If you are not part of a Professional Learning Network (PLN) outside of your building, you should consider it. Many schools have instituted a system of Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) inside their school walls. If managed properly, the PLC concept can foster a culture of collaboration, but can also have its drawbacks. You may be a “singleton” (a PLC of one) or directed to to meet in only your content area. Your department PLC may turn into venting session taking away from the work that should be geared toward what is best for students.
Schools may allow for PLC time to be interdisciplinary which can bring fresh perspective to aid in solving needs/problems. Most schools can only create a small amount of time per week for the PLC process. If this sounds like the current reality you are in, a fair question would be “is this enough for the needs of myself and my students?” If you answered this question with a “NO”, then a PLN may be just what you were looking for.
Professional Learning Networks (PLN’s) can come in various forms. Pinterest is used by many people, including educators for its ability curate information we are interested in. Facebook has many pages dedicated to specific educational groups. You can do a quick search for the educational niche you are looking for and more than likely you will find a group of like-minded educators. I did a few quick searches and found an AP Biology teachers page (over 8,000 members), a Teachers Using Google Suite for Education (over 20,000 members) and a Music Teachers group (over 34,000 members.
I have recently attempted expanded by PLN by using Twitter. I have been on Twitter for many years and have an account where I follow friends and personal interests. When that account got to be too overwhelming, I created a 2nd account for a specific passion of mine which is horse racing. I had heard for many years about the educational side of Twitter, but never explored it. I decided to create a 3rd account and see what all the craze was about and my mind was blown away!
Twitter has turned out to be one of the best professional resources I have ever come across. The people I follow and the conversations that occur are so positive. Inspirational quotes, free templates, lesson ideas, links to blog posts, and words of encouragement overwhelm my Twitter feed and it is a glorious site to see. Teachers are special people because they are so willing to help their students as well as fellow teachers. Generosity, wisdom, empathy, and resilience are everywhere as I scroll through the Twitter-verse! I feel empowered with a fresh perspective and consumed by great ideas.
The best professional learning, in my opinion, happens in a Twitter chat. If you are not familiar with these online chats, they are a question and answer session hosted by someone with educational ties. Most chats are between 30-60 minutes and 3-8 questions being asked is the norm. Topics range from assessment to social-emotional learning to student feedback and everywhere in-between.
These Twitter chats are associated with a hashtag (#) that allows all of the information, responses, and dialogue to be housed in one location. Some examples of great chats I like to partake in are #HackLearning, #CrazyPLN, #ditchbook, #FormativeChat, and #MasteryChat. If you type in one of these #’s, you will instantly have access to the entire chat.
There are many chat options on Twitter and finding the right educational chat for you may take a little searching. I found the following hashtag, #EDUChatList, that provides a chat list update each morning, afternoon, and evening. Many of your new followers on Twitter will share great educational chat #’s. Most chats follow a weekly or biweekly schedule.
When you first engage in one of these Twitter chats, it can be intimidating. By responding to a question or someones answer, you are putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. It is kind of like the feeling you have when you speak up in a faculty meeting or educational conference. Everyone listening now knows where you stand in your beliefs and ideas on a given educational topic. In all of the chats I have been a part of, there has been “ZERO NEGATIVITY”! It is so refreshing to have a place to go on social media that is not driven by negativity, hostility, and drama.
The people that join in these chats come from all sectors of education. Teachers, instructional coaches, technology coordinators, administrators, well known speakers, and people that hold doctorates and masters degrees in some realm of education are all part of these chats. Everyone is welcome at the Twitter education table. I have never felt judged or criticized by any of my answers or responses. Everyone has a common goal of seeking information on what is best for our students.
Twitter chats can get to overwhelming. The questions are usually fired rapidly at you, making it difficult to read and/or respond to many of the answers to the thought-provoking questions. I have recently been using a website called Wakelet. Wakelet is an awesome curation tool that allows you to create collections of things you are interested in. Wakelet has a Chrome extension that makes saving information on the Internet very easy, including tweets you like on Twitter. If you have the Wakelet Chrome extension, a little “W” will appear below each tweet. With a couple of clicks you can save the tweets to a Wakelet collection you do not have time to read or explore at the present moment.
Many hosts of Twitter chats are curating most or all of the tweet responses of the chat on a Wakelet collection. This is such a gift when you are too busy to join a particular chat. They will share the link to the Wakelet collection they created and by clicking on it, you can save it as a collection on your Wakelet site for later reviewing.
We have many resources available outside of our classroom walls. Take advantage of the many options available and interject some educational goodness into your life. There are many people are willing to help us grow as teachers. Leave your comfort zone and give others the chance to inspire you! You will not regret expanding your PLN!