- Build your PLN as you listen, read, and connect.
- Find support as you connect with others.
- Being alone as a leader is a choice.
The Value of a PLN: Building a PLN
For some, building a PLN (a personal or professional learning network) starts with social media, such as Twitter. While it is true that I have been a Twitter user since 2009 and started making professional connections shortly thereafter, building my PLN did not start in earnest until 2016 when I started actively applying for leadership positions in school districts across the state of Illinois.
Living in east central Illinois, there were not many leadership positions available in my region, so my job searches often led me to the northern part of the state, with drives often lasting two or three hours one way. I would always bring a professional book with me to read while sitting in the office or lobby waiting for an interview to start. But one day, I realized that I could take advantage of the long drives by listening to educational leadership podcasts.
The first podcast I subscribed to was Educators Lead by Jay Willis. I started with episode 1, and over the course of time, worked my way through all 136 episodes. With each episode, I started following one more person on Twitter and thus my PLN began to grow. Many of these guests were authors and/or had podcasts of their own. I subscribed to more podcasts and I purchased more books. Today I am subscribed to 39 education podcasts, including several that are part of the Teach Better Podcast Network. I own more than 200 education books, several of which are on the Teach Better Bookshelf, and my PLN numbers in the thousands.
As I built my PLN on Twitter, I also learned about Twitter chats. While my participation in chats has ebbed and flowed depending on my circumstances at the time, I built up my PLN by joining the same chats week after week: #satchat on Saturday mornings, #sunchat on Sunday mornings, and #masterychat (later #TeachBetter chat) on Thursday evenings were some of the chats I tried to always make time for.
The most recent addition to my PLN has been Voxer groups, which have provided other avenues of connecting, sharing, learning, and growing. Voxer groups allow discussions to be carried out over an extended period of time in a way that doesn’t happen when listening to podcasts or even when participating in a Twitter chat. (At the end of every chat, I encourage others to keep the conversation going and to reach out but it has never happened.)Whether it is participating in a mastermind group, DMing or Voxing, texting or calling, or just listening to or reading others’ work, we all have many opportunities to find support. Click To Tweet
ASPIRE to Lead: Find Support from Others
I recently read Joshua “Double Underscore” Stamper’s new book, Aspire to Lead, and connected so much with his section on building your PLN. He reminds all of us that we need to reach out to others to find support if we want to grow as leaders. As I have grown in my own leadership journey, I have lost count of the number of times I have referenced something I learned from a podcast, book, Twitter connection, or Voxer group. I have found more support from other leaders than I could have ever imagined possible!
As just one example, I was able to interview for one of the summer school administrator positions in my district a year and a half ago. Before my interview, I reached out to everyone in my PLN for advice. I discussed it during a Teach Better Administrator Mastermind meeting. I brought it up in Twitter chats. I asked for advice in Voxer groups and I reached out to specific individuals. I was able to connect with a leader in Canada who runs a summer learning program in British Columbia.
I took pages and pages of notes, used these suggestions in my proposal for our summer program, and then brought it with me to my interview. I was selected for the role last summer and was asked to reprise the role again this summer. I would not have been as prepared or confident entering this position without the ongoing support of my PLN.[scroll down to keep reading]
The Value of a PLN: Loneliness Is a Choice
I have often heard it said that it is lonely on the top. The reason given is that leaders are often alone in their roles, whether they are principals, superintendents, or even department leads. Even with deans, assistant principals, directors, and assistant superintendents, the person who has the position of ultimate responsibility in a school system is often the only one. (I can count on one hand the number of times I have heard of co-leaders existing in a role.) However, in this day and age of PLNs, being alone is a choice. Whether it is participating in a mastermind group, DMing or Voxing, texting or calling, or just listening to or reading others’ work, we all have many opportunities to find support.
As you continue your leadership journey, where you may be and wherever it may lead you, I leave you with this:
How will you build your PLN? Who can you ask for support?
If you don’t know, please reach out and I will be that person to help you grow! After all, we are truly better and stronger together!
About Alex T. Valencic
Alex Valencic is an educator, former small business owner, Boy Scout, volunteer drug prevention specialist, unrepentant bibliophile, and a geek of all things. He worked as a substitute teacher for three years before achieving his lifelong dream of teaching fourth grade, which he did for seven years in Urbana, Illinois, before accepting his current position as the Curriculum Coordinator for 21st Century Teaching and Learning in Freeport, Illinois, where he not only supports innovative educational practices in the classroom but also oversees social studies, science, and nearly all of the elective courses in the district.