How to Build Your Professional Learning Network

When I started blogging there was a whole new world of teachers sharing their knowledge and helping each other learn on social media. Jump over to my post about why teachers need to embrace social media if you don’t know what I’m talking about.  I was amazed by the teaching ideas and lesson sharing that was happening on Instagram. Then I discovered Facebook groups for teachers. I was living in the dark about how these social networks brought me top-notch professional development on a daily basis.  The more I read Twitter and discovered teachers to follow, the more I realized I was starting to build my Professional Learning Network.

In the education world teachers are asked to continuously learn through professional development. We can spend hundreds of dollars and multiple days outside the classroom to make this happen. Or we can start learning from each other. Creating a professional learning network within your school building is one of the easiest ways to learn more about teaching best practices. Take a look at how we have created this and how it can help motivate staff.

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Why PLNs are a good thing

For several years now my principal has been trying to build a Professional Learning Network among our own building staff. He started with a book study on Learning in the Fast Lane. Small groups of teachers were assigned a section of chapters to teach and share what they learned. We all had a great time sharing our creative lesson plans and talking about what we were learning and how it could help us better serve our students. Not every staff member participated, but those who did really felt it was a benefit for our classrooms.

Honestly, our staff hasn’t always been the greatest at collaboration or learning from each other. This idea has been a culture change that my principal continues to work towards. A culture change like this can be difficult when many teachers already feel overworked. Plus we were on improvement status by the state because of our test scores. Nothing makes you feel like a failure than a report card with a D. As much as I loathe this system, teacher evaluations, school report cards, and standardized testing, they are the reality. As it turns out they helped us start to make a culture change towards a local Professional Learning Network.

How to make a PLN in your building

Because I’ve been so inspired by all the other teacher bloggers and teachers sharing on social media, I partnered with our media specialist (who’s super creative) to come up with a few new ideas to help our staff. We started with a Summer PD Bingo board. This idea came from a principal blogger who teamed up with another principal blogger friend to help their staff escape summer slide. Our PD board used a lot of the same tasks, but we did try to add a few things we knew our staff might be excited to try.

Find a copy of the Summer PD Bingo board in our free resource library. Don’t have access to the library? Join the Teach.Mom.Repeat. newsletter and get instant access. 

To sweeten the pot for choosing to participate I collected some teacher treats. Throughout the summer I connected with a few teacher authors and a number of local businesses to donate prizes for our Bingo winners. At our opening meeting in August teachers turned in their boards and we drew for prize packs.

Our next step was to find a way for teachers to share during the school year. Last year the board adjusted our contract hours so that we have a 25 minute flex time at the end of the school day. The purpose of this time is for collaboration and planning. Although it may only be 25 minutes it’s enough time to share ideas or get people started with the right resources.

Once a month we are planning a “Learn from the BEST” session. Teachers sign up on a Google Doc with the ideas they have for sharing and the concepts they would like to have someone teach them. Teachers will present in their own classrooms so any necessary materials will be readily available. I have also created a Google Site where we will be able to share any digital materials, session notes or even videos of the professional development. Making materials available to all staff even if they couldn’t attend on that day.

Hopefully this opportunity to teach each other will continue to cultivate a collaborating community amongst our staff. We have such excellent educators at our fingertips we should absolutely be learning from each other. This is one of the reasons I fell in love with the EdCamp professional development model. Learning from teachers who are also in the trenches every day with students can provide a much-needed solution to a current problem. That’s the best part of holding sessions based on resident experts; you can ask for specific solutions to a problem. There isn’t much in the world of teaching that hasn’t been seen before by another teacher. When we can help each other problem solve we can get back to doing our job. And possibly schedule a little more time to enjoy our family and friends.

Does your building have an established Professional Learning Network? What ideas can you add to help make our PLN plan better?

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