This Wednesday, I will be presenting to the Education Undergraduate Society of the University of Lethbridge on the topic of Professional Learning Networks, specifically investigating reasons and steps for establishing these connections early in a teaching career. These workshops typically involve 30 or more education students over a lunch hour and is a great chance to provide supports and spark thought for aspiring educators. I will post the presentation and related resources on this blog following the workshop, but would love some preliminary thoughts from my own PLN. What do you think?
Relation to Digital Footprints Evolution
In past workshops, I have shared the concept of the evolution of digital footprints (specifically for educators). Establishing a Professional Learning Network (PLN) is a Digital Footprint 3.0 activity, establishing a positive professional identity online. Connecting with other professionals in a larger, potentially global network, can effectively forge an outstanding presence online for aspiring educators.
What is a Professional Learning Network
At its most fundamental level, a Professional Learning Network is the collection of people you share with and learn from. In years past, this would have been other teachers that you connected with primarily face-to-face or through telephone and mail communication. It was typically dictated by geography. Today, through the use of the Internet and web 2.0 tools, an individual’s PLN can transcend distance, role or expertise. “Colleagues” in our contemporary PLN can exist across the globe, include renowned “experts” and in various roles and contexts.
Benefits of a PLN?
Whenever we connect with other colleagues, we are forging and sustaining our PLN. For pre-service teachers, there are a number of reasons to build a PLN with a high degree of intentionality. School support and mentorship in the early years can range from incredibly effectively to abundantly absent. A strong PLN can only serve to augment (or in some cases take the place of) what supports already exist locally:
- Resource and idea sharing – a PLN can be a rich fountain of ideas and resources for a beginning teacher. Imagine putting out the request for math resources related to grade three measurement and having substantial thoughts, resources and support arrive almost immediately (a benefit of our contemporary online PLNs). The more well-developed that network is, the wider the net when casting for help.
- Feedback – often beginning teachers seek out feedback for what they are doing and a PLN can be a great sounding board. “I’m thinking of using centers for learning about magnets” can be a comment that can lead to tons of feedback, resources and sharing.
- Support – sometimes, hearing someone else say “I’ve been there” or “here’s what I did when that happened” can be incredibly support in the first years of teaching, which can be highly stressful and isolated. While ensuring that professionalism is maintained, reaching out to the relationships established in a PLN can be the difference between overcoming adversity and throwing in the towel.
- Opportunities – let’s be honest. Getting a job is concern #1 for a beginning teacher. Having an expansive “search committee” alerting you of opportunities can mean the difference between finding a position and repeating “I didn’t even know they were hiring”.
Why start now?
If pre-service teachers start building this community of learners early, they can not only benefit from the collective wisdom and professional development at a time when everything is new learning, they can have a very evolved PLN by the time they enter their first classroom. Like any relationship, online professional relationships also take time to build credibility and trust.
How do you start?
This list is intentionally not exhaustive – rather, I hope to share two really powerful first steps to get started at this stage in a pre-service teacher’s career.
Twitter has changed the way I learn and share in education. It is one of the best forums to connect with colleagues, share resources, stay abreast of educational issues and access a network of professionals that often seems limitless. My network includes my “face-to-face” colleagues, as well as individuals I have never met but share regularly with. We can engage in professional conferences through the experiences and perceptions of others, as well as participate in chats related to our personal interests, all in 140 characters or less. Twitter can serve as the starting place to forging a diverse, strong Professional Learning Network.
Blogging does not have to be a time-consuming exercise for education students but can become a part of regular learning! Posting assignments, reflections, learning from classes and other thoughts can not only help to connect with other educators but serve as the genesis of a digital portfolio that can have other potential benefits (including supporting the pursuit of that first teaching position). Free blogging sites such as WordPress, Blogger and Weebly can be easy platforms for getting started.
Building a Professional Learning Network can be rewarding, as you forge relationships with other professionals committed to teaching and learning. Entering your first years of teaching with a network of well-wishers and practical supports can pay dividends!