I'd have to say that one of the greatest things I've done for myself as both a teacher, and a writer, has been joining a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Being able to converse regularly with like-minded professionals has really inspired me to become a better writer, teacher, and learner.
I've found my Teacher PLNs on Twitter. Yes, folks, it's not just for chasing the Kardashians. There are actually well-educated and very dedicated teachers on Twitter every day sharing ideas, teaching philosophies, lesson plans, insight, and not to mention opportunities for jobs! I've learned more from my "tweachers" than attending any other professional development through my own district. One of the things I most love is that ideas are exchanged in 140 characters or less, and the pace is very dynamic. Unlike traditional learning where one person talks and others just try to absorb, Twitter allows for a pure learning experience where ideas are exchanged rapidly and succinctly, and this dynamic allows for much more information to flow in a more natural way. It's like having a conversation at a cocktail party!
One of my PLNs meet at 5:30am each weekday (#bfc530). I attend with a cup of coffee, and wearing my pajamas. A question is thrown out to all, and we have 15 minutes to discuss it before everyone needs to move on to begin their work day. It's a great way to engage, get your head into "school mode", and feel energized to give students your best.
On the weekends, #satchat at 7:30am on Saturdays, and #sunchat at 9:00am on Sundays, keeps the topics flowing. These half-hour chats give a bit more time to explore different topics and engage with teachers more in-depth. The teachers on the chats live and teach all over the globe, and exchanging ideas and philosophies with them is so inspiring. I feel as close to them as I do the teachers I see daily in my own faculty room!
On Twitter, you can find chats for all disciplines, from Language Arts and Writing to Classroom Management and Field Trips. Hashtags make it easy to find the chats, and following these wonderful educators ensures that your stream of tweets will be filled with wonderful ideas and inspiration 24/7.
One of the teachers I've been conversing with is a Canadian transplant who opened a school in the Dominican Republic over 25 years ago, Carla Meyrink. She wanted her own children to have more than the DR public school system would offer, so she decided to do it herself. Her school has grown into a wonderful community of caring teachers who bring hope and love to the students who attend. On a recent trip there, I was able to meet her in person, and it felt as if I'd known her for years. Her school is a true success story, and gives the students of the DR so much love, support and opportunity! If you want to truly be inspired, follow her (@carlameyrink). Her blog is filled with great information and insight. Truly a wonderful educator and role model.
I've also found a great group of Language Arts teachers on Facebook (Yes, Facebook is more than just seeing what restaurant your neighbor is eating at tonight). There is a wonderful group to follow called "2ndaryELA" which is over 8000 members strong, sharing everything from book recommendations to writing activities and classroom ideas. This world-wide group discusses all types of topics, and if you need anything, they're willing and able to help you find it.
As a writer, I've found just as much support. Both Twitter and Facebook are filled with author, editor and illustrator groups willing to lend support to any project. Stuck on a word, a scene, a character? Just put the word out and they are there to make suggestions, point to resources, or help with a rewrite.
It's been said we've lost the art of face to face communication due to the digital age. I don't see it that way, though. I see it as an opportunity to expand our communication with those we would never have the chance to meet, or exchange ideas with. We lived in a bubble in the past, but now, we have access to so many more people with great ideas, so many new resources, so many more opportunities due to this digital age.
The best part, though, is when the curtain is lifted and you meet these folks face to face at conferences, or chance meetings. There is nothing like shaking the hand or giving a hug to someone you've conversed with for years. Looking into their eyes and seeing how alike you are and realizing that had it not been for joining that PLN, you never would have known this amazing person? Cool, huh?
Here are just a few of the best teachers and writers I've ever met, thanks to my PLN!: