On Saturday afternoon I had a meeting, via Google Hangout, with middle school principals from across the United States. Don’t search your social media for a meeting you may have missed; this was an informal get together with my professional/personal learning network (#PLN) about, well, you know…
… all of this.
For nearly 10 years, I’ve been part of a group of middle school principals who engage in regular, ongoing conversation about the work we do via Voxer, a walkie-talkie-like phone app that allows asynchronous messaging 24/7. The way it works, when you have the opportunity, you check-in and listen to what your colleagues have contributed and offer your own perspectives. Usually, one of the members of the group poses a question or describes a challenge they are dealing with in their setting. The other school leaders offer up solutions or reflect on occasions when they have had to deal with the same challenge. Sometimes we just log in and offer up what our day was like, both at work and at home. Our group includes principals from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Alaska, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Kentucky, and Long Island. Rural, urban and suburban; low-socioeconomic to high; the members of the group represent quite a broad cross-section of the country’s schools.
Over the years we have dialogued about a variety of particularly weighty issues that affect middle schools: school relationships, standardized tests, vaping, racism, student mental health, student self harm, supervision of instruction, and countless other topics. And now, the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic. In the 45 minute conversation we had on Saturday afternoon I gleaned more answers and ideas from this group of passionate and experienced middle school principals than I have from all the reading I have done since this crisis began. More important perhaps than the tangible ideas that came out of this conversation is the support and friendship that we provide each other. The benefits of knowing that a group of people who share the exact same struggles as me, cares about me and will be there for me when I need them, cannot be described.
If we do not create a network using the tools that technology makes available, then our PLN will be confined only to those individuals who we interact with face-to-face. Make no mistake, I know some people whose faces are really incredible, but there are people out there, beyond our geographical scope, who can accelerate our learning and provide support in ways not otherwise possible. There’s a fantastic Facebook group called Teaching during COVID-19. The educators in this group are sharing amazing resources, ideas and support for each other during this crazy time. This is a great way for educators to, if they have not already done so, create a professional learning network (PLN) that will hopefully continue past this current crisis.
Nobody can do this important work alone. We all need a network of support. Now that you’re confined to your home, who is in your #PLN? This is an excellent time to expand your network and grow your connections to become the best educator and person you can be. Our kids deserve it!