How to Grow Your Edu-Family Tree

Invest in building your PLC and PLN and find the joy in professional development.

October 12, 2015
Lisa Butler
Classroom teacher
Hershey Middle School
Hershey, PA
CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Professional Development

Going to a conference is like attending a family reunion. It's a chance for me to connect with my edu-family, the global network of teachers I am connected to online. I also have my more immediate, connected family in my school and district with whom I enjoy discussing educational topics face-to-face. There is value to both local and global teacher connections. Both help me develop as a teacher and connect me to other professionals. In honor of Connected Educator Month, I'd like to introduce you to -- even welcome you into -- my edu-family and help you grow a family tree of your own.

Your Local Professional Learning Community (PLC)

Why? There are times when the easiest solution is the closest one available. Local teachers will understand the building culture, the student body, the curriculum expectations, and the politics. Quick questions are as easy as saying "good morning" to a colleague. A professional learning community (PLC) shares resources and discusses specific student performances.

Find. Finding people is as easy as opening your classroom door. However, to start developing a relationship that's reflective, it helps to share food and an idea. You can find teachers who teach the same grade, the same subject, or are just in the same district.

Share. Sharing resources is frequently done face-to-face or with email. With more sharing, a tool to organize each shared gem will be useful. My PLC uses a shared Google Doc for each unit we teach; we add links and descriptions for the digital resources. Even better, we can remember them the following year because they are in a central location. This can also be accomplished using the "Outliners" feature in Diigo. Diigo lets you tag individual resources, too, which is helpful.

Develop. Share your passion and be vulnerable. This turned my PLC into a family. We are excited for each other when a lesson exceeds expectations. We are supportive when the teaching gets tough. To cement your bond, attend a local conference together or an Edcamp. Use the travel time to reflect together and brainstorm how to apply sessions to your classroom.

Your Global Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Why? The connections are virtually limitless. If your students are learning about Canadian geography, you can find a teacher in Toronto to provide authentic resources. If you are stuck in a rut, someone from the outside can provide a unique solution because they can see the big picture.

Find. Finding people around the world takes a little more looking. There are many websites that bring teachers together, like Common Sense Education, Google+ Groups, Edmodo Communities, and more. Don't follow people aimlessly. Make sure the relationship will be beneficial. I love the Nuzzel app, which shows the blog posts shared most often by the people I follow on Twitter. This has been a great way to expand my professional learning network (PLN) with quality teachers already connected by a few degrees of separation.

Share. People often start by lurking on social media. You might stumble upon greatness just reading other people’s posts, but you aren’t helping anyone else. Contributing is easy. If you're reviewing a resource for Common Sense Education, share your findings through Twitter, Google+, or any other educational community you belong to. Tweet out success stories. Blog your reflections about a lesson with potential. I often share the same items with my PLC and my PLN using an IFTTT recipe to auto-tweet new Diigo bookmarks.

Develop. To really hone your connections, focus on your content and your passions. You can find conferences and Twitter chats for just about every subject imaginable. If you can't travel to the physical conference, there's always hashtag-stalking. I find great people and resources during conferences, often with better-tasting coffee and a dress code of sweatpants. Hashtags are also how you connect with people in edtech chats. Some chat basics: They are at specific times, so check a chat calendar; a moderator asks questions with Q1, Q2, Q3, etc., and you respond with A1, A2, A3, etc. Once you've developed your PLN, you can ask questions and get responses, but first you need to build the relationship. Twitter is magical like that. The people you talk to on a weekly basis become friends. Hugging when you meet face-to-face for the first time is totally normal!

So why should we be connected educators? Our students don't exist in a bubble where the only knowledge they come across is from the teacher. They need adults to model learning that reaches out into the world to find answers and solve problems. Besides, being connected means you're never alone, and professional development becomes fun.

Photos provided by author.