There are many days when I think the "P" in PLN stands for POWERFUL instead of, or at the very least in addition to, professional. Investing time and energy, connecting and developing a professional learning network, is certainly a wise investment. The power of being a connected educator, lies not in the connections themselves, it is not in the number of individuals you are following or the number that may follow you, the power is in the relationships that we nurture and cultivate. It isn't the technology it is the humanity. The technology is the vehicle that makes the relationship possible. All of this has come into really sharp focus for me lately.
The opportunities I have had, the transformation I have seen in my teaching and learning as of late, can in a large part be traced back to being a connected educator. Being a connected educator has afforded me opportunities I would have never dreamed of, and this has been a huge benefit to myself and to my students. Regular participation in the education chats on Twitter have helped me to develop some pretty amazing collegial relationships.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS; RATHER IT TWEETS
I'm currently working with a gifted group of educators from around Upstate NY on an Ed Camp project. You can follow our progress here: EdCampUNY. I have not met any of these educators in person yet. We communicate via email, Twitter, and Google Hangouts, and though we have not met face to face, I consider these individuals colleagues and more importantly friends. As Marty Keltz so eloquently put it recently, "the virtual is real." I will be sharing more about my meeting with Marty in just a bit, but let's consider the power of those words. I think those new to social media can be quick to be dismissive of its positive power, I know I was a few years ago. But it really is true, if you invest positively, if you are authentic and genuine, the relationships that develop virtually can be just as real as any other relationships. This is why part of me is just a little bit jealous of Marty, you see Marty is on a journey that is going to take him part way across the country and give him the opportunity to meet more than a few of the people in his PLN.
So let me set the stage a little bit, it was a pretty typical Tuesday evening, and after putting the kids to bed I sat down and began scrolling through my Twitter feed. There are a few great chats on Tuesday night, so it wasn't long before I was sucked in. One that immediately got my attention was the #PTChat being moderated by fellow New Yorker and all around great guy, Tony Sinanis. I jumped in, and it wasn't long before I found out that Marty Keltz, someone I had come to know through other edchat discussions, was in the area. Pretty quickly it went from connecting on Twitter to the next day meeting for coffee and great conversation.
I admit I was more than a little excited. Meeting people that I have come to know through our online exchanges is just plain exciting. It was actually at this point that I decided that maybe I needed to learn a little more about Marty. I knew we shared some common beliefs about learning, and the role of education and educators, what he shared and tweeted was what led me to follow him in the first place. I really felt like I knew what I needed to know; I knew what was important. But being somewhat responsible and prudent I thought a little research was in order. I started with checking out his Twitter profile and running a quick Google search, I very quickly found out that I had just agreed to have coffee with an Emmy award-winning producer, the co-founder of Scholastic Productions, and the man who led the team that created the Magic School Bus series. What?! Yes, I was feeling woefully inadequate, and yes, as an elementary school educator, the idea of getting to meet the man behind the Magic School Bus series was pretty mind boggling (talk about street cred with my students!). I woke up the next morning not really sure what to expect. I'm still struggling a little bit with putting into words just what our brief conversation meant. Which is probably difficult for some of you to understand. I think it might be a little like connecting with a long lost member of your extended family.
Very quickly our conversation turned to "our children" the students we serve, our mutual goal of promoting empathy and developing social emotional intelligence. Our shared belief that a test score should never define a child, and our support for the need to reclaim education for the whole child. I could have spent the whole morning talking with Marty, but time was short. Before I had to make my way to school we discussed his current project CritterKin. Listening to him I became more and more excited. His project CritterKin, with Jena Ball was just the thing I had been looking for. I couldn't wait to get back to school to share it with my colleagues. In the coming months we will work with Marty and Jena, and the rest of the CritterKin pack as we help to develop social emotional intelligence, and promote kindness and empathy. This is just one more example of the POWER of the PLN.
The moral of the story is this...get connected. Yes, being connected takes time, and it takes commitment, just as building any other relationship does, and just like any other relationship you get out of it, what you put into it.
The power of the PLN is the people. It is the relationships that we build. It is the causes that unite us. The stories that we share.