Developing your Professional Learning Network

Jim Maloney

Jim is a primary school teacher and SLT member who's interested in pushing the boundaries with regards to teaching and incorporating new technologies where there is direct benefit to the children's learning.

Follow @mister_jim

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Ever wondered how certain teachers always seem to have new or more interesting ways of doing things in their classrooms? Chances are they haven’t been as innovative as other people seem to think they are. Chances are they have a Professional Learning Network (PLN).

So what does that mean in layman’s terms? It’s basically a support network from which anybody can share experiences, draw support or find resources. It contains a plethora of expertise across all stages of education in all parts of the world. My PLN is on Twitter.

I use my PLN as a tool for developing my professional practice, broadcasting the work in my classroom, highlighting any good articles or comments made by others and promoting or sharing events that I feel could have a positive impact on people and their development.

On a regular basis, I check in with people on Twitter and, although I set out with the aim of keeping the dialogue purely professional, over time, the conversations become more familiar. I think the best description of my understanding of a PLN is ‘A Global staffroom where there are always enough mugs & chairs for everybody’.

Through my PLN I have learnt about new technologies that have enabled learning opportunities in my class, I have made links with other schools, I have organised successful CPD events & broadened my own horizons.

Most importantly, the children have benefited from this. I have a sounding board for my crazy ideas – like getting 5 & 6 year old children to blog independently. I also have a core of experienced professionals who are prepared to help. Tony Parkin, Head of ICT development for the Specialist Schools & Academies Trust; BECTA; Jan Webb, Microsoft’s European Innovative Teacher of the Year; John Davitt, keynote speaker & educational guru; are all part of the same group.

This small change in approach has yielded more dramatic improvements to my own professional development that I could have imagined. I have tried and tested ideas that seem to be on the cutting edge – but have been proven by teachers.

Another immediate advantage is that people are prepared to help. Last year, a teacher needed something interactive for a Science Observation Lesson. I put a request out through my PLN and they responded within an hour with 5 different potential activities that they had used to good effect. 3 of them were from sites I’d never heard of. That is the power of the global community. If you are able to, I’d suggest you start creating your own PLN, it makes your life easier and your teaching better.

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