Co-Learning & Collaboration Builds Collegial Experiences


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What would happen if instructional leaders treated the professional learning of our teachers as the most important and engaging project-based lesson we were fortunate to facilitate?

What would happen if the accountability of this learning was anchored in the intentional collaboration with colleagues that resulted in authentic learning experiences (ISTE 4a)?

If we want to prepare our learners for the working world why are we stifling the innovation and creativity that our students are wired for based on the experience of learning in the digital age?

When learning communities build on the ideal learning environment and welcomes technology that supports the meaning-making we are living solutions from a 21st-century perspective that will propel our students and instruction into the next level of skills employers require. In order to make this happen, I feel we must treat professional development like a professional project.

My need for appropriate and meaningful professional learning is anchored in my own experience as a creator and receiver of professional development. I have had countless hours of PowerPoint slide shows that fostered nothing more than a polite smile from me at the end of a long day of co-learning with students. I played by the rules and focused on the tidbits of knowledge I could take back to my classroom. What I learned to be true after many hours of this ‘sit and get’ instruction, is that professional development has to give time and space for everyone involved to foster deep connectedness in the learning and practice of the skill sets discussed. As an architect of professional development, I quickly realized that when the PD I facilitated was flexible to encourage connection and growth for all the engagement of the teachers I supported grew, the questions started flowing, and the application of learning became a classroom norm. Professional Learning Networks  (PLN’s) became a reality that allowed for organic experiences with lasting impact.

My current professional role at San Diego State University- College of Education, requires me to develop systems that will support the learning of 100+ service- learning college-age tutors. Within the Pre-College Institute Pathways Service Learning program, I support the program needs and instructional coaching of the professionals. My goal is to support my tutors as they interact with the principles of service- learning and support the instruction of the K-12 students they mentor.  My tutors are diverse and spectacularly complex thinkers that come ready to support students in communities with numerous needs. As I look at the time these college leaders have to spend learning and doing, I see a need to create opportunities for the PCI Pathways team co-learn within a digital tool rich culture to support engaging learning for everyone on our Pathways Tutoring program team. 

(Trust, Krutka, & Carpenter, 2016) state that “considering the diverse means for utilizing PLNs evident in our findings, we propose the following revised definition: PLNs are uniquely personalized, complex systems of interactions consisting of people, resources, and digital tools that support ongoing learning and professional growth”(pp 28). When I am confident in my ability to create clear learning outcomes for my tutors within our SDSU classroom,  I am able to offer opportunities to illustrate learning beyond the task-based products we often complete with frustration and little connection. My goal is to see my learners using the theories, systems, and strategies we talk about in the K-12 classroom. From day one, The Pathways Tutors are able to learn in the field and treated like professionals. When these tutors are able to make connections with ease everything goes swimmingly. But what about when the commitment and collaboration are still not present? How should I utilize the PLN to foster the engagement of that tutor I can’t seem to reach? 

I believe that in today’s world engagement and ownership of learning often grows for students and teachers when collaboration extends beyond the classroom.

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Universal Design for Learning. supports “Learning for All ” by facilitating learning through:

  • Representation: demonstrating the learning in different ways.
  • Action and Expression: all the approach to and demonstration of learning to happen in different ways.
  • Engagement: Ofer multiple options for projects that spur interest in learning.

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You can read and watch more about Universal Design for Learning via CAST.

Service learning requires our students to naturally work outside of the college setting. Utilizing Universal Design for Learning has the ability to build on and expand collaboration in unique ways. This is especially true when educators require the use of digital tools to support learning a classroom goal. For the Pathways Tutors, UDL would build collegial experiences beyond the SDSU campus and San Diego community.  

All professional learning requires an element of accountability. In order for my ‘dream’ PLN to happen within the service-learning classroom, we have to be willing to show vulnerability and observe each other as professional practitioners. In 2018, Requard illustrates how observations can be meaningful elements of daily learning. This level of humility is especially important when we build new professional skills. My ideal PLN service-learning course would have to have clear expectations for course outcomes, opportunities to build and foster trust between learners and require students to unpack their growth-mindset. Setting up an observation system that builds on and supports the professional goals of each tutor as they identify what the students in the classroom needs for instructional growth providing true reciprocity

When my tutors are able to identify ways they can support the learning in classrooms through the 21st- century skills our society values, they can collaborate and hold each other accountable in meaningful ways.   Stay tuned, I hope this will allow us to grow our Pathways Tutoring program in ways that creates limitless connections and application for San Diego State University and the San Diego community. 




CAST. (2018, August 31). CAST: About Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved April 1, 2019, from

Requard, A. (2018, February 12). #ObserveMe: Improving Our Practice as Professionals. Retrieved from

Trust, T., Krutka, D. G., & Carpenter, J. P. (2016). “Together we are better”: Professional learning networks for teachers. Computers & Education, 102, 15–34.


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