PLN – The Most Important Tool for Educators
Education has dramatically changed since I was a student in the eighties and nineties. My teachers could not have even imagined doing things that are quite commonplace in classrooms today. In my content area of Spanish, my students are able to Skype and easily collaborate with students in Spanish-speaking countries around the world. I can show news clips of Mexico’s Independence celebration from the night before. I can use YouTube videos of the latest Spanish pop song (after vigorously previewing for appropriateness, of course) to really pique student interest in the language. These days, there is no excuse for world language teachers not providing authentic content in their classrooms.
While all of the advances in technology have revolutionized world language classrooms, when I talk to pre-service teachers who come to observe in my classroom, I tell them that the most important tool for me as an educator is my PLN. PLN stands for personal (or professional) learning network. A PLN is essentially an informal network of online environments, conversations, or connections that are cultivated by a teacher for the purpose of personal growth, support, and contribution to the education community at large.
It used to be that teachers were limited to the conferences and workshops that they could attend and/or the books that they could read. Teachers in bigger school districts could collaborate within their departments; however, many world language teachers across the US found themselves to be a department of one, with sparse opportunities to network with other world language teachers. Thankfully, teachers are no longer limited by these factors. The ways in which today’s teachers can collaborate and learn are virtually limitless.
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter can be powerful tools for professional growth. But before we delve too deeply into how, I would like to first point out that these tools should be viewed as public record, no matter how private your personal settings are. Social media is not a place for teachers to let their hair down. Many educators have learned this lesson the hard way. It is important to act professionally and maintain our Christian witness at all times. Let the fruit of the Spirit be your guide.
Developing Your PLN
So what’s the best way to develop your own PLN? Begin with familiar platforms. For example, if you are already on Facebook, look for Facebook groups that discuss education or are specific to your content area. Once you “Like” these pages, they will start to show up in your feed. If you are already on Twitter, try participating in an education Twitter chat. Here is a list. For world language teachers, our #langchat is every Thursday night from 7-8 p.m. CST and Saturday from 9-10 a.m. CST. Twitter chats are not for everyone. I speak from experience when I say it felt cacophonous at first, but it has become one of the most important tools for my growth as an educator.
If you are not on social media and do not wish to start, a great place for you to begin is following teacher blogs. Do a Google search for blogs in your content area. Usually these blogs will share links to other similar blogs. Follow those links to find more. A tool that I use to organize all of the blogs that I read is Bloglovin’. Bloglovin’ allows me to like, save, and categorize blogs and blog posts that interest me. It also allows me to set it up to send me a daily email digest of the blogs I’m following. Check out the 30+ world language blogs I follow here.
The beauty of a PLN is that it’s teacher driven. I get to choose what interests me and what I think will be best for my growth as an educator. So don’t feel like you have to do everything outlined in this post. Just do something that interests you.
Guest post by: Jason Noble
Jason is a Spanish teacher at Pella Christian High School in Pella, Iowa, where he is on the Technology Committee and has co-developed an online/hybrid digital literacy curriculum. He is the current president of the Iowa World Language Association (IWLA). In the past, he has taught online foreign language courses for CSIonline Academy as well as the Iowa Dept. of Ed. Jason is married and has four sons. If you would like to connect with him, here are some ways:
My Blog: www.senornoble.blogspot.com