I recently realized I have not blogged nearly enough about the importance of networking and building your own professional learning network. While I note the importance of my own PLN in my teaching philosophy and I preach its importance to my students (see My PLN is the Terminator), I have only written one other blog post about networking (see PLNs, Serendipity, and Learning). And this is a tremendous oversight because teachers must have a powerful and energetic PLN to survive. And this must be a PLN personally crafted by the individual teacher to serve that teacher’s unique individual needs. No administrator, no coach, no mentor can create an effective PLN for you. You must do it yourself because you are the best judge of the areas where you face challenges and the areas where you need to grow. The wonderful thing about teaching in this time is that you are not constrained by place or time about the educators you bring into your PLN. Personally, my PLN can be found across Facebook, Twitter, G+, and Linked In as well as Scoop.It and Pinterest. People who teach at my school are included as are people I have met in person, but there are also many people I have never met and may never be in the same time zone. My next blog post will address how you do that, but for now I want to focus on five reasons every teacher needs their own personal PLN.
Your PLN Should Offer Understanding
Teaching today is hard. Perhaps more challenging than ever before. We are a culture divided and for many of us teaching in rural and urban schools we are seeing a growing divide between the privileged classes and the rest of us. Our students are consistently receiving less support per child (despite the fact they often have tremendous achievement gaps) and our communities are less and less able to fill in the gaps. Worse, we see growing drug epidemics which have wreaked havoc on our communities in countless ways – all of them detrimental to children. Meanwhile, the burdens we have continue to grow while our paychecks (and retirement prospects) shrink. But we continue to do this work because we love teaching, we love our students, and we love our fellow educators. However, every day there are events that break our hearts. We need to be in regular contact with people who get it. Who understand just how heartbreaking that we are someone’s favorite teacher because we are not mean. Who understand why we bring in class snacks purchased out of our own limited grocery budget. Who understand why we nag the administration to let students use the showers before school starts. Who understand why our jobs make us cry every single day and make us consider quitting every single day and yet we continue to get up and show up every single day. No one outside the classroom can understand this and no one outside the classroom can help you through the pain and offer the humor and comfort you need to persevere. Humans crave community and connection. You need to make sure you have an awesome group of fellow teachers to help you through the tough times and to celebrate the good times too.
Your PLN Should Offer Inspiration
I want to be a better teacher. I’ve been doing this for decades, but there are still things I need to learn and there are still things I can do to improve my classes and the learning conditions for my students. I have filled my PLN with people who inspire me through their deeds and their words. I have filled my PLN with people who inspire me to reconsider my lessons and class activities and students. My personal preference is to fill my PLN with teachers whose work is outside my focus areas as well as those working within areas of literacy and writing. This means I have invited science and math teachers to my PLN as well as admins and researchers and other areas of education. I don’t want to spend all my time in a silo so I embrace teachers of all content areas and levels of education. For me it is about finding a teacher who is as passionate about growing and learning with and for their students as I am.
Your PLN Should Offer Collaboration
It is a wonderful thing to learn from and be inspired by your PLN, but it is amazing when your ideas can complement and inspire each other until you have developed an idea that is better than either of you could have developed alone. Sometimes you might choose a more formal collaboration within your PLN, but an active and energetic PLN will offer a variety of solutions and ideas about how to address a particular challenge (whether it is yours or not) and the conversation generated by a simple question or comment can take everyone some place they never expected. Countless times in my career a simple conversation with a colleague or better yet a group of colleagues has given birth to an idea that changed everything for me and my students.
Your PLN Should Offer the Opportunity to Teach
I have found that pre-service and early career teachers have things to teach me. Sometimes uncomfortable, challenging things. It is human nature to develop habits and patterns and sometimes we get too comfortable in those. Part of my job is to mentor pre-service and early career teachers, but I have often found the relationship to be very beneficial to me as a teacher simply because they make me examine my practice by asking questions and making observations. However, I also know that I am still learning and developing as an educator and I can learn from my students, so certainly I can learn from my peers. So look to your PLN as an opportunity to share what you do and what you know. Make sure your PLN includes people willing to learn and grow no matter what stage their career.
Your PLN Should Offer Growth
When I am considering whether to add someone to my PLN often my bottom line question is whether or not that person can help me grow as a person, as a writer, as an educator, and as a leader. Consider how and where you want or need to grow. Where do you want to be in five years or more? Include people who will inspire and/or support that growth in your PLN.
Do you think teachers need to build their own PLNs? Why do you think teachers need to build their own PLN? Is it more important to you that your PLN provides understanding, inspiration, collaboration, opportunity, or growth?
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