If you walk by my front yard today, you’ll be surprised to see tall stalks of delicate blooms. Looking much like orchids, these unique plants, the hellebores, bloom during late winter to early spring. Part of their attraction is the unexpected, the surprise.

I like surprises.

I got a big one when we filmed in a school in Asheboro, North Carolina, the other day. I’m the audio person and grip for a small two-person video crew. The best part of the job is getting a front-row seat to watch some of the best teachers in action.

We were filming an eighth grade math and science team to share the story of their implementation of an exciting effort to support English Language Learners called ExCell. ExCell is a structured approach for providing the necessary scaffolding to learn English Language Learners master content knowledge and vocabulary.

So I expected to see exemplar teaching to support content literacy and learning. What I didn’t expect was to see how this interdisciplinary team collaborated so well, integrated technology so soundly into their lessons, and were serious connected, networked learners.

The first tip of the unexpected was when the math teacher clicked on an image on her slide presentation and it zoomed over to the next image in a pre-determined pattern. Prezi! I’m not much for bells and whistles but this teacher demonstrated well how concepts were grouped together with a flow of moving images.

The next, another math teacher, spoke of the class blog and the third, a science teacher, gave resources on the class wiki. When we spoke later, at lunch, these teachers shared their excitement for new digital tools that their students were using to create videos. Remember that these were math and science teachers.

But the surprise of the day was when the teachers spoke with their supervisor of their use of Twitter as a professional development tool and one math teacher casually remarked: “You know, it’s not too early for our students to be developing their personal learning networks.”

There you go. Teachers in a small town middle school in the heart of North Carolina, not a state normally thought of for its education excellence, were concerned with developing their own personal learning networks and those of their students. They had obviously found value in the PLN concept and wanted to make sure their students were prepared.

I’d have been no more surprised if I had run across Clarence Fisher, the teacher who is putting Snow Lake, Manitoba, on the map by introducing his students to the world. Will Richardson did run across Clarence and in his upcoming book, Personal Learning Networks, describes him as a “connected learner” who “is deeply rooted in the learning networks he advocates for his students.”

Teachers in our state don’t always have the autonomy they need to implement the inspiring ideas they learn from their networks. In fact, it’s still rare to find teachers who are familiar with the concept of personal learning environments/networks let alone actively engaged in growing their own. And to find a team that has not only embraced personal learning environments/networks for its own learning but is beginning to make it a part of its students’ learning is a huge surprise. A lovely one blooming where you least expect it.

btw Let me share the names of this impressive team’s members in case you’re ever lucky enough to meet them in a network: Julia Bynum, Melanie Richey, and Connie Stone. William Gibson wrote that “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” Thanks to you, Julia, Melanie, and Connie, for making sure the future is distributed to Asheboro, North Carolina.

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