What is a PLN?
PLN is a commonly used acronym in the educational field. It stands for Professional Learning Network. I’m sure that PLN has many different definitions. My favorite explanation that I have come across so far was formed by Brianna Crowley as, “a vibrant, ever-changing group of connections to which teachers go to both share and learn. These groups reflect our values, passions, and areas of expertise” (2014). She details her definition by also talking about how important growth is as a professional, and how her PLN “provides me with a broader perspective on education—beyond my classroom, school building, state, and even nation” (Crowley, 2014). This is exactly what I am looking for in a PLN. I am looking for a group of individuals with diverse backgrounds, educations, and experiences to be able to bring a wide variety of ideas and techniques to share. Although the individual members should be rather diverse, it is important for everyone to share the same goals and objectives. We, as educators, come from many different backgrounds, but our common factor is our objective to help students learn and grow. As we all know, there is always more than one way (and most of the time MANY ways) to complete a task. By joining PLNs and collaborating, communicating, and sharing with other educators, we can help each other learn multiple ways to help our students achieve their full potential!
What can a PLN do for me?
Many teachers, educators, and administrators are members of professional learning networks that they use as resources to stay up to date on current tips and tricks and to share ideas on best practices and fresh technology ideas.
New to the Field…
For new educators, PLNs offer guidance, reassurance, ideas, Q&A sections, videos, and more. Sometimes coming into the education field can be extremely overwhelming (especially if you do not have an education degree or background!), so it is nice to have 24/7 access to a support group of people across the world who are doing the same thing you are doing, and have been doing it for years! Some PLNs offer discounts to seminars, conventions, and training programs. Events like these can be extremely beneficial to new teachers to help them gain confidence in the classroom. PLNs also allow new educators to network and meet other people in their field. Some of these people are across the world; however, they will also have the opportunity to meet local people as well and possibly form connections to aid in their growth and development in the teaching field.
PLNs are not only for people new to the teaching world. When we, as humans, do something repetitively over a long period of time, we begin to become complacent and oblivious to our ever changing surroundings. We get comfortable in our environment and start blocking out the possibility of necessary change. Why fix something that works? Because we can always be better! We are definitely faced with new challenges when it comes to teaching the children of the upcoming generations. These students have an extremely hard time actually learning and absorbing the course material when it is delivered in an “old fashioned” teaching style. The events and gatherings that I spoke of earlier in the new teacher section also help our more experienced educators. When you remove someone from their monotonous, everyday routine and expose them to leaders who are energetic, positive, and full of knowledge about their field of study and willing and excited to share their ideas, it ignites a spark within us and motivates us to be the absolute best educator we can possibly be. Their testimonial energy becomes contagious and inspires us to try new things in hopes of receiving the same outcomes.
Aside from events and conventions, PLNs also offer resources to help us connect and collaborate with others in our field on a daily basis. Some groups offer local networking opportunities to allow members to meet face-to-face and share ideas. These networks also have areas to stay up to date on the latest news and publications related to the education field, as well as standards, training, and certifications as they may change.
I am currently a member of TCCTA (Texas Community College Teachers Association) and ISA (International Society of Automation). As a fairly new instructor, I personally do not contribute much to these networks and learning communities yet. As of now, my current role is more like a sponge. I try to soak up and absorb as much information as I can to help me develop my own sense of what does and doesn’t work in the classroom for me and my students! I love browsing through the websites, reading different blogs, digging through available resources and upcoming events, and watching videos that others have shared.
TCCTA is great for me because it is specifically geared toward teachers at community colleges in Texas, which is what I do. TCCTA offers amazing professional development opportunities for educators and administrators of all levels. It also has a complete section dedicated to Legislative Resources to keep Texas community college educators up to speed on any changing rules, regulations, and laws. TCCTA has a blog forum where real educators just like me can go and write about current events, emerging issues, and important topics relevant to our current struggles.
ISA is a professional learning network that targets my particular field of teaching which is instrumentation, automation, and industrial electronics. ISA offers some amazing networking opportunities for me as an educator as well as for my students. They originally offered student memberships for only $10/year, and now they have reduced it even more by offering a community membership which is free. ISA offers a mentor program and also provides assistance in pairing their members with the correct mentor. They know the struggles of colleges and universities faced with shrinking budgets, and try to help provide material that they welcome instructors and educators to use within the classroom. Although ISA is an international foundation who helps develop global standards, publishes books, and certifies professionals, they also host local chapter meetings each month. The second Tuesday of each month, we have a face-to-face meeting where ISA brings in a speaker they feel is relevant to the local educators and employers of our field to speak to us and provide us hands on training and networking opportunities.
Looking to the Future
Although I am not contributing much of anything right now, and I spend my time mostly consuming as much as I possibly can from these PLNs, I really hope that changes soon. As I continue to grow in my new career path, I plan to tuck more and more information away, tweak it as I see fit, and add to it where I can. When I feel comfortable in my role, I would love to start sharing my ideas, my struggles, my obstacles that I have overcome, and the solutions that have helped me along my way. If I can help at least one new educator feel more comfortable with themselves in front of the classroom, and help them gain the confidence they need to motivate their students to learn in new and exciting ways, I feel like I will be a successful member of my professional learning network.
Crowley, Brianna (2014, December 31). 3 Steps for Building a Professional Learning Network. Retrieved on May 6, 2016, from: http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/12/31/3-steps-for-building-a-professional-learning.html