“What are you looking at?” This is the question that started the formation of my professional learning network (PLN) more than 10 years ago. I was sitting in a training, and during a break a colleague of mine (Stacy Kimbriel—@skimbriel) was swiping on her phone, scrolling through a feed full of information. I could not help but notice she was looking at something I was completely unfamiliar with, so I had to ask, “What are you looking at?” Her answer was Twitter.
Like any new user of Twitter, I instantly started following celebrities, news outlets, and friends who had already discovered the power of Twitter. Needless to say, I did not have very many friends on Twitter at that point and following celebrities and news outlets could have been a full-time job in itself.
Later that school year, the same colleague and I, along with others, had started to see more and more on Twitter about the edcamp movement and decided we would host the first ever edcamp in the state of Texas. In order to do this, we had to connect with educators on Twitter who were already familiar with the edcamp movement. These connections were the beginning of my PLN. Following these educators allowed us access to firsthand information when we needed it. With the support of this newly acquired PLN, word of Edcamp PLN spread, and I met educators both locally and from across the country whom I otherwise may never have met.
As new teachers and staff members report to new teacher orientation in August, one of the first discussions we have revolves around PLNs. The tools at an educator’s disposal today make it easier than ever to develop and grow their PLNs. Yes, Twitter may still be the “go-to” source for beginning the PLN, but once the connections are made, there are tools that allow you to take the PLN to the next level. Blogs, Google Hangouts, YouTube Live, and Voxer support educators in making deeper connections beyond 140 characters. When Voxer first arrived on the scene, I had heard the following example: Twitter allows you to window-shop while Voxer lets you walk through the front door and actually spend your money. I could not agree more.
It has been 10 years since I asked that first question, and I cannot imagine where I would be had I not had the courage to ask. The relationships I created because of that first edcamp are still in place today. Today, I call them friends. Yes, we Tweet, share articles, look forward to seeing and presenting with one another at conferences, and challenge one another’s thinking, but that is just part of it. We also share stories, have dinner, play basketball, and discuss our families, interests, hobbies outside of work.
Although I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of educators in my PLN face to face, there are twice as many whom I have not yet had the chance to meet. Until then, I know my PLN is there to support me, listen, and challenge my thinking. I am there to do the same for them as well. We share our celebrations, we lift one another up, and we pick one another up when life throws us those inevitable curveballs. Knowing you have a PLN to pick you up and dust you off makes taking risks a lot easier. My PLN makes me a stronger principal, a better educator, and a better leader.
I look forward to adding you to my PLN.
Together we are stronger. Together we are better.
Matt Arend is the principal of Sigler Elementary in Plano ISD in Plano, Texas. Arend models servant leadership by working side by side with teachers, never asking anyone to do something he is not willing to do himself. Through this intentional approach, he cultivates relationships that lead to transformed student learning experiences across the campus.