Are you a RIF or a VIP? Having a PLN can help! was originally published in the SCASL Media Center Messenger, Volume XLIX, No. 3 (February 2012)
Cathy Jo Nelson, Teacher Librarian, NBCT
Dorman High School, Spartanburg District 6
Are you a RIF (reduction in force) waiting to happen? Those educators who have stopped learning, who have become stale in their role as librarian, or who feel the newer tools and ways of doing the job are not necessary certainly are in danger of being a RIF. The library is a place where the direct connection to student learning is not clear, especially to administrators who make budgeting decisions, so librarians everywhere must strive to have a dynamic, relevant program to ensure their job and library don’t suffer from devastating cuts in school budgets.
We are singletons.
As school librarians, I jokingly tell those who have a “team” in our building that the library is a team of one (or in a few cases two or more if a school is lucky enough to have additional certified librarians on staff.) Let’s face it; for the most part we are singletons in our buildings. Day to day we don’t have a team to turn to for advice, ideas, inspirations, venting and more, while the average classroom teacher has a group in the building who can basically meet all those needs. Working with a group of like-minded educators can be key to building and maintaining a dynamic program vital to your school.
PLN – a buzzword in education circles
The term PLN has become a fairly popular buzzword in educational networks, journals, and literature. Some refer to it as a “personal learning network” while others think of it as a “professional learning community (PLC).” No matter what words you attach to those letters, they are more defined by the purpose they serve. The acronym PLN is simply put, an educational spin on networking. Those who use PLNs can be described as people with similar goals. These people can be friends, though that is not essential. The people of a PLN seek to connect through various methods for the purpose of learning, connecting, gathering information or resources, and perhaps even creating with and finally sharing what has been learned. Generally the outcomes are relevant to the entire group, and often even have far reaching implications to other groups, or PLNs.
PLN explained in its simplest terms
A PLN can be defined simply as group of people who interact for the purpose of learning and who give and take with the goal of sharing, growing, and being an active participant for a greater cause–in my case, making learning relevant to today’s youth.
How do PLNs connect?
There are many tools, particularly web 2.0 tools, that help groups cultivate a PLN. My first foray into developing a PLN came from reading blogs. When I discovered the world of blogging as a way to learn from the experts in my field (libraries and educational technology) I suddenly had a connection to those I had respected for many years, including experts, professionals, and leaders in my career path. Not only could I read about their thoughts, current interests, issues they were exploring, and reactions to their learning, but also, I could also INTERACT by commenting on their blogs. This is a common medium to discover best practices, examples of innovation, and learn from professional experiences of both novice and veteran educators. Initially I began as a lurking reader, but soon I jumped into the conversations, often adding my own experiences and even on occasion getting pushback on my thoughts or opinions. It was exciting to be “in” on the conversations around topics I was so dearly interested in. Lurking and commenting progressed into writing my own blog, now six years old, and sharing what I learn from my PLN.
It’s more than just reading blogs.
While the blogging world introduced me to many like-minded educators, it also introduced me to movers and shakers as well as new voices to expand my thinking. These same influences taught me to take another look at tools I initially dismissed, like Twitter and Facebook. In my own at home/in school professional learning and staff development, these two particular tools were talked about in the most negative tones. Local school leaders dwelled on the dangers and how these tools were not for educational purposes. But I found by interacting in these spaces with my developing PLN, these were the EXACT tools to stay connected with them.
Twitter is not Evil
Through my PLN, I realized that it’s not what the tools do; instead what matters is how they are used. My first look at Twitter had me extremely confused. I felt like I was at a fair surrounded by people who had their own friends and agendas. Being there just watching did not seem productive or helpful in anyway. But by interacting with my PLN I discovered that those tools (Twitter, Facebook, other social networking tools) only worked as a vehicle for my learning IF I “followed,” “friended,” “circled,” or interacted with people who had similar interests and goals. Then, and only then, would I see the tool as a useful addition to my learning toolbox.
Is it limited to just social networks or 2.0 tools?
Absolutely NOT! PLNs crop-up in many places and take many forms. I would suggest that the SCASL listserv is a very vague form of a PLN. The folks who use it definitely learn from one another. As I reflect on my own listserv use, I can share that there are certain people who post that I would never skip or delete without reading. The nature of give and take allows it to be defined as a PLN tool–one can read as well as respond. So listservs are a very basic PLN- like unit. If you attend certain conferences every year and strive to see the same people at those conferences, that is also a loose form of a PLN. The group of teachers at your school who eat lunch together everyday can be considered a PLN. A team or department that works together sharing ideas also fits the definition of a PLN. A PLN is not limited to a tool or even a physical place. They can occur in your school, face-to-face, online, at conferences or through reading, reflecting and sharing through a variety of mediums. They can include members you know personally as well as members who are just virtual acquaintances only seen online. A PLN can even have international membership, and often in educational circles does.
PLN – don’t limit yourself to one way to connect.
The Internet has revolutionized and forever altered the many ways we connect. Don’t limit yourself to one or two methods for connecting to educators with similar goals; Instead explore many, and utilize the various tools for the sake of your own learning. Using these tools will help you build your own schema for how they work. As you gain experience and develop comfort in these tools, you will begin to see how they can be beneficial in a classroom setting as well. But you must first wrap your own mind around the tool for your own personal learning. Try them out and stick with at least three or four for the purpose of growing a PLN! Make it a personal mission to harness the power of the tools and develop your own PLN that is accessible whenever, wherever.
So what does a PLN have to do with saving our jobs?
The many PLN avenues and tools available can introduce you to cutting edge ideas, movers and shakers in the field, and a constant supply of resources, thought-provoking discussions, knowledge, leadership strategies, methods for successfully integrating technology, and most importantly, advancing your own learning AND student learning. Don’t dismiss the power of PLNs. In a time where school leaders are looking to cut budgets and positions, by becoming active in a PLN, you will find ways to make yourself a vital part of your school, curriculum, and staff through learning and sharing. Don’t become a RIF (reduction in force) casualty. Instead grow into a VIP (very important person) in your building—a knowledgeable contributor who can impact learning for today’s students and teachers.
Want to get started?
Visit http://bit.ly/SCASLPLN to find a few librarians and other cutting edge educators to connect with using a variety of tools. You will also find a section of local South Carolina voices. BEST, the page is ready for you to add your own name and networking tools of choice. Please feel free to add to this growing document. It’s here for sharing, growing, and learning.