Teachers, do you have a PLN? You probably do, but you might not recognise the term. A PLN is a Professional Learning Network – the people you rely on as a source of ideas, a sounding board, people who inspire you and encourage you, and who keep you honest in your teaching practice as an professional and lifelong learner.
Few teachers last very long in the profession without a PLN, but for most of us it is a small group of colleagues at our own or nearby schools, a professional association, perhaps some of the people with whom we studied at University or Teachers College, or at least (worst?) a clique in the staffroom.
Why is it important to have a PLN? Well, there are lots of reasons, but here are several that I think are important:
- Most teachers face situations they have not faced before, every day. Sometimes we have the capacity to cope with the new questions, the student with special needs, the sudden demands of administration that we adapt to a new situation, based on our experience. But for most people, especially those who are new to the profession, we rely on the advice and support of colleagues at such times.
- If it was ever true that a teacher could know everything they needed to know about a subject area, it is certainly not the case today.
- Teachers need to come up with interesting and engaging lessons every day. To do this, we need a neverending stream of new ideas, inspiring ways of presenting information, and ‘hooks’ to interest and excite students about their learning. Some teachers are incredibly gifted at producing such information, and a PLN enables them to share what they do with others. For the rest of us, a PLN provides resources, ideas, encouragement and confidence to walk into the classroom yet again tomorrow, and the day after that.
As well as the traditional face-to-face models of PLN, today we have social media which enables teachers to be in touch with other educators who may be in the classroom next door or may be on the otehr side of the world. For me, Twitter has opened up an incredibly rich network that enables me to learn from other educators, and occasionally to share my ideas with them. There are approximately 300 people whom I follow on Twitter, and about 200 who follow me. Most of these are people involved in education, and every day I find new resources, new ideas, new ways of looking at teaching. I also have a sounding board where I can share my joys and frustrations, and where I can provide suport and encouragement for other people who know what it is like to be a teacher.
For me, the route to establish and build up my PLN has mainly been through #edchat. Following the #edchat hashtag, and participating in the weekly discussion which takes place on Tuesday at 2300 UTC. There are over a thousand people who follow #edchat (although I am not sure how this is calculated), and it is free and open to all. The way I have built up my PLN is by watching and reading #edchat, retweeting and/or following the posters that I find most interesting, and increasingly adding a few comments and insights of my own. This has led to some fascinating conversations, a growing bank of new resources, and a network that makes me a better teacher every day.
Click on the image to see what is being posted on #edchat today.