I remember accepting my first teaching job after I had completed my degree. I was fortunate enough to be hired at the school where I had done my student teaching, so I was familiar with the school and the district. I felt like I was ready to have my own classroom, but I also knew there was a lot to learn.
I went into this first year with an attitude of learning and began to connect with teachers, the instructional specialist, the librarian, the special education teachers and many others that were a part of the school in which I worked. Whenever the school or district offered an opportunity to learn about something new, I was there. I was a sponge, soaking up anything that I could about teaching at this school.
I have learned over the years that this was good practice, but there were many other resources that I could also have been connecting with that could have assisted me in my learning to be a better teacher.
Here are a few ideas on how to begin creating your own Professional Learning Network (PLN) to aid your journey to become the best educator you can be. My examples will be focused on literacy teachers, but you can find similar opportunities for any content.
- First, get to know the specialists in your school and in your district. Most schools have people designated as instructional specialists for particular content areas. Part of their job is to assist teachers in their learning. Often there are district-level personnel that have this role. Learn about the resources that are available to you in your own school and district.
- Join national professional organizations. If you are an elementary teacher, look for organizations that focus on professional learning for your grade level. If you are a content area teacher, look for organizations that specialize in providing resources to teachers in your content. Because I focus on reading, I chose to join the International Literacy Association (ILA). This organization provides many resources to teachers through journals, online resources, etc. (see literacyworldwide.org for more information). Also look into the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). This organization has amazing resources too (www.ncte.org).
- Join local and state professional organizations and attend their conferences. There are often local groups of teachers that organize learning opportunities for teacher learning in your area. For example, for the north Texas area there is the North Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (NTCTELA). The state of Texas has the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language arts (tctela.org) and the Texas Association for Literacy Educators (www.texasreaders.org), state organizations that represent national organizations. NTCTELA holds a conference every year in the Metroplex on the second Friday in June. They bring in four or five nationally recognized experts in teaching to present keynotes and breakout sessions during the one-day conference. For a small registration fee you can learn from some of the most widely recognized experts in the country without having to travel too far from home. Sometimes you can get your district to cover the cost of your registration. It doesn’t hurt to ask! In 2016 this conference will be held on June 10th at the Hurst Conference Center (for more information, go to www.ntctela.org). The TCTELA conference for 2017 will be held in Fort Worth next January, right in our neighborhood!
- Read professional journals. Most professional teacher organizations have one or more journals that have great articles with ideas for teaching. For example, ILA has The Reading Teacher and the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, to name a few. These journals have amazing resources. You can get access to these journals through membership in the organization or through educational databases. NCTE also has journals as well as TCTELA and TALE. See if your district has access to these journals through subscriptions or through databases. If not, join the organization so you can get access for yourself. Many of the journals are available online.
- Pay attention to what’s going on in the D/FW area (or your local geographical region) that may provide opportunities for you and your students. For example, another professional development opportunity in the area is the North Texas Teen Book Festival to be held in Irving on April 22 and 23. Check here for more information northtexasteenbookfestival.org. This opportunity is free. If you work with pre-adolescent or adolescent learners, this festival is a great opportunity to see what books are hot in 2016 and meet some amazing authors.
The first years of teaching are a challenge. Creating and expanding your PLN will help those years be productive and help you feel more prepared for your career as an amazing teacher!
What are your thoughts on Dr. Robertson’s advice? How can you create and expand your Professional Learning Network? -Dr. Semingson