Guest post by Heather Daubert

Several years ago, a colleague asked what professional book I was reading. I rattled off the name of a popular educational author and then shared that my greatest professional growth came through my professional learning network (PLN). The response from my colleague left me with feelings of inadequacy. Was I viewed as an ill-informed administrator because I sought professional growth from non-traditional avenues? Even though I could articulate the thinking of highly respected peers, because it did not come from a book, was it not valued? 

Fortunately, today’s leaders recognize that our profession does not exist in a vacuum and a diverse professional network is more enlightening than a few static resources. Books are fine. Classes are good. Conferences are refreshing. Peers are exceptional. So, what is a cost-neutral, efficient way to combine all of these resources into one? Establish a PLN. 

A good PLN combines people, pedagogy, experience, and more. It’s a place we can take our questions and experiences and place them alongside peers (and mentors) from all over the world. It is personalized learning that stretches our creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking. I’ve been working on my own PLN for several years now, and because it is real-time professional development, it continues to evolve. How did I get started? Using the same steps you can. Here are 10 tips for building your PLN:

1. Start small! It needs to be something you can manage and commit to.

2. Subscribe to a few blogs, email newsletters, and publications. Some of my favorites include: ASCD SmartBrief, NASSP Principal’s Update, PDK Kappan magazine, and George Couros’ The Principal of Change.

3. Expand your face-to-face opportunities. Attend local gatherings such as your regional principals association or even LinkedIn offerings. Get to know your colleagues at the state and local levels.

4. Build your online PLN. Twitter is a great place to start! On Twitter, begin with following your school, NASSP Digital Principals of the Year, educational gurus, and local school leaders. Most important, follow who they follow.

5. See something that resonates? Retweet it or hit “reply” and comment back. Both actions will increase collaboration with others, and build your credence with fellow educators.

6. View #chat archives. #edchat, #satchat, and #APchat are good ones to start with. Notice the lingo? You’ll find that the archives are filled with great insights from school leaders and a wealth of practical resources.

7. Participate in a live #chat. Once you get a feel for the flow, consider attending #chats live. It may seem awkward at first, but stick with it.

8. Attend a national conference. If you’re fortunate enough to attend a national conference like NPC or ASCD, attend sessions of those individuals you follow on social media. It rarely disappoints!

9. Follow the event online. Don’t see a national conference in your future? No worries! Find the #hashtag of the event, and follow along. Consider using Tweetdeck to enrich the experience.

10. Make a commitment to check your feeds. This is perhaps the most important advice I can give you. Five minutes can refresh, inspire, and re-engage. You may even find exactly what you’ve been looking for.

PLNs offer educators easy access to a multitude of ideas, resources, experiences, and people that help us grow professionally and be the best instructional leaders we can be.

How do you grow your PLN?

Heather Daubert is an assistant principal at Beadle Middle School in Millard Public Schools, Omaha, NE. She is the 2017 Nebraska Assistant Principal of the Year. Follower her @heather_daubert. 

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