love to hear from any of you on how you build community in your classrooms and what role social networking can play in supporting student connections.

Until next time…Aloha!


6 responses to “Student PLNs: It’s All About Relationships”

  1. That’s amazing, and I’m not just talking about the view. I agree completely, relationships are everything.

  2. Teri Lance says:

    Tell us more about the team building you do at teh beginning! Very interested!

  3. Kparker says:

    I’ve found the same thing by using ning in the history classroom!

  4. Heather Scott says:

    I agree– relationships and the connections I make with students, and that they make with one another, are integral to creating a classroom community. I too spend much time in the beginning of the year building that community. We play games like the human knot and solving murder mysteries that require them to work together. Another way we do this is through an exploration of learning styles. As students begin to investigate how they learn best, they begin to see similarities (connections) to classmates AND to acknowledge differences in how they like to learn and think about the world. They also begin to notice and question types of learning activities and teaching styles. We talk a lot about learning to play off strengths but also the importance of acknowledging weaknesses and how to address those weaknesses. I talk a lot about different groups they will work in and how those groupings could be based on a many different factors. They collaborate a lot and then must “report out” to the whole class. I tell them, if you are someone who likes to hide out and fly under the radar, I’m probably not going to be your favorite teacher. 🙂 I learn ALL 150 of their names by the end of the first week (I tell them I consider this my most important homework all year). I ask that they too learn my name and each others as quickly as possible– no “hey you”s allowed! When we then begin to take our “community” into the digital realm, they are very connected but also very aware of my expectations and that I won’t tolerate intolerance. 🙂 Edmodo makes our classroom community border-less and timeless. I get as excited (if not more) as they do when I get a text notification that begins “From Edmodo:….”

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