- Twenty years ago, teachers had each other’s backs. Their PLN were teachers down the hall. Now, PLNs look different.
- When you attend national conferences, you have the opportunity to connect with other educators across the U.S.
- You can learn and grow from others by asking questions. Five benefits of a PLN: learning, sharing, celebrating, reflecting, and growing.
- A PLN can provide instructional strategies, new ideas, leadership strategies, YouTube videos for educators, and encouragement.
“This team is your family, Michael…Tony here is your quarterback, alright?
You protect his blind side. When you look at him, you think of me.
How you had my back. How you have his.”
(The Blind Side, 2009)
As a first-year teacher, I had a team of teachers who supported me and provided me with ideas for becoming a professional teacher. My co-workers showed me tips on instructional strategies, classroom management, and ways to motivate intentional non-learners. My co-workers had my back. Twenty years ago, most teachers had a professional learning network, but it consisted of the teachers in their hallway and perhaps a few other teachers throughout the building who invested in them.
A Professional Learning Network (PLN)
I can still recall the first time my principal sent me to a state conference for educators. I felt energy in the room and could tell that there were teachers across the state who were committed to the profession. They were willing to share ideas and instructional strategies. At that moment, I realized how important it was to connect with educators outside my building.
Who can forget their first national conference? One year, my principal and superintendent agreed to send me to Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute. This was the first time that I had connected with teachers from across the United States. The experience changed my career. We learned how to teach with primary sources, role play, maps, and stories. I was a different teacher when I returned from the summer institute. Most importantly, I felt connected. I was connected to elementary and secondary teachers who would continue to share instructional strategies and offer support. At that point in my career, being a connected educator meant you had the person’s school phone number, email address, and a Listserv. There were some award-winning social studies teachers in the group, and I continued to learn from their experiences after the summer institute.
A Professional Learning Network (PLN) – A Different Look
Twenty years later, a Professional Learning Network (PLN) looks different! Smart phones, social media, Twitter chats, Voxer groups, Google Docs, and Google Hangouts are the new options for becoming a connected educator. In 2017, I connected with educators in all 50 states! Some of the educators I spoke with in Voxer groups wrote a book this year. I also connected with educators who give keynote speeches at state and national conferences. Through Voxer, I am able to learn from teachers, principals, and superintendents across the U.S.
The power of a PLN often comes in the form of a question. Questions that inform my learning and professional growth include:
What professional books are you reading? How do you use formative assessment to support student understanding? What do principals need from their Associate Superintendent? How are you transforming professional learning for adults? What are your favorite strategies for communicating with families? How are students using technology to amplify their voice? What is one leadership lesson you have learned this month? What strategies do you rely on when leading change?
One Voxer group I belong to has a “Question of the Week.” The “Question of the Week” is open-ended and I learn from first year teachers, assistant principals, counselors, principals, veteran teachers, and superintendents. The power of a PLN is the diverse perspectives. I often attend meetings with principals or central office staff, so it is easy to lose the perspective of other staff members. A PLN makes me a better school leader.
Five Benefits of a PLN:
Seven Questions For Educators:
- Do I have a Professional Learning Network? (PLN)
- What topics would I like to learn more about?
- Do I still attend the annual state conference (annual PLN) or do I have a PLN?
Note: It is ok to do both.
- Do I have a Twitter chat that supports my professional growth?
List of Twitter Chats for Educators
- Why do educators need to connect, collaborate, and contribute?
- What am I passionate about?
- When will I start connecting with other educators?
Appreciation for a Professional Learning Network
In a PLN, I have your back and you have my back. When I stand in front of a group in my school district, I feel like I am standing on the shoulders of giants. My PLN provides me with instructional strategies, new ideas, leadership strategies, YouTube videos for educators, and encouragement. There are times that my Voxer group sends me messages such as, “You got this! Knock it out of the park today! I’m thinking about you and your presentation! Let us know how your meeting with the curriculum leadership team goes!”
It’s a powerful feeling to know that someone in Michigan, California, or North Carolina is rooting for your success! Who is in your PLN? If you don’t know where to begin, contact me and I will share some Twitter chats and names of educators you can connect with. There is power in working with your building-level co-workers and there are benefits to expanding your PLN!
A PLN provides you with inspiration, challenges, laughter, reflection, resources, articles, strategies, and FAMILY. Your PLN is your FAMILY!
About Steven Weber
Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (AR). His areas of research include curriculum design, formative assessment, professional learning, and school leadership.