Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Transferring the PLN to Our Schools

I can hardly contain myself! Why, you ask?  I will soon be embarking on fabulous journey of learning opportunities to build my professional capacity as a leader and learner.  I will be traveling to Philadelphia for #EdCampLdr on August 4th and will be at the annual School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) conference on August 5-7 in Des Moines.  I know I will be exposed to innovative ideas, strategies, big-picture thinking, and leadership models that I know I can bring back to my own work and implement them exactly how I received them or tweak in a way that suits my work the best.  I am passionate about sharpening my saw and continuing to reflect on ways that I can become a better person and educator for my staff and students.

During the time I am soon to be embarking on at #Edcampldr, I will be seeing members of my PLN like Jimmy CasasJeff ZoulTom WhitfordBen Gilpin, and Brad Currie in which I have met and enjoy learning from them because of their passion for education and I just simply enjoy them as people.  During this time, I am also going to get to finally meet Joe MazzaTom MurrayJoe Sanfelippo, and Tony Sinanis in person. I have learned from them and feel like I have known them for a couple of years through Twitter and recently though Voxer...and I can't wait.  I know that there will be other great educators and leaders at this conference that I will get the opportunity to learn from and get to know on a whole new level.  This same experience will happen when I am at the SAI conference.  I will be prepared to learn from great thought leaders like Ann Hoffman and Conn Thomas about "Leveraging the Administrator-Teacher Leader Relationship", Dan Heath about "Being Decisive", Kathleen Cushman about "The Motivation Equation", and many other great topics from other great people that are scheduled to speak with us.  I feel I have a growth mindset and am always looking to stretch my thinking.  I know I will learn a ton from these people and be able to bring things back to impact my own work.  To be honest though, besides the learning, the thing I am completely excited about though is the people I will have the opportunity to connect with in person that are a part of my PLN.  I can't wait to see the likes Iowa administrators that I have met and learned from in the past such as Nathan WearDeron DurflingerJoel PedersenMatt DegnerColin WikanDan ButlerAndy Crozier, and so, so many more that I could fill the page with here.  I am just as excited to finally meet many of our Iowa administrators for the first time face to face that I know are doing great things in their schools for kids.  It will be awesome to be able to pick their brains and get to know them better.

Why do I and many others get excited for opportunities like this?  I feel it is because we have made a human connection to these people and what they can bring to our professional work.  I know who they are and how passionate they are about the education of kids.  I have conversed with them in person many times or through social media.  They have become some of my main go-to people in education along with the rest of my PLN when I need something.  I know I can count on them to be an awesome resource of information at any time of the day.  This is a great feeling and the days can't get here soon enough to connect with them again over this upcoming week.

As the start of school is getting closer for many districts, I have been reflecting and thinking, "Do the feelings of excitement to learn and be with our PLN transfer over to learning and being with our fellow administrators and teachers in our own schools?"

Whether our answer is yes, no, or sometimes, I think there are a few things that we need to be mindful of and be intentional about when creating this same enthusiasm for professional learning in our own districts.

1. Build Relationships - My PLN and yours too, has been screaming this for a couple years now. I didn't always understand this. It shows up everywhere but they are usually talking about the students.  The saying, "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I have grown quite close to many of my PLN and I know they care. In turn, that makes the learning from them even better. Well, this goes for the adults in our buildings too.  I know I am going to continue make a much better effort to keep this at the forefront of my mind this year and the years to come.  Take the time.  Make the connections.  Have serious and humorous conversations. Find something new about your teachers or fellow administrators.  Be in every moment. You and I will be better because of it.

2. Believe Everyone Can Learn - Just like we stress that we have to believe in our kid's ability to learn, we have to believe in our fellow staff members can be continuous learners.  If they are a new hire or a seasoned veteran, we have to believe and sometimes show them they have the capability to do new things to help them grow professionally and personally.  We can never assume someone is done learning or has everything all figured out.

3.  Believe We Can Learn From Everyone - In our buildings there are many intelligent adults with great ideas about education or about life in general.  Everyone has something to offer and we need to keep our minds open to various perspectives and backgrounds.  If we see something that we have learned in one of our classrooms, take a risk and try it out in your room or building.  Repeat this step over and over.

4.  Share the Passion - When we are in our schools, don't hold back on how emotionally and intellectually we have been touched by the learning that has taken place and connections that have been made.  Own your feelings and sing to the mountain tops about how cool it is to learn with others in the building. Share it out just like when our PLN begs, borrows, and steals resources when we favorite, retweet, or reply on Twitter about something that is awesome or just plain useful.  Your passion will only motivate and invigorate others to do the same.

5.  Empower Learning - Create opportunities for teachers and administrators to be leaders of their learning with others.  Create opportunities for those in your building to listen.  Empower people to be risk takers with their learning. Let them know that it is perfectly fine to fail when they have their own learning in mind. Model risk taking with your learning too.

6.  Clean the Slate - Just like Rita Pearson said in her TED Talk when she had a teacher colleague say, "They don't pay me to like the kids."  Rita's response was, "Kids don't learn from people they don't like." This same thing is true with adults.  Give yourself and others a chance to redeem themselves.  Most people within a PLN aren't in the same working environment everyday with one another.  In a building, things happen over time that impact collegiality and collaborative endeavors.  It's time to bury the negativity that is impacting learning with and from others.  Find the people and have the conversation with a solution.  Be the adults and move forward for the kids and your professional/personal well being.  As Todd Whitaker states, "Treat everyone as though they are good." Carry the positivity torch all year long.

Making the PLN transferrable to our own workplace is about building relationships and building a culture of shared learning where everyone wants to keep getting better.  The feelings that teachers and administrators feel from their PLN can't be isolated.  As the school year rapidly approaches, make sure we work hard and give every effort to feel energized and motivated to learn with all of the people we work with everyday.  The people in close proximity are valuable parts of our own PLN.

Let me say it again that I am pumped up for #Edcamldr and SAI that will cover a week's time of learning and connecting with my PLN.  I know these conversations will continue over time.  After reflecting personally and professionally, I feel I have continued to attempt to make made strides in many of the areas listed above. What is important for me/us to remember is that there is still tons of work to do in these areas to keep getting better and growing the excitement within amongst our colleagues. This is why I am more excited to learn from my staff and fellow administrators in my own district and share the passion over a year's worth of time. Have an awesome start to the school year and I wish you all the best.  Feel free to add to my list.  I would be glad to hear from you.


  1. You have an incredible opportunity next week - not only to attend awesome conferences, meet wonderful educators, & make connections with those that have helped you learn - but also to bring concepts of the PLN back to your own school. Each of your 6 points make a lot of sense and demonstrate a vision for a very positive environment for both staff and students to learn. I especially like #4 "Share the Passion" because that's exactly what I hope to do when I return to school and share all of the great things I have learned over the last few months that could help us become even stronger. Thanks for your post!

  2. Aaron,

    You put to words what has swirled in my mind for months. How can we expand our PLN mentality to our building/district? The candid truth is that I feel this way about some, but for others I truly struggle. In my own district some simply think of me as techy and others refer to me as "that guy". I do have several friends and colleagues in my district and I do not want this to be a sob story. I simply wonder how do we build our PLN in our own district? Your points are spot on. I do believe it begins and ends with relationships. I also think you are correct with "cleaning the slate" and "sharing your passion". After reading this I'm going to embrace the titles of techy and "that guy", I guess when it comes down to it...it isn't my business what others think of me. I must be the best I can be each and every day. It's time I grow my PLN in my own district. Thanks for the motivation and suggestions.

    See you soon...


  3. Aaron,

    This was great and has psyched me up for the upcoming year! I too look forward to the day when I get to meet some of the amazing folks in my PLN. I have only had the chance to meet a couple and that was great! I especially like the idea of making the PLN transferrable to our workplace. I am starting at a new school this year and feel fortunate to already have the full support of the principal to go full speed with creating connections. I hope you have a great time over the next two weeks and I look forward to reading all about it in a future post. Thanks for the shot of enthusiasm and positive energy!

  4. This is a GREAT post, Aaron! I feel just like you, and I also understand Ben's comments. The vibe I get from others on twitter is so positive, when sometimes there can be someone in my building who consistently puts off a negative vibe. What I love about Twitter is that everyone who is there, is there because they WANT to be there, not because they have to be. There are SO many people in my building with whom I have a positive relationship (students and adults), it makes me excited for the school year to start! Relationships matter!

    Thank you for sharing!