conferences · EdCamp · edtech · EdTechTeam · educational technology · networking · professional development · professional learning · professional learning network · teaching

‘Tis the Season for Professional Learning

It’s already the beginning of April and I can’t even begin to explain what an exciting time the past six to eight weeks have been for me.  My last blog post was posted right before Valentine’s Day and I’ve been seemingly absent from blogging and social media since then.  But don’t take that as my being lazy (although, there might have been a few of those days).  I have been extremely busy planning and attending some amazing professional conferences and professional learning experiences.

In just the last few weeks, I helped to throw the biggest professional learning party in my district (ECET2Lou), facilitated a virtual learning session for some teachers over Google Suite for Education in the classroom, attended and presented at the Kentucky Society for Technology in Education (KYSTE) conference, hosted a Google professional learning community at my school, and attended and presented at the Derby City Google Summit by EdTechTeam.  It’s been a wild February and March.  I have learned so much in the past few weeks and it has, once again, reignited my passion for this job.

If you’re a teacher, you should LOVE professional learning.  But far too often, I hear teachers complain that they have to go to PD.  It breaks my heart.  Lifelong learning is something that many educators want to instill in their students, but they don’t’ often model a learning lifestyle.  I am of the notion that you can and will learn something new every day, which helps me in the classroom and at home!

Professional development, or professional learning, has gotten a bad rap for far too long.  It’s probably because we come from an era of sit-and-get, though I’ve rarely attended one of these as of late.  Professional learning has come a long way and there are many reasons why you should love it!

1.  You get to learn new stuff. 

I got into the teaching business because I love to learn.  I wanted to share my love of learning with another generation.  My favorite part of professional learning is that I get to learn new things.  I am always searching for new strategies and tools to add to my metaphorical teaching backpack.  Most districts require teachers to get a certain number of professional development hours, so take that opportunity to pick sessions that you want to attend and will help you in the classroom.  Interested in learning more about how to integrate educational technology into your practice?  Seek out EdTech conferences like the EdTechTeam summits.  Want to start a discussion over a problem of practice you’re having?  Find an EdCamp and create your own session. 

Keep in mind that professional development doesn’t have to be in-person either.  There are literally TONS of online opportunities from a variety of sources.  ASCD has free webinars listed on their website.  PBS Teacher Line has both facilitated and self-paced online courses.

I also recommended following some great podcasts.  I’ve recently gotten into podcasts and I don’t understand what took me so long!  If you’re into educational technology or innovative schools, check out the Google Teacher Tribe or Shifting Our Schools podcasts.  If you’re in school leadership, make sure to check out the Transformative Principal podcast.  Keep on the lookout for another blog post about my favorite podcasts coming soon!

I realize that sometimes there is mandatory professional learning that you can’t get out of, but take the opportunity to add something new to the conversation.  Participate and share while you’re there, as that’s where the true learning comes.

2.  You’re given the opportunity to network with other professionals and build your PLN.

If there’s one thing that’s expected in our profession of education, it’s collaboration.  It didn’t use to be this way, but the rise of a global community and professional learning communities means that you can’t afford NOT to collaborate.  What better way to do so than get out there and connect with others?

Let me preface this by saying, I understand all too well the social anxiety of getting out there and mingling with people.  But one of my all-time favorite professional learning moments was when I attended our district’s EdCamp and I finally got to meet all of my Twitter friends!  It’s a powerful thing to be in the same room with the best and the brightest.  Make the most of it and introduce yourself.  Your professional learning network (PLN) will be there when you need help in the classroom, motivation to press on, references for job interviews, and so much more!  You can read more about how to build your PLN in my blog post from last summer.

3.  You can sometimes get FREE stuff!

Almost every professional conference I’ve been to gives away door prizes.  At the EdTechTeam Summit I went to in March, they gave away two Google homes, a host of professional books and other prizes.  At the ECET2Lou conference in February, they gave away gift cards upon gift cards.  I’ve even been to conferences where they gave away printers, Smore subscriptions, and flat screen TVs – at FREE conferences!

And, if nothing else, you’ll probably get a sticker to put on your laptop.  Who doesn’t love stickers?

I hope you’ll find a true love of professional learning as a teacher.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times:  the world is changing.  It’s evolving quickly for us as adults and quicker for our students.  If we can’t find it in ourselves as adults and educators to be true lifelong learners and model that for our children, they will have a hard time navigating this world.  Take a step outside your comfort zone and learn something new this week.
Did I leave any good reasons off the list?  Why should teachers love professional learning? Drop me a comment below to let me know! 

education · networking · PLN · professional learning community · professional learning network · teacher · Twitter · twitter chat

How to Build Your PLN This Summer

Like most teachers, I am heavily involved in my students and classroom.  I am constantly looking for engaging lessons, rigorous curriculum, the next best behavior system.  Most teachers spend their summers working to add to their mental file cabinet with these types of knowledge.  And while I’ll agree that these activities are important, I’d also be willing to bet that you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck by building your PLN.

Most people in education have heard of a PLC (Professional Learning Community), which is a usually a site-based community of learners with the same or similar goals.  The term PLN, or Professional Learning Network, is a little more elusive.  A PLN is a community of learners that transcends all the barriers you might normally experience while networking.  Your PLN is much broader and might include teachers from your school and district, but also those across the state and across the country.

Why should you grow your PLN?

  1. They are like-minded but offer different perspectives on topics you’re interested in.
  2. They are a system of support.  Got a question?  Ask and your PLN answers.
  3. They are cheerleaders for your work.
  4. They know people you don’t know and can help you make things happen.  The key here is the word network.
  5. They can provide real-time conversation, or slower, on-going conversation. (Think Twitter or Voxer.)
  6. They are passionate and inspiring.
  7. They motivate you.
I could go on forever, really.

I really started building my PLN when I joined Twitter and started using it for educational purposes about 2 years ago.  Since then, my PLN has blossomed.  Here are some tips for building your professional learning network this summer.

Introduce yourself to new people in your building.  If your school is anything like most schools, you stick to your team and similar grade levels.  Kindergarten teachers talking to fifth-grade teachers?  Uh-uh.  Math people mingling with the ELA folks?  Forget it.  The notion that these people have nothing in common with you is ridiculous.  If anything, you share a love for students and a passion for education.  That’s enough.  More than likely, you’ve seen someone in the building that seems like they have it – you know, that thing the students love, even if you’re not sure what it is.  Talk to that person.  Introduce yourself.  Ask them if they want to meet up for lunch or coffee over the summer to talk about how to bridge the gaps in your school or work on a project you might both be interested in.  You can also take this same approach to district professional developments that you attend.  Introduce yourself!

Attend a teacher-led professional development.  It’s not that we don’t like administrators, but we all know that they have a different mindset.  Find a good professional development session that is lead by teachers and is designed for teachers.  An unconference or EdCamp is a great place to start.  If you’ve never heard of an EdCamp, it’s a teacher-led unconference where participants sign up to lead sessions throughout the day.  It is very organic and is based on the idea that there are no experts, only learners.  You can learn more about EdCamps at  If you’re in the Louisville area, check out EdCampJCPS on August 1st at Moore Middle and High School.  If you’re in Kentucky or anywhere near, EdCampKY is August 26th at Bardstown Middle School in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Get on Twitter.  If you do nothing else to build your PLN this summer, at least get on Twitter.  It’s super easy and free to set up an account.  Start following some people in your district, state, and across the nation.  Twitter will also suggest a list of people for you to follow.  You can do a Google search for the best people to follow in your state on Twitter and get lots of ideas that way.  For example, here’s a list of Kentucky educators to follow. Just by following some great people, you’ll get lots of inspiration.  Following hashtags (such as #edchat or #edtech) is another great way to get inspiration, find like-minded folks, and build your PLN.  Let me be one of the first people you follow on Twitter.

Participate in a Twitter Chat.  It’s one thing to follow people on Twitter, but it’s another to interact with them.  This is where you’ll get the most of your Twitter experience, hands down.  Check out the list of education chats here. Try to start with a grade level, content area, state, or district chat.  For example, as a third-grade teacher, I sometimes participate in #3rdChat.  Some of my other favorites are #learnlap, #tlap, #sunchat, #jcpschat, and #kyedchat.  You can start by just following them and gain more courage to participate over time.  My friend Kelsey did an amazing post about how to participate in a Twitter chat!  You can check it out here.

It’s not hard to grow your PLN, but it does take some work!  I hope you’ve got a few ideas about how to get started.  Let me know how it goes!

Take care,