Network Weaver….no it does not involve yarn and needles, nor is it something you’d read about in a dystopian novel. It is, however, the focus of my professional growth plan (PGP) for this year. Every year at OJCS, each teacher chooses an area of growth to work towards. You can read about mine from years past here.
My definition of a network weaver is someone who helps others build their Professional Learning Network (PLN). The job of a network weaver is to constantly be building their own PLN, and making connections between like-minded individuals who can help each other. These connections come in many different shapes and sizes. At our school, we talk about teachers climbing the blogging ladder, but today I’m going to focus on the PLN ladder.
The idea of a PLN is not new. In one article I read on Edutopia, written back in 2013 by Tom Whitby, he talks about how he learned of the concept 6 or 7 years prior. Whitby defines a PLN as, “a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time.” When I think about the PLN ladder I see it like this:
My goal for this year is to become a stronger network weaver for the faculty at OJCS. In order to achieve this goal, I first have to continue building my own PLN and figure out what I want to share, with who, and how.
Building my PLN
Twitter is my main platform for connecting with other educators. One change I have made this year is that I am trying to actually connect with the people I follow. If I see a post I like, rather than simply retweeting or liking it, I try to think about how I can amplify and add value. Occasionally I will comment on the post to thank the author for sharing, and make connections to my own experiences or how I intend to use it.
If I find a post I think will be useful for others, I’ll mention them in the comment to help them become part of the conversation, and perhaps introduce them to an educator with whom they can collaborate.
I recently started following an educator in Australia, Lesleigh Altmann, and she sent me a private message thanking me for the follow. I thought this was such a simple, yet powerful strategy to making connections. In that moment, I didn’t feel like just another nameless follower, but someone she was recognizing and open to collaborating with.
I also want to build my PLN beyond Twitter and speak with people in other schools and organizations who play a networking role. Gerry De Fazio, who I met through our school’s work with NoTosh, and who now works as Director of Learning, Strategy & Innovation at Montcrest School in Toronto, continues to be a valued colleague and mentor. She and I meet bi-weekly to share ideas, experiences, resources and thoughts. While I look forward to each of these sessions immensely, speaking with other educators, or even other professionals outside of the education world, continues to be an area I’d like to develop in the coming months.
What to Share, With Who and How?
Due to COVID-19, a main focus of my position as Teaching and Learning Coordinator at OJCS has been around Hyflex Learning. Our teachers have had the challenging job of teaching students in class and online concurrently. In support of the added workload and planning this type of teaching requires, our administrators have kindly given over all staff meetings and professional development days to individual and team meetings. While this is amazing from a “prep” perspective, it poses a challenge for coaching and sharing useful strategies that would otherwise be addressed during these staff gatherings. In response, I’ve begun creating interactive resources that teachers can use at their leisure. Here is the first one I created to help teachers plan for a Hyflex Learning environment. Many of the tips and strategies I suggested were designed to build routines that could continue to be used whether we were teaching in person on not (** I say as we begin our second week of remote teaching**)
In addition to this, each week as part of our Faculty Bulletin, I share “Melissa’s Weekly Roundup” – a list of useful tools, blog posts, articles, videos, resources, books, podcasts or educators I have come across that I think will be useful to our teachers.
One challenge for me has been that I rarely receive feedback from my peers as to whether these resources are helpful or not. I know a few teachers have implemented choice boards into their practice, and others are using stations to find time to meet one-on-one or in small groups with their students, but I am not certain how widely adopted it is. I recognize that bandwidth is limited this year. It’s my hope that one post, one week, one time, will prove useful to one teacher, and that teacher will become my network weaver, sharing the value with their colleagues. I also intend on following up with teachers to see how the work they did before the lockdown impacted their transition into remote learning, post winter break.
Up to this point, I’ve talked a lot about all the valuable resources I’ve found by looking outside my own school. But the truth is, our fellow teachers in our own building hold just as much experience, knowledge and resources! As our North Stars says, “Each person is responsible for the other,” “We learn better together,” and “We are always on inspiring (Jewish) journeys.” Often, those journeys intersect. Every teacher at OJCS is working on a PGP of their own, yet we are not always aware of what those PGPs are. To help build connections amongst our own faculty, I have created a Trello board outlining all the PGPs this year, and grouping similar projects together.
I have slowly started inviting faculty members to join this board so that they can see for themselves who is working on what, and start reaching out to their colleagues for support, feedback and guidance. Not everyone has joined yet, and some who I have invited have been hesitant to share. Like everything, it is a process and they are slowly moving up their own rung of the PLN ladder.
Baby steps are better than no steps!