‘By My Side’ – Nomra

The school year is approaching quickly. Between social media posts of classroom makeovers and back to school sales promotions, I wanted to drop this wise nugget advice from my friend, Kelli Coons. While you’re preparing for back to school, make sure you have a professional learning network (PLN) “by your side.”

From the start of my teaching career, I was familiar with PLC’s and PLN’s and what their purposes were. But to be honest, it always seemed artificial. Even forced, going through the motions for mandatory professional development. Working in PLN’s became more about what the administration deemed relevant for you to learn more about, and less about your individual needs as an educator. Educators work hard, every day, with little time for social lives and extra curricular activities. We as educators not only need support professionally, but personally. If the way in which your PLN is constructed was determined by someone else, based on your “perceived” needs, there is no way that it will become beneficial for you.

Early on in my career, I was always seeking a “tribe”, that I could trust and would encourage me to be better each day. However, sometimes we work in building and environments in which we feel each day is a competition. And this competition can be a good thing if we are competing with ourselves. But, if we are always competing with our co-workers and within grade-levels teams, it can make it very hard to build a trusted network of support. Often in this profession, those who choose to go it alone, end up burned out or bitter. Around the 9th year in my career, I had developed a very knowledgeable PLN through social media. This PLN provided and continues to provide me with sporadic resources and motivation, yet lacks that legitimate feeling of a true relationship. In any situation of life, we aren’t meant to go it alone, we are better together. Better together during those times of celebration and especially during those dark times. Better together when you are looking to make a career move. Better together when you want accountability to achieve. Better together when you don’t get the job you had your heart set on. Better together to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Better together to rise together.

My most valuable PLN, or my “MVPLN” , is made up of a diverse group of individuals I get the pleasure of organizing Edcamp Greenville with each year. I couldn’t put a price on how valuable this group is to me. They represent the very best in teaching, instructional coaching, technology integration, building-level leadership and district curriculum experts. Their backgrounds are varied and areas of expertise or passion, diversified as well. We not only want what is best for one another, but ultimately what is best for the future of our students.

For me, the people in my PLN, represent everything that I love about this profession. It has never been my desire to surround myself with “yes” people, just because I want to hear how great an idea is. I would rather be disagreed with or questioned by a friend who thought I might be headed in the wrong direction or give me a different perspective if what I was doing could be perceived negatively. You want to think of your PLN as an army you would take into war, and as for me, there is no other group I would rather stand beside on the battleground. PLN’s can help you realize a better you, the smartest person in the PLN is definitely the PLN.

Kelli Coons is a Technology Integration Coach working in Spartanburg School District One through the Dynamic Learning Project. @TooLegitTeach

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