Self-directed professional development may mean finding topics of interest and reading articles written by professionals. It may mean implementing suggestions in your classroom and reflecting on those experiences. It may mean seeking the advice of your peers and coworkers with regard to specific classroom management techniques or lesson plans. Self-directed professional development may be self-driven and take on many different appearances, but it does not mean learning alone.
I have come to realize that building an online community of peers and fellow learners is invaluable to my professional development. Through tools like Twitter and Google Reader, I am able to stay connected to the field, provide my feedback to pragmatic suggestions (lesson plans and activity ideas), and receive feedback on my own ideas. While I am the master of the direction my learning takes, and I may be physically sitting at my laptop alone, I am not learning alone. With the assistance of online communication tools, my learning community has widened to include people from all over the world. There is something really exciting about brainstorming lesson ideas with people from around the world. Perspective is something gained over time and experience, and I’m not sure I can put a value on the availability of the wide variety of perspectives present online.
I’m thankful for online communities and the support I find within these communities.
I have begun my examination of novice teachers and their personal learning networks by reading a study published in TESOL Quarterly (2012) called Novice ESOL teachers’ perceptions of social support networks. I find it inspiring and informative with regard to my own research related to social support and ESL professionals.
The article (Brannan, D. 2012) describes three main sources of support reported by participants in the study: mentors, coworkers, and family. Of those three sources, only family was viewed as providing the affective support necessary to foster overall well-being and health in the novice teacher participants with relation to their perceived efficacy. That being said, the support from family did not seem to provide adequate pragmatic and technical support for the novice teachers. Both branches of support were deemed necessary for overall effective teacher development and success (perceived efficacy in the study).
With regard to this study, I aim to extend the social support network into the digital realm. Professional teachers and novice teachers currently participate in PLNs (personal/professional learning networks) mediated by online tools like Twitter, RSS feeds, Diigo, and other social media tools. I wonder how participants in the Brannan study would have responded with regard to these sources of social support. It seems that a novice teacher would be able to receive ample pragmatic and technical support via social media and other online tools (whether actively or passively). It also seems probable that a novice teacher might receive affective support via social media and other online tools from both their personal and professional online networks.
I’m excited to explore this topic further as my research continues.
Brannan, D., & Bleistein, T. (2012). Novice ESOL teachers’ perceptions of social support networks. TESOL Quarterly, 46(3), 519-541. doi: 10.1002/tesq.40