I've been doing some of that this summer (planning, I mean) in between trips to the pool and chauffeuring my kids to their various camps. And I'm not just referring to my Pinterest addiction, as my main source of collecting (or pilfering) lesson ideas, but I've also engaged in some "real" professional development via my Personal Learning Network, or PLN. What's a PLN? Basically, it's you taking charge of your professional knowledge, a reciprocal network in which you connect with others to learn, share, gather, and create. If you're not familiar with the concept of a PLN, I recommend you take a look at this site from David Kelly, a consultant and social media trainer. He has some useful links and resources.
Now, you don't have to be connected online to establish your PLN--conferences, face-to-face meetings, and an informal sit-down with other teachers will suffice--but, in my opinion and from my own personal experience, Twitter is the way to go. In fact, my favorite PLN this summer has been one hosted by Todd Nelsoney at #SummerLS. Todd's been issuing free weekly challenges to our virtual group, inspiring us to try out new tech tools in the classroom and introducing us to educational leaders and innovators across the country--whom I now follow on Twitter and from whom I'm learning new things every day. (Oh, the beauty of being connected!) And speaking of being connected, it was this post from Todd that got me reflecting on why I started my PLN in the first place...
See, teaching is an isolated profession.
I'm sure that statement seems contradictory to most people. I mean, we're surrounded by kids all day! Overwhelmed and sometimes annoyed, sure. But isolated? Well, think about it: we're pretty much alone in terms of adult, professional connections. The 45 (or even 30) minutes we get for lunch in the faculty room certainly doesn't serve to meet our need as educators to connect and share, to hash out the beginnings of a great idea, or to get feedback on something that just didn't quite get off the ground. (Which again, is why Twitter serves as a great resource. I can log on anytime, anywhere at my convenience.) Therefore, I know that many teachers, including myself, tend to feel...well...isolated.
I certainly was, and I had become pretty jaded over the last three years, attempting to get our technology curriculum fully integrated, but meeting with a lot of resistance and pushback on all fronts. (I don't want to get into the details right now, but suffice it to say, it was a TOUGH time.) So tough, in fact, that I was even considering leaving education completely, and had interviewed for jobs completely unrelated to my degree.
I definitely felt isolated. And stagnant. I couldn't advance my ideas, our students weren't really being challenged, and I didn't feel I had anywhere to turn--until I discovered Twitter. And that provided the much-needed outlet for my passion and vision. I was invigorated! Finally, a chance to connect with others who wanted to be out-of-the-box innovators and true 21st-century educators! "Meeting" all of these people helped me remember why I got into education in the first place, and it provided the support and encouragement I desperately needed at the time. My connections provided links for recommended reading, lesson ideas, the latest in edtech, words of inspiration, and an invitation to an Edcamp...which rocked my world! One of my connections even planted the idea in my head as to why I should and needed to be blogging...which led to even more connections, as I'll explain in a future post.
My PLN saved my sanity and my career, and for that, I'll never be more grateful. It bolstered me to keep forging ahead, and to never consider quitting--even when I felt I was fighting my battles alone. I wasn't alone anymore; I had made connections who guided me and advised me, and I believe it made me a better educator and a better colleague. And I hope in turn, it made for better students.
No man--or woman--is an island. There's a whole world (wide web) out there! Do yourself, your students, and your sanity a favor and get on the PLN bandwagon as soon as you can. It's not as hard as you think, according to Will Richardson and Christopher Wooleyhand, whose advice I followed to get myself started this past year:
1. Pick your passion, or the topic about which you'd most like to explore. Edtech? Interactive notebooks? Formative assessments? Choose one thing and start there.
2. Get a Twitter account. Of course.
3. Search blogs. Who out there is writing about your topic? Google search it. And follow those bloggers on Twitter.
4. Be a "creeper"...for a while. Until you're comfortable enough to post your first tweet, read what others have to say for a while. Get a sense of what others are tweeting and how it's done.
5. Share. You're not in a PLN if you're not participating. Retweet or post links to things you love.
6. Make it a habit. If you're not online, you're not learning. Give yourself at least fifteen minutes a day with your PLN.
And here are my own additions to the above rules:
7. Be patient. Now, it will take a while to build your community (and mine grows every day), but keep at it. Take a look at who the people you're following are following and follow them. Your followers will appear. Follow the sage advice from Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come." (Could I say the word "follow" more???)
8. Don't sweat the small stuff. If you're following more people than are following you, don't worry about it. Your worth is not measured in likes, comments, or follower counts.
9. Chat it up. Twitter chats are great places to share, vent, collect, and collaborate. Look for a hashtag (#) for any chat in which your interest is piqued and just follow the conversation. Here's an extensive collection of chat times and topics. Remember to include the hashtag in your tweet so that others know you're there!
And finally, here are some of my favorite Tweeters out there to get you started. Add them to your PLN, too:
- A.J. Juliani
- Christopher Wooleyhand
- Richard Byrne
- Vicki Davis
- Sean Wheeler
- Lee McClain
- Paul Solarz
- Todd Nelsoney
- Dave Burgess
I really hope you get started on your own PLN soon. It's never to late to join one. (They're not just for summer learning!) I'd love to have you join my PLN, so please follow me @sdemichele. I can't wait to "meet" you!
image courtesy of Pixabay