RITA MORTENSON, Educational Technology Coach, Verona Area High School
As the educational technology coach and a district personalized learning coach for Verona Area High School, http://vahs.verona.k12.wi.us in Verona, Wisconsin, a key part of my role is supporting my colleagues as they learn to integrate technology into the classroom. We’re in our fourth year as a 1:1 iPad school (K–12), and we’ve made great strides in our digital transformation. In order to do this, I’ve been working actively with teachers to develop lessons and content for our 1:1 iPad environment to meet the needs of all learners by incorporating universal design for learning principles.
Personally, I’ve found that Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) can be an immense benefit to teachers who want to continue to grow their classroom practice. I’m a Discovery Educator, Apple Distinguished Educator, Google Innovator, and ISTE Arts and Technology PLN Leader, and in each of these PLNs I’ve learned valuable lessons and made tremendous connections that support my work each day.
I couldn’t do my job, or be the educator or person I am today, without my PLNs. If I post something in an area that I know members of my PLNs view or visit, such as Twitter, Facebook, or various blogs, within 24 hours I’ll have answers to questions, shared resources, or people volunteering to support me with a project.
Here are five ways you can immediately put a PLN to work for you:
• Use your PLN to collaborate with others or answer questions about topics and content.
My PLNs are a tremendous support to me, because if I need a collaborator on a project, or if I’m uncertain about how to address a problem or an issue, I can turn to my PLNs for support and answers. Often, answers to a problem I’m having or resources for a challenge I’m facing have already been solved or found by one of my PLN colleagues.
• Use your PLN as a source for creative and effective resources.
I love that educators share. Recently, I needed to learn more about how I could incorporate digital citizenship into various content areas. I turned to social media and my PLNs and received responses immediately. In seeking new instructional strategies for teachers to use in the classroom, I turned to my PLN and learned about a variety of SOS strategies (Spotlight on Strategies) https://blog.discoveryeducation.com/blog/category/trending-topics/spotlight-on-strategies/ found in the new Discovery Education Experience. Educators are united by a common desire to see all students succeed, so you’ll find that PLN members will always share their expertise, passions, and resources with you.
• Use your PLN to source virtual presenters or guest speakers.
Guest speakers and content experts are a great way for students to learn from others around the world. I’ve found that my PLNs are an abundant source of passionate individuals willing to share information via Google Hangouts or other conferencing software.
• Use your PLN for personalized professional learning.
Educators are lifelong professional learners by nature. In addition to participating in their school system’s formal professional learning programs, many educators are undertaking their own, self-directed professional learning through their PLNs. Through book clubs, discussion groups, interactive courses, and weekly webinars, PLNs can be a great venue for educators seeking to continue their professional learning through non-traditional means. Furthermore, many organizations such as Google, Apple, and Discovery Education offer professional learning.
• Use your PLN to support or challenge your perspective.
I find that my PLNs offer a window to the larger educational community and can support or challenge my perspectives. Through my PLNs, for example, I can learn what it’s like to teach in rural schools around the United States or in other parts of the world. It’s refreshing to learn how other educators around the world would approach a problem or find solutions to challenging issues. No matter what idea I’m looking to explore, I can always count on my PLNs to challenge my thinking and provide a way for me to connect with others outside of my organization.
At our PLN opening day kickoff last year, one of the presenters mentioned that we’re better together. I believe that and apply that truth on my educational journey. PLNs are a wealth of information and professional support, and I encourage all of my colleagues to find a PLN that will support their needs.