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.
While embarking on this quest for collaboration and shared knowledge, I have come to realize the importance of professional learning networks. With all the data and knowledge available to everyone anywhere at anytime, it would seem nearly impossible to organize and access this knowledge in a simple and effective way. Professional learning networks act as a supplement for in-person networking (say at your university or program). The benefits of participating and maintaining a professional learning network (PLN) seem infinite, all depending on how the network is accessed and used.
I am no expert on PLNs, but I hope to continue to engage and explore their role in my own professional development as an ESL teacher. I think teachers often end up working in isolation or with a small group of peers at the institution in which they teach, but I don’t think that necessarily has to be the case. There is a vast knowledge pool of experience online just waiting to be tapped into.
Here are some valuable articles and resources for building and engaging with your own personal learning network:
20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network by @miriamoclifford
Teachers, Here’s Why You Need to Network by Andrianes Pinantoan
The Best Ways ESL Teachers Can Develop Personal Learning Networks by Larry Ferlazzo
Personal Learning Networks Simplified for Teachers
How to Create a Robust and Meaningful Personal Learning Network
How’s Your PLN? by Lisette Casey
Why (and How) You Should Create a Personal Learning Network by Eric Patnoudes
How to Create a “Personal Learning Environment” to Stay Relevant in 2013