Sunday, September 8, 2013

Finding a Purposeful PLN

I can’t get enough of my PLN....honestly! Everyday they inspire me with their passions, challenge me with their thinking, and move me to action with their beliefs in me and others from around the world.  I absolutely love it! My PLN has taken me out of my comfort zone so many times and I am sure that they will take me out of zones I didn’t even know I had in the near future.  I am proud of taking my blinders off little by little or just taking the plunge into the unknown. I am also thankful to the hundreds that have opened my mind by forcing me to listen, read, or have a conversation about students, relationships, leadership, curriculum, technology, change, learning, passion, pride, and any topic in between.

It may come to some people’s surprise, but maybe not to others that know me well but I was a person that didn’t actively seek out people for new friendships or conversations.  I think there was a sense of, why would someone want to know me or hear what I have to say? I always had a solid core group of friends in high school and college but thought that was good enough. Why would I need to branch out?  For me to build new friendships, it took me awhile of being around that person before really making the effort to get to know them deeper or opening up to them to get to know me. The strange thing was, I enjoyed being around people but just was comfortable with my inner circle of friends. I feel I have always been good to others, but actively putting myself into new social situations just hasn’t been my strength.  My PLN has challenged me, picked me up by my feet and shook me until those feelings came falling out and hitting the ground like coins clanking on the cement.  My PLN has encouraged me to put myself out there and get myself ready to say, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today” like John Fogerty’s “Centerfield”. I realized through the great people/great minds of my PLN that there’s no more excuse or time to sit back and stay in my comfort zone of knowing what I know and who I know any longer.  A few years ago, I finally put myself in charge of my own learning and engaging with others instead of depending on someone else to send me to a professional development class or convention.  As many of you are probably aware, this happened through Twitter and connecting to others online by lurking and/or participating in online chats, by reading various posts/blogs, and also meeting my PLN face to face.  This experience has greatly kicked me in the tail to get out of my “box” and try to understand someone else’s mindset, passions, and ways of doing what is best for me and most importantly for kids.  I know that by doing this, I am going to continue to learn and hopefully be better than I was the previous day.

My online PLN is one of my favorite “go to” places to feel good about the work and the relationships that are being built in education.  I can feel the passion that motivates and drives them to keep getting better and more importantly the desire to share that feeling and knowledge with others. They want to put in the extra time to get better. A valued member of my PLN, Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal, stated at a conference I attended, "I don't find the time to learn and get better. I make the time to learn and get better." This attitude is typical of the members of my PLN and it spreads like wildfire among us.  I want to be able to reciprocate that same feeling and desire to get better for others.  Hopefully, I can help play a small part of others taking charge of their learning too.

I have found that one of the coolest thing about creating my own PLN isn’t just about connecting with other principals either. Beside principals, I learn from classroom teachers, superintendents, innovation consultants, curriculum directors, technology directors, student voice ambassadors, leaders in business, coaches, and many others (may have to scroll through all of the people I follow) It is awesome that an Iowa boy born in a town of 1000 or less can learn from a teacher like Todd Nesloney @TechToddNinja about integrating technology in Texas, a passionate PIRATE teacher in Dave Burgess @burgessdave from California, and learn about developing and leading 1:1 programs from Shaelynn Farnsworth @Shfarnsworth in Iowa and Shawn McCusker @ShawnMcCusker in Illinois on #1to1techat.  I actually was able to meet the latter two face to face at #EdCampIowa last year, will get to meet Dave Burgess at my school later this year as a guest speaker, and hope to run into Todd in the near future at a conference of some kind. I have also connected with and followed educational leaders like Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza from Pennsylvania when I wanted to know more about successful ways of breaking down barriers of the home to school relationship with parents through his #ptchat.  I have connected with and met Jared Wastler @jcwastler from Maryland. Our meeting was virtually through a Google Hangout to discuss a possible sharing of instruction program between our schools.  I have done the same thing with a principal in Iowa named Tim Felderman @tfelderman78.  These great opportunities would never have been a discussion if there wasn’t a way to be connected with my PLN outside of my district in Fairfield, Iowa.  

The best part has been meeting my PLN in person and creating brand new relationships.  As I have said before, this hasn’t been a strength of mine in years past.  I have been fortunate to connect, meet, and collaborate with Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy and Matt Degner @mwdegner, which are both principals in Iowa, each Sunday night for #IAedchat with various educational topics.  They are phenomenal educators and even better people.  This relationship has been absolutely awesome and wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I also have had the pleasure of meeting more of my PLN in person at what we termed #edcampBBQ in Kansas City, MO. I joined Jimmy and I was able to meet for the first time Tom Whitford @twhitford from Wisconsin, along with these great guys and educators from Missouri -Bill Powers @MrPowersCMS, Bob Dillon @ideaguy42, Robert Sigrist @DocSig, Matt Wachel @Matt Wachel, Kyle Pace @kylepace, and Sean Nash @nashworld.  We had a great time and were able to share some of our professional stories, pick each other’s brain and catch quite a few laughs along the way while "sampling" great BBQ.

Another awesome PLN experience for me was that I was able to share another weekend with Jimmy to Chicago, Illinois, to a 1:1 conference hosted by another member of my PLN, Jason Markey @JasonMMarkey, principal of East Leyden High School. I was able to meet, create a relationship, and learn from Jason along with his staff and students.  He was genuine and wanted everyone to hear their school's story.  He and his staff were truly being servant leaders.  He didn’t have to welcome others into his school but he made the intentional choice to do the right thing to put in the hard work to make it happen and be a true servant leader.  When Jason spoke, you could hear the passion he had to make his school succeed but he also wanted others to be able to share in the same types of successes they have had. He and his staff also shared how to avoid mistakes they may have made over time. So many educators left with fresh ideas and the mindset that it’s not just about me or our own school. Jason made it clear that it’s about sharing with others and trying to help them get to their desired goal.  

At the same 1:1 conference in Chicago, I was able to meet up with a member of my PLN that I have followed for a long time on Twitter. His thinking through his tweets and blog posts have inspired me while challenging me to think differently and out of my box that I talked about earlier. I was fired up to hear and see George Couros @gcouros for the first time.  He was introduced as “one of Leyden’s favorite Canadians” for the Friday keynote. He took that like a champ and away he went with his presentation on leading innovative change.  He shared an awesome message about making meaningful change happen and not just talk about it. He made people laugh, think about moving people from point A to point B in the change process, and even made a few tear up. Jimmy V would have been proud. He impacted the audience so much that received a standing “O” when he was done.
 I was lucky enough to get know him even better that evening by going to a great dinner with him, Jeff Zoul @Jeff Zoul, Jason, Jimmy, and Jennie Magiera @MsMagiera. The next day, George, Jimmy, Jeff, and I took in a game at Wrigley Field together. Besides hanging at an MLB game, it was great to sit and talk with him about his school in Canada, his speaking experiences, hear some of his future goals as an educator, and get to know a little bit about him as a person. It was an awesome experience that I never would have guessed would happen if it wasn't for connecting through my PLN.

The PLN motivates me. It challenges my thinking. It also confirms my thinking. It encourages action. It encourages growth. It creates relationships. The challenge for me and us is to create this same type of environment in our own buildings and district.  We have to be willing to lead the charge by sharing the passion for learning, connecting to create relationships with those in we would otherwise never cross paths, and stepping out of our comfort zones. We have to model that the times of shutting our doors and working in isolation is over. My PLN has shown me the value of being fine with not knowing everything and even failing at times.  It has continued to push me professionally and personally.  My PLN has made me better today than I was yesterday and I hope to play a small part in helping someone be better someday too. PLN...I appreciate you!!