Monday, March 21, 2016

Building an Empire of Support: Professional Learning Network

"Do you have a PLN?" That question caught me off guard during a faculty meeting about a year ago. Uhm, I checked out Pinterest occasionally for ideas. TeachersPayTeachers was a constant source of inspiration and assistance, but besides the amazing teachers in my building I didn't really connect with other teachers at all. I didn't even know where to begin, but I figured it out! And now I'm going to help you figure it out, too, because my #PLN is amazing. I have never been so inspired or driven to reach each of my students in the best way possible. Before, I felt like I couldn't afford the extra time it would take to reach out to others, but now I feel like I can't afford not to reach out. The ideas I've discovered and the psychological support I've received after a long day at school are totally worth skipping a few minutes on Facebook reading about an old classmate's latest trip to Aspen.

So, where do you begin? Most of you probably already have accounts on many of the social media sites. I already had a facebook account, but I set up a page just for my education posts. Since I started seriously building my TeachersPayTeachers store about the same time I developed my PLN, I came up with a catchy name, too. Amy Sellars is a little generic and I thought people might remember me better if I branded myself as The Rowdy Kids in 3.  The facebook page was simple. I invited all of my facebook friends that I already know are teachers to like my Rowdy Kids page and I post anything education related to that page.

I had stalked Pinterest for a long time, but I finally dove in once I started creating products for TpT. I don't have a lot of followers on Pinterest. I really only use it to post my TpT products, but I have been able to pin zillions of great ideas from others. If you are a little introverted and aren't ready to start actually conversing with teachers you don't know, Pinterest is great for cyberstalking other teachers' ideas.

Lately I have become Twitter obsessed! I highly recommend you create a twitter handle solely for professional purposes. Don't follow your old boyfriend from high school or the neighbor down the street, unless one of them is an awesome teacher! I only follow teachers and education related companies on Twitter. Every single time I open that app, I am bombarded with amazing resources, blog links, ideas, quotes and website links related to education.  It is a little slice of professional development heaven, and I can access it while I'm waiting for my oil to be changed or in line at the grocery store.  Don't worry about how many people follow you. You aren't 15.  You don't need others' approval. Just make sure you are following great, inspirational people. Since you don't know any of these people in real life, you don't have to worry about unfollowing someone and hurting their feelings. For instance, I found one of the accounts I was following had a few good ideas, but she mostly complained about things that were wrong with education while offering no solutions. I want some positive energy from my PLN, so I just unfollowed her.

The very, best part of Twitter is something I didn't even know existed until about a month ago. Twitter Chats! Get this! There are groups of people out there that get together at the same time each week, and tweet about education topics. Someone is the moderator and posts the questions on their website ahead of time. I've even learned to use tweetdeck and schedule my responses ahead of time, so I don't miss anyone else's genius tweets. Incredible, right? There are all types of #educhats. My favorite is the #tptchat, but I'm constantly looking for new ones. There are elementary math chats, middle school ela chats, and anything else you can dream up. There is probably even a chat for educators in just your state, or the math curriculum you are using. You know that one peppy, super positive and creative teacher in your building. Well every single teacher on Twitter chats is one of those. I promise you the burned-out, negative Nancy that you dread getting caught in the copy room with is not spending her Sunday evening on Twitter.

I found building my PLN empire really wasn't that time consuming. I did stop spending as much time socially on Facebook, but quite frankly that old classmate goes to Aspen every year. Reading about it just makes me jealous. I'd rather head over to Twitter and become inspired by incredible teachers all over the planet.  Don't forget to be one of those incredible teachers, too. The next time you have a lesson that works out great, snap a pic of it with your smartphone and tweet it. Just make sure to get approval before you post any pics of students. Some schools don't care, but mine doesn't even like me to do it when you can't see the child's face. I learned that lesson the hard way! Don't feel too bad if someone doesn't like it right away. Rome wasn't built in a day and your empire won't be either. I promise if you tag @therowdykidsin3 in your tweet, I'll like it for you and retweet it. Share, share, share your awesomeness and learn, learn, learn from the awesomeness of others.