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Thinking Beyond Note Taking With Personal Knowledge Management

Thinking Beyond Note Taking With Personal Knowledge Management

By Paul Haluszczak

When computers, intranets, and the internet became mainstays within companies and organizations, they were able to simultaneously increase their collection of knowledge and their potential for productive output. The keyword being potential.

Although access to information was increasingly abundant, ensuring everyone throughout a company or organization had access to the same information was a challenge.

With companies like AT&T and Bank of America employing hundreds of thousands of workers, a system for seamlessly managing this knowledge was a must.

Hence the introduction of Knowledge Management in 1991. The field developed so quickly and attained such high value that In today’s workforce, you will find “knowledge workers” in the same rooms as CEOs, donning titles like Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO).

Of course, knowledge management goes far beyond fancy job titles. To have a deep understanding of the systems and processes you operate within—whether professionally or in everyday life—gives you a leg up.

Professionally, you become a go-to resource in the eyes of your colleagues. As an everyday citizen, you build a sophisticated understanding of the systemic inequities that unjustly move the starting line forward or backward for each of your neighbors.

This begs the question: How does one become a knowledge manager?

The answer is so simple that it might make you fall asleep just thinking about it. Knowledge management starts and ends with note-taking.

We don’t really teach note-taking though. Beyond the simple instruction for learners to write down what they hear from a teacher or highlight text they believe is important, note-taking is mostly related to as a passive task.

It doesn’t (and likely shouldn’t) have to be this way.

Shortly after the field of Knowledge Management was born, people began playing with the idea of “Personal Knowledge Management” (PKM). If advances in technology were making it possible to store more information than seven billion human minds could collectively hold, considering the limited capacity for information storage at the individual level was downright frightening.

PKM is an end-to-end solution that starts with capturing new information and ends with a far more important step—creation. This is where traditional notions of note-taking fall flat. In the context of academics, notes are taken, studied, and hopefully the information is retained long enough to do well on a test. Then, all information is abandoned.

Within a well-organized PKM system, you can let knowledge gather dust for years and in the moment it bears relevance, it can be retrieved and utilized.

Most introductions to PKM will make it feel incredibly inaccessible for adults and young people alike, but if you focus on four simple principles, you can open up a world of possibility.

Curate

Every PKM journey has a curation phase, which is the most adjacent to traditional note-taking. Whenever something of interest passes by, the instruction is to simply curate it.

Saw an interesting article you don’t have time to read? Save it in a “read-it-later” application like Pocket or Instapaper. Had an exciting idea pop in your head while driving, showering, or walking in the park? Write it down on a piece of paper, take a voice memo, or use a native notes app like Apple Notes. Heard a nugget in a podcast you were listening to? Utilize a podcast note-capturing tool like Airr or Snipd.

Organize

It’s not enough to just curate information. You must organize that information in a way that makes sense to your personal endeavors. This is a systems thinking activity.

When computers came into the picture, the analogue hierarchal filing system came with it. Folders and subfolders remained the norm for the organization of digital information. Today, however, there is momentum around network-based thinking, which aims to simulate the networks in our actual brains.

Rather than restricting information to specific categories, network-based organization aims to create more serendipity—illuminating unexpected connections like when bubblewrap went from wallpaper to a protective packing solution.

Reflect and Summarize

The benefits of reflecting on and revisiting information we’ve curated and organized is possibly one of the oldest and well-supported learning methods in existence. Dedicating daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual reflection times keeps things fresh and ensures we remain aligned with our goals.

There are many ways to go about information processing. You can be as sophisticated as Niklas Luhmann and create an advanced Zettelkasten, take a more mainstream approach with progressive summarization, or ease into things and simply dedicate five to ten minutes each day to reflecting on something you intuitively know to be of value at this moment in time.

Either way, the more we process the information we’ve curated, the more likely we are to form unexpected and exciting connections.

Create

We’ve saved the best for last. Information is just information until it is used to create something new in the world. Best of all, we are all creators.

Within an active PKM system, you should never sit down to create anything without 80% of it already finished thanks to the previous three steps. Ever gotten stuck staring at a blank piece of paper? Simply go into your PKM system and you’ll find troves of information that spawn a thousand ideas to write about. If that information isn’t there, you simply aren’t ready to create yet and can move onto something else.

Whatever you are looking to create, whether it’s in written, audio, digital, or analogue format, your PKM system is your preeminent source of inspiration.

Once you get a handle on PKM in your personal and professional life, the connections to how PKM could positively impact your learners will start forming in bunches. For a deeper dive into PKM and the relationship it has to teaching and learning, be sure to check out our webinar, How to Build a Brain: An Introduction to Personal Knowledge Management.

Weaver Middle School Starts With The Heart

Four learners, three girls and one boy work on a project at a table together with sun exposure in the background and other learners at other tables behind them in a classroom setting

Weaver Middle School Starts With The Heart

By Jane Patterson


Community is everything. If you’re not convinced of that yet, Principal Elias Villa and Instructional Coach Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving will drive the message home.

For these Weaver Middle School educators, it didn’t take a global pandemic to understand that everything must be built on a foundation of trust bolstered by evidence of care and concern. While this is always a work in progress for these educators, creating a thriving community is at the core of every decision they make.

Weaver is located in a rural community in Merced, California, which is part of a swath of agricultural land known as the world’s breadbasket. This diverse community is growing and Villa and Lalumiere-Weaving are poised to ensure that its diverse population of learners, 85% of whom are socio-economically disadvantaged, have every opportunity to grow and learn in a deeply caring community. 

“We are explicit about what we mean by a ‘culture of care.’ We have a group of caring educators, committed to meeting the needs of every student. We know that many of our families are facing challenges and our students will absorb the heightened anxiety.”

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

One of the driving strategies at Weaver is restorative practices. Every educator is learning how to facilitate conversations that offer students a chance to share what is happening in their lives in a safe and supportive community. Students are learning to articulate their emotions while building empathy for one another. The same is true for the adults in the room. 

“Our staff is not just learning about restorative practices, but they are using the strategies themselves. This is how we build community amongst ourselves.

We’ve started book studies that deepen our understanding of a topic, then we get in a circle, just as our students do, and we talk. We bond. We learn how it feels to get vulnerable. At Weaver, we don’t ask our students to do anything that we haven’t done ourselves.

We allow kids to have a space to talk and to hear each other. They will talk differently in a circle than they will on the playground. They need a safe space to have an opportunity to hear one another.

We want everyone to know what it feels like to be in the company of good humans. This is a place where kids have respect for one another and most teachers seem happier. Our teachers model what a positive and respectful conversation looks and sounds like.

Connection before content is our guiding principle. We know that teachers are overwhelmed and kids have a whole new world to navigate. There’s a lot to do. So, we want everyone to trust that not only is it okay but it’s essential that you can show up as a human first. Trust that you have time to do the tasks that need to get done.

Start with the heart first. The more heart, the more purpose and meaning.

We give teachers permission to take time each day to make those personal connections. One of our goals is to continue to increase attendance. School has to be a place where kids want to go. A place they feel cared for—where someone is really listening, where they feel heard and seen.

School should always feel like a comfortable place where our students want to be. When students connect with the adults, they want to do more work.” 

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

Weaver Middle School is part of the Institute for Excellence in Education’s (IEE) Schools to Watch network. This national network provides an opportunity for schools to share best practices and find support for challenges they are facing.

“The cool thing is that being recognized as a School to Watch is not an end point, it’s a beginning point. The message is: ‘We like what you’re doing and we want to join you and follow your journey.’”

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

One area of focus for Weaver is engendering goal and future orientation among students.

“Seeing that every kid is a person of worth and dignity and allowing them to make choices. As adults, we often want to control what is happening. We try to avoid that temptation and instead create an environment where choice is not only available but encouraged.

In Homeroom, students reflect on their learning and take charge of what they need to do to grow. They write their own plan of action. This goal setting and reflection builds learner agency. Thrively has really helped students feel that they’re a part of the school.

Our kids get to know themselves, which has been crucial for all that we do, from goal setting, to restorative practices. Our students have become much more self-aware and reflective, and our teachers use this information to help students become more empowered learners.” 

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

Student empowerment is supported by several outlets for exploration in the arts and sciences. The award-winning band and the drama department, which sells out the annual Disney musical every year, are community treasures that highlight the persistence and drive of Weaver’s young performers. 

Students who do not find their passion in music or theater are encouraged to find their passion in sports, the Greek Olympics, and in hands-on science and math. 

“Our teachers are so passionate about their subjects that they have created a place where kids feel like it’s cool to learn new things. In English, the theme was window and mirrors: What are you reflecting to others and what are you seeing in another person’s world?

We’re never just going to teach students and give them a quiz. We ask questions and provide the space to think about them, in writing and out loud. Think, talk, listen, triangulate who they are as they relate to others.

Interactive conversations help students search for understanding and meaning. Our teachers have thoughtful, meaningful discussions that center on ideas that are relevant to their students and, in turn, students search for answers to big questions.

Teachers want to be authentic, but they need a roadmap. We spend a lot of time recognizing one another’s contributions, listening to one another to seek understanding. We don’t have one approach for our students and another for our educators. Everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

We are always in a constant state of growth and this can only be achieved with support in a nurturing environment that places a culture of care as a top priority for the entire community.”  

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

Weaver is making great strides, but Villa and Lalumiere-Weaving emphasize there is ample room to grow and to learn. Weaver educators are striving together to create a culture that reflects their shared values and goals and each day is a testament to that pursuit.


Thrively believes every child should have a sense of belonging within their learning communities. At the core of that work is ensuring every child is known and has their well-being supported. Check out how you can fulfill these promises in your classroom with our evidence-based strengths assessment and Well-Being Index.