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Why Every Teacher Needs a PLN and How to Get One

Do you have a PLN? I try my best to avoid using too many acronyms in my conversations. I also try to avoid them when writing about education. However, PLN might be one of my favorites. My PLN has transformed the way I think about education. It has changed the way I think about my role in the field. And my PLN has taken the impact of my online and offline connections to a new level.

PLN stands for personal learning network. This is essentially the connections and group you surround yourself with to expand your knowledge on a subject. These are the people you go to when you have questions, are in search of feedback, or want to share an idea. Some educators connect with their PLN on Facebook, Voxer, or at events like an EdCamp or local conference.

How to Get a PLN

Stephanie Affinito is a fellow Participate course author who supports teachers in a variety of ways. Her course The PLN Project is designed for educators who want to leverage the power of community. You might already be familiar with Stephanie’s work and her book Literacy Coaching: Transforming Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools and Technology (Heinemann, 2018). Stephanie carved out time to answer a few questions. I’m excited to share her course, book and work with you!

PLN Project

What motivated you to write a course on this topic?

As a literacy teacher educator and literacy coach, I advocate for teachers and their students and believe that building teacher expertise is the best form of literacy instruction and intervention.

This expertise is built when teachers connect together, collaborate around their practice and empower their own learning. Technology has expanded what is possible to make teacher learning more meaningful, relevant and authentic. I have often said that I wished I knew about the power that a connected learning network could provide much earlier in my career. Therefore, I strive to provide the teachers I work with opportunities to connect together and cultivate their tribe of inspirational educators to support their work. With the help of Participate, I have created The PLN Project. It is a self-paced, personalized learning opportunity designed to empower teacher learning.

Why is this topic important to you?

More than ever, our students deserve teachers who understand how literacy develops, have strong content and pedagogical knowledge and connect with them to ensure instruction is engaging, authentic and relevant. This kind of expertise is built over time, content and practice and is driven by the strengths, needs, and interests of the learners in front of them. To achieve this, we must empower teachers to engage in mindful practice, cultivate a mindset of lifelong learning and transform their ideas of instruction as the world continues to change.

I believe strongly in the power of a professional tribe to empower teacher learning and the power of technology to connect educators together. It is my hope that this course will inspire educators to find and honor their own voices as educators and realize that they have a story to tell and share with the world. If we work together and stand on each other’s shoulders to lift each other up with support, collaboration and inspiration, we can better lift up our students to do the same.

If someone hasn’t heard the term PLN before, how would you describe it to them?

Essentially, a personal learning network (PLN) is a “vibrant ever-changing group of connections where teachers both share and learn, reflecting our values, passions, and areas of expertise” (Crowley, 2014). Some educators call a PLN a tribe. It is a group of teachers learning and working together to lift the level of our own teaching and learning.

Who is your course best suited for?

Everyone! The PLN Project empowers all educators to chart their own path for professional learning. Whether you are a new educator or a veteran of the classroom, an instructional coach or special area teacher or even a school leader shifting into a new position, boosting your PLN fuels your professional curiosity, provides support and inspiration, reduces isolation and fuels collaboration and ultimately, impacts students as a result of empowered teacher learning.

In addition to your course, you have written a book on Literacy Coaching. Are there connections between your course and book?

In my work, I advocate for literacy coaches to use technology to ensure teacher learning is authentic, intentional and connected. Technology and social media has transformed the ways we connect with others. No longer are we limited by time and location. We have access to communities of learners at the touch of a keyboard. They connect us together, provide access to new resources and widen our personal learning networks. The new voices, perspectives, ideas and resources we encounter impact our teaching lives. It can provide opportunities for authentic renewal and growth.

In Literacy Coaching, I share how literacy coaches and literacy leaders can nurture their own learning to best support the learning of others. I also offer ways to use technology to cultivate teacher learning communities. You’ll learn how to redesign professional development and collaborate with teachers to impact and elevate student learning.

What is one thing an educator can do today to help build their PLN?

Building your PLN is about cultivating new professional habits. Starting today, declare your intention to empower your own learning as an educator. Start by joining the PLN Project community of practice (for free!). Then introduce yourself to a tribe of members dedicated to their own professional learning.

Learn more about Stephanie’s course The PLN Project by heading over to Participate and her course landing page. If you’d like to check out Stephanie’s book Literacy Coaching: Transforming Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools and Technology, it’s available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. You can also connect with Stephanie on Twitter!

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Blog Author and EdTech Consultant Dr. Monica Burns

Monica Burns

Dr. Monica Burns is a former classroom teacher, Author, Speaker, and Curriculum & EdTech Consultant. Visit her site for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher.

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