Like most teachers, I am heavily involved in my students and classroom. I am constantly looking for engaging lessons, rigorous curriculum, the next best behavior system. Most teachers spend their summers working to add to their mental file cabinet with these types of knowledge. And while I’ll agree that these activities are important, I’d also be willing to bet that you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck by building your PLN.
Most people in education have heard of a PLC (Professional Learning Community), which is a usually a site-based community of learners with the same or similar goals. The term PLN, or Professional Learning Network, is a little more elusive. A PLN is a community of learners that transcends all the barriers you might normally experience while networking. Your PLN is much broader and might include teachers from your school and district, but also those across the state and across the country.
Why should you grow your PLN?
- They are like-minded but offer different perspectives on topics you’re interested in.
- They are a system of support. Got a question? Ask and your PLN answers.
- They are cheerleaders for your work.
- They know people you don’t know and can help you make things happen. The key here is the word network.
- They can provide real-time conversation, or slower, on-going conversation. (Think Twitter or Voxer.)
- They are passionate and inspiring.
- They motivate you.
I really started building my PLN when I joined Twitter and started using it for educational purposes about 2 years ago. Since then, my PLN has blossomed. Here are some tips for building your professional learning network this summer.
Introduce yourself to new people in your building. If your school is anything like most schools, you stick to your team and similar grade levels. Kindergarten teachers talking to fifth-grade teachers? Uh-uh. Math people mingling with the ELA folks? Forget it. The notion that these people have nothing in common with you is ridiculous. If anything, you share a love for students and a passion for education. That’s enough. More than likely, you’ve seen someone in the building that seems like they have it – you know, that thing the students love, even if you’re not sure what it is. Talk to that person. Introduce yourself. Ask them if they want to meet up for lunch or coffee over the summer to talk about how to bridge the gaps in your school or work on a project you might both be interested in. You can also take this same approach to district professional developments that you attend. Introduce yourself!
Attend a teacher-led professional development. It’s not that we don’t like administrators, but we all know that they have a different mindset. Find a good professional development session that is lead by teachers and is designed for teachers. An unconference or EdCamp is a great place to start. If you’ve never heard of an EdCamp, it’s a teacher-led unconference where participants sign up to lead sessions throughout the day. It is very organic and is based on the idea that there are no experts, only learners. You can learn more about EdCamps at www.edcamp.org. If you’re in the Louisville area, check out EdCampJCPS on August 1st at Moore Middle and High School. If you’re in Kentucky or anywhere near, EdCampKY is August 26th at Bardstown Middle School in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Get on Twitter. If you do nothing else to build your PLN this summer, at least get on Twitter. It’s super easy and free to set up an account. Start following some people in your district, state, and across the nation. Twitter will also suggest a list of people for you to follow. You can do a Google search for the best people to follow in your state on Twitter and get lots of ideas that way. For example, here’s a list of Kentucky educators to follow. Just by following some great people, you’ll get lots of inspiration. Following hashtags (such as #edchat or #edtech) is another great way to get inspiration, find like-minded folks, and build your PLN. Let me be one of the first people you follow on Twitter.
Participate in a Twitter Chat. It’s one thing to follow people on Twitter, but it’s another to interact with them. This is where you’ll get the most of your Twitter experience, hands down. Check out the list of education chats here. Try to start with a grade level, content area, state, or district chat. For example, as a third-grade teacher, I sometimes participate in #3rdChat. Some of my other favorites are #learnlap, #tlap, #sunchat, #jcpschat, and #kyedchat. You can start by just following them and gain more courage to participate over time. My friend Kelsey did an amazing post about how to participate in a Twitter chat! You can check it out here.
It’s not hard to grow your PLN, but it does take some work! I hope you’ve got a few ideas about how to get started. Let me know how it goes!