Last week I wrote about the “5 Reasons Why Teachers Need Their Own PLN” and this week I am going to fulfill my promise to share some tips and strategies to do just that. First, I want you to consider just how far you want to go with your PLN. Many educators have a closed, static PLN. I know that I did for many years. I didn’t belong to any professional organizations (at least not in any meaningful way) and most of my professional relationships were with people at my institution – in fact in my own department. That is the very definition of a closed, static PLN. However, as I grew more confident in my teaching I also began to seek new challenges and information and that led me to pursue more professional development opportunities and eventually a Ph.D which in turn led me to the National Writing Project and from there things just sort of exploded so that now my PLN spans the globe and encompasses a wide variety of disciplines. Don’t worry, you don’t need to earn a graduate degree to build your PLN. Here are three tips for building your PLN.
Begin by looking at those who teach in your building and district. Are there relationships there you could develop further? Simple conversations about teaching before or after classes or over lunch can be incredibly inspiring. I don’t know how many times I have picked up an assignment or lesson idea simply by asking people what they are doing with their students that week. Similarly, seek out people who are doing interesting work – even if they teach in a different area. One thing that NWP work has taught me is that we can learn a lot from teachers who teach different students and different content. Sometimes we can simply adapt their lessons and assignments to our context. Sometimes their thinking can inspire us to reinvent what we do. Sometimes we can collaborate together to create something new and exciting. Even if your initial conversations aren’t as productive as I suggest, building those relationships over time can reap tremendous rewards.
Find professional organizations to join. We all have limited budgets so tread lightly here. Look for organizations that offer significant perks including resources and networking opportunities – especially look for organizations with active state chapters. For example, the National Council of Teachers of English is a vibrant organization with an amazing collection of resources online and more delivered to your in-box on a regular basis. In addition, most states have a chapter (such as the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English) which offer more resources and networking activities.
Look for professional organizations that match your interests. There are National Writing Project sites in every state, for example, and NWP also supports vibrant online communities and resources. Each NWP site operates independently, but here in Kentucky we band together to offer an annual state conference and summer professional development programs. The Morehead Writing Project offers year-round programming including many events, such as a conference and writing retreats, open to the public. Involvement in a more targeted professional organization can often lead to opportunities including grants, research, and jobs.
One of the wonderful things about living and teaching today is that we have easy access to so many wonderful and inspiring educators. I connect with my PLN using Facebook, Twitter, G+, Linked In, and Pinterest. I have also built a lengthy RSS feed filled with bloggers whose work inspires me on many levels. I follow international leaders and individuals I’ve met at local conferences. I connect with teachers I met through Morehead WP and CLMOOC. Almost every time I check my Twitter feed I add someone new. You do not need to join every social network (or even multiples). Join one if you haven’t joined any before (I recommend Twitter if you only want one) or find ways to evolve your existing social networks. For example, seek out and join some Facebook groups and like some Facebook pages for organizations that reflect your professional interests. One of the reasons I like Twitter for professional development is that it is easy to use hashtags to find interesting people and conversations and there are many apps to help you organize your interests and participate in those conversations.
The wonderful thing about building your PLN is that you can do this work gradually, over time, as you have the opportunity. Even better, once you begin the process you will find that your PLN supports the process of its growth. I rarely spend time seeking out new members, but instead discover them through my normal interactions with my existing network. How do you build your PLN? What tips do you have for building a PLN?