Professional Learning Networks

Recently I had the opportunity to educate teachers on the Common Sense Education curriculum at the NYC STEM Institute. While facilitating some really great conversation I was struck by the excitement of the group. Tech always excites me. Especially when it gets used for positive unintended purposes. When I see an educator excited I know it will bring more to their communities. It also indicates they may have been missing out on belonging the right professional learning networks. 

I sometimes assume everyone knows and has see the basic educational technology available; GSuite, Office 365, Apple iWork. And I’m often wrong. Just seeing these things doesn’t mean an educator is taking advantage of them or knows how they work. It also doesn't mean they know how to infuse them in their practice. Giving EdTech to educators doesn’t change practice without proper training. This is where a good PLN, Professional Learning Network can help. 

PLNs take all forms, in-person meetups, conference video chats, online groups, etc. They can be asynchronous happening by email correspondence to bulletin board posting or synchronous through chat, conference calls or the old school face to face meeting. These can be invaluable resources of places to go when you have a question. They allow members to share materials and best practices. They engage people in improving their practice. But I’ve also seen the other side. Some great groups lay quiet and unused. Members join but then don't take the opportunity to engage each other as a resource. PLNs are good when they make an ongoing effort to engage with members. 

How do you know a good PLN:
  1. Engagement- Members and Leadership make an effort to regularly engage others in a group. The once a picnic isn’t enough. The group should pose thought provoking questions. Provide cutting edge resources. And provide a platform for discussion. It’s also helpful if the group doesn’t take itself too seriously. 
  2. Multiple ways to Connect- Not everyone can make it out on a Thursday night once a month. Providing multiple environments for members to meet is key in supporting engagement. Offer multiple digital environments and find a member to upkeep each. Take advantage of live-streams at meetings so members can virtually attend. Make a calendar of events physical and virtual so members can best plan to participate. 
  3. Positivity - It’s an exciting thing to be a part of a community you have been hoping to find. No one wants to be bashed for their opinion. Groups should be very conscious of what their rules are and clearly communicate them. Promote positivity in the group. Celebrate what others are doing. Provide a space for members to show off and talk about what they are doing. Engagement is much richer when it’s positive. Consider at times using a protocol when responding to others. Just saying everything is great defeats the purpose of growing as an educator. A framework of how to give feedback to promote growth supports everyone.
  4. Willingness to Collaborate- If we hoard all the cool things we are doing and how we do them we don’t participate in building capacity. We are past the time that things get created by one person. The best products are a collaboration of many ideas all supporting one another from different sources. 
  5. Wide range of resources- While a Google PLN will focus around Google topics the resources should not eliminate or exclude other tools which can be very valuable. Good resources are often that way because they can be used so universally. Your PLN should be curating resources for easy access by old and new members. 
  6. Partnerships- Networking inside the group is a great way to share practices. But what happens when the sharing gets stale? Developing connections with other networks, communities, and professional businesses can help to infuse new ideas into the group. Support when members really struggle is then just a connection away. 

I’m lucky to have stumbled on the #NYCSchoolsTech PLN in NYC. The group engages teachers through regular posts online by members and group leaders. In person meetings are organized Monthly as part of the PLNs Google Educator subgroup. Opportunities for training events and conferences are regularly posted. Most importantly there is a wide range of positive posts discussing practice, tech issues, job opportunities, and celebrations of work. While I may not always be at an event I gain from it through my colleagues. 

Find yourself a great PLN or make one. Your professional practice has everything to gain. 
#NYCSchoolsTech GEG Meetup NYC

Update: Added Partnership thanks to members of my PLN Andrew Liebowitz and Lisa Nielsen pointing it out. See how wonderful a PLN can be?

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