Brianna Crowley defined a professional learning network as “a vibrant, ever-changing group of connections to which teachers go to both share and learn,” in her article 3 Steps for Building a Professional Learning Network. So my first question is, “shouldn’t we all have one?” If we are not working in a school district where teachers share and learn together, there may be a problem. In our own school district we should have a Professional Learning Network, however, it is essential to gain some “outside input” as well. If we as teachers are perpetual learners, we need to keep looking for people to share ideas with and to learn from.
The next step after deciding we all need a professional learning network is how to build one. With the internet at our fingertips, this part can be tricky and honestly, overwhelming! How do I find these people? Aren’t there MILLIONS of people out there that could be in my professional learning network? The answer is “yes.” Crowley also suggests starting out by joining organizations that share your vision. Within that group, you may find a niche group and be able to develop mentor relationships with people whose opinion you value. Teaching in an extremely small community, it may be difficult to find mentors, etc., within your school district, but use your resources. Find people who you can share ideas with and reciprocate. Amazingly enough for me, when I started in this district, I was the School Librarian and 5th Grade Reading Teacher. I observed people throughout the day and was excited about some of the things I was seeing the High School Social Studies teacher doing. She was looking outside the box for ways to get students excited about school. She had great output ideas, so I started asking questions and before long, we had a give and take type relationship. I’ve learned a great deal from her and am excited about teaching in the same building with her this year. You can also add people to your professional learning network when you attend workshops or seminars. Let’s be honest, we all look around at these things and listen to others. I can always find a few people who I get intrigued by their input into the class. Strike up a conversation with that person and exchange emails.
Miriam Clifford shares “20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network” on gettingsmart.com. I especially enjoyed her “10 Tips for Using PLN’s.” Among my favorite tips are “be a beacon of light” and “think about what you have to give.” Keeping with that giving mentality will open doors you never knew existed.