Who is in your PLN?
Is your first response, “What IS a PLN?” Are you among the many who have not yet encountered this online phenomenon? The acronym PLN stands for “Personal Learning Network.” It’s a term that labels the idea of being networked with people who have shared desires and interests related to your profession; through sharing ideas within your network, you learn from others who have knowledge and expertise in areas that you do not. As a member of a PLN, you offer your knowledge and expertise in areas which are your strengths.
Professional development used to be considered something that happened at a conference or on a PD Day. I believe that the concept of professional development being handed down from on high on a particularly appointed day during the school year has drastically changed. Yes, we still have PD Days, and they can be very well-organized and meaningful in content! However, there are other ways of developing professionally.
About five years ago a staff member presented to the staff about creating Personal Learning Communities. The main premise of these PLCs: teachers decide what they want or need to learn and create their own groups to enact their professional development. This idea was somewhat radical at the time, but it made a great deal of sense. Why sit in PD sessions about topics that are not of use to you personally? It’s a waste of time. This model is about taking ownership of your own learning.
Following this presentation, our school board implemented PLCs, as an alternative to the PD Days we no longer had (because of the 1997 Ontario Provincial Government’s alteration of the school calendar to reduce the number of PD Days); however, the topics and learning was determined by the administration and approved by a school board official. The learning was not in the hands of the individual, and it was not positively perceived by teachers in general. I believe there was a fear of letting go of the reins in the early development of PLCs. Last year, our administration changed the PLCs in an attempt to give teachers more control over the learning. They still determined the key focus of each PLC group and did not let everyone have their choice of group (because they wanted the groups to be somewhat equal in staff number), but they did appoint teacher group leaders and did not actively participate in the groups except to get feedback from the leaders. They did on occasion intervene to redirect if they believed that the activity of the group was not appropriate for a PLC.
This year, the administration is going to be actively involved in the groups as participants with teachers still being the leaders. It’s their intent to be an equal participant in the process. Teachers have been asked to choose which of the four groups they would like to join. The topics are differentiated instruction, cross-curricular projects, teaching with technology, and school culture – character education. All are meaningful, current topic areas that are connected to our school and board’s SMART goals.
It seems as though they are attempting to hand over the learning to the individual even more than in the past which I believe is a step in the right direction. I would, however, like even more to be following a model where teachers completely determine their professional learning needs and seek out other educators to fulfill the need. The groupings would be constantly changing as professional development needs are determined and met. I believe that my open-concept of professional learning has affected my personal professional learning that has been taking place online primarily through my Twitter connections and my involvement on the English Companion Ning social networking site. Imagine the potential of being able to bounce ideas with over 15000 other English teachers worldwide! That has been my experience on this site. When I run out of ideas, I can pick the brains of other talented, skilled individuals who are connected online; when someone else is having a tough time thinking of an idea or is pressed for time and needs a resource I have already created, I can help.
An online PLN is not a formal organization with a membership card. My online PLN does not have the same members as anyone else’s PLN because each person is connected with a different set of individuals. An online PLN is quite homogeneous because as individuals we come into contact with others who relate to our professional interests at that particular moment in time and a need is met. As your PLN grows, you may not have consistent contact with any particular member of your PLN; however, when there’s a reason to make a connection you can support one another.
I like to think of my PLN as not just an online entity. I greatly appreciate the knowledge and ideas that are shared through following other educators that I respect on Twitter, and I love when other educators feel that what I have shared/written is worthy of comment or dialogue on my blog; however, I believe that the teachers that I work with face-to-face in my school, and sometimes other schools in our area, are also a part of my PLN. Before I became involved online, I found that my school PLN was my whole Personal Learning Network. I would rarely get to interact with teachers from other locales unless I had the somewhat rare opportunity to attend a professional development conference out of town. Thus, my small school PLN had the greatest influence over my pedagogy: teaching practice, perception of education (across Canada and the United States), evaluation practices, and technology usage.
My getting involved online was a side effect of deciding that I was going to start a website that focused on English and Language Arts teaching; I believed that I had something to offer the world in terms of general teaching practice and the teaching of English. Although I do still believe that I have something to offer to others, I have had the humbling experience of realizing that there are so many talented and motivated teachers from whom I can learn a great many things as well. I am amazed at the effect that my PLN has had on me as I continue this endeavor of trying to offer meaningful content about the subject of teaching English literature and literacy in general.
My learning curve has been affecting my teaching practice in a very positive way! I can’t recommend more the use of Twitter through a tweet management system like Tweet Deck. Since April 2010 I have developed a following of over 400 other people who believe that what I have to say is of value. I have also developed a list of over 600 people that I follow because I believe that what they have to say is of value. That doesn’t mean that I read everything that they write because that would be impossible! I do, however, scan through the Tweets and choose the topics that are of interest to me. Others who follow me, scan through the Tweets and sometimes stop at my tweet because what I have to say is relevant to a current professional need or purpose. Because of my PLN, I have become more informed about current educational issues, and new government policies and documents in a much more timely fashion than in the past.
My school PLN members continue to be very important to my teaching professionalism, development, and practice. They are the people who I interact with daily in the school week. We provide each other support and encouragement fact-to-face during the school day which is quite meaningful to me as a teacher. I have not had the same ‘personal’ experience online although I believe that many others do feel a great deal of support through their online community. Your colleagues in your school who inspire you to improve your teaching practice, to give 100%, and to support other teachers are a part of your PLN. I consider my colleagues of this description to be my ‘inner-circle’ PLN because of the face-to-face support and concrete assistance that has been given.
Whether a school PLN, an online PLN, or a combination of both, every educator should have a network of professionals with whom they can connect, support each other, and share ideas.
Here is a Prezi created for an 11/12/2010 PD Day regarding PLNs:
I am interested in other school/board professional development models. Please post your ideas here or tweet @CheekyLitTeach.