We’re Better Together: The Power of the PLN

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Whether it was fate or just perfect timing, I will never know, but I could not have asked for better motivation this morning than #LeadUpChat. On Friday I am presenting about the power of a PLN to a group of elementary principals at MESPA’s annual Fall Conference. My goal is to illustrate the importance of developing a strong PLN and support participants in this effort by showing them how to begin with Twitter and Voxer.

I have been reflecting a lot about my presentation and had set aside time today to put those thoughts in motion. Coffee in hand, I sat at the kitchen table, opened my computer and decided to get some motivation from my PLN by hopping on Twitter for a bit! Here was the Tweet that flew across my feed:

 power

As we began the exhilarating, all-be-it intense hour, my introductory remarks began to take shape and then it hit me. Why am I starting my presentation speaking about my PLN? Why not let my PLN speak for me? I grabbed several of the Tweets that resonated with me and put together a slideshow of their words that screamed the importance of a PLN from the rooftops. Here are some of the highlights:

  • @lauriemeston writes: Yes! I’ve learned more in the last year supported by my PLN than I have in previous 30 yrs in eduction.
  • @brmohr writes: I also love that I can learn from my PLN anytime of the day or week – from all over the country
  • @PrincipalOgg writes: We help each other out when we can. We develop a growth mindset of learning and helping each other reach their goals.
  • @AmyHeavin writes: Through our conversation, we share insights & ideas. When we act on those ourselves, we grow. When we share others grow too!

In the presentation (click here to download it in its entirety – it’s only 3.5 minutes) which will be my opening remarks Friday, there are 50 quotes representing NINETEEN states and three COUNTRIES!!!! What more powerful message do I need than that? In the past, to learn from that diverse of an audience, I would have had to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to go to a national conference. The power of PD in 2015 is that your PLN is there for you when you need them 24/7. The PLN breaks down, no smashes down, the walls of isolation in what can be a very isolating career.

PS: If anyone knows how to get a Power Point presentation to play as a movie WITH the music, please share your expertise in the comments below. I can save it as a Quicktime movie but the audio does not convert with it.

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Do I Follow My Own Advice?

I enjoyed reading Justin Tarte’s (@justintarte) blog post “The journey continues…” describing his pathway to administration. He is embarking on his first administrative role and his post solicits advice from current, retired or aspiring administrators. As a fellow educator who took the same plunge 4 years ago, I can empathize with his feelings and shared some thoughts with him I hope will be helpful.

For the last hour I can not stop wondering; Do I follow my own advice? Below is what I shared with Justin; an evaluation of my own efforts is in italics. Looks like I have some work to do : )

*Work to find the balance between work and your personal life – Area for Needed Growth: While this is always a goal, friends and family alike would tell you this is not a strength of mine. With July 1 comes a gym membership near my new school to get the ball rolling. I have been told that yoga should be required for school administrators : )

*Schedule time for walk-throughs – it is the most important time in your calendar. Exemplary: One hour a day is scheduled and my administrative assistant knows this is sacred time in my calendar so things are rarely (if ever) scheduled during these times.

*Stick to the schedule you created in #2. Satisfactory: Depending on the time of year, I am very dedicated to getting into teacher classrooms as I believe this is a critical component of my role as the instructional leader. Next year, I hope to manage my time better during the “busy seasons” so I can maintain this dedication all year long.

*Open door policies are only as effective as your response to the constant requests for, “Do you have a minute?” Exemplary: My response invariably is, “You can have more than one!” When I was a teacher, I regularly sought out the advice of my Principal (@bwittcoff). Her willingness to take the time to talk and reflect with me helped me become a better educator. I want to be the same support to the teachers with whom I work and work hard to make sure they believe my door is always open.

*Model what you believe in in terms of best practices. Exemplary: I work hard to “practice what I preach” in terms of my expectations of teachers and am a firm believer in leading by example.

*Find time to spend time with kids so they know you before they come down to your office. Satisfactory: The kids are my favorite part of the job – from high fives as they walk off the bus, to spending time in classrooms or at recess, the success of a day can be measured in the number of interactions I have with kids. Though establishing and maintaining relationships with kids is a strength of mine, this is still an area I need to spend more time on in the next school year.

*Find opportunities to teach because you will miss it : ) Exemplary: When I first became an administrator, I missed teaching and having my own classroom. As I grew in the position, I found that my definition of ‘teaching’ changed. I began to see conversations with others as teaching – discipline meetings with students, parent meetings discussing a child’s needs, conversations with teachers about lessons, a child study meeting with a teacher. When my lens of teaching expanded, I realized that almost every part of my day could be considered ‘teaching’. I do still enjoy participating in my ‘old’ definition of teaching and do this regularly through Student Council meetings, faculty meetings and weekly Community Meetings.

*Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions, ask questions… Exemplary: “Phone a friend”  and “Two+ heads are better than one” are words I live by!

*When making a decision, first take time to listen to the stakeholders involved and then explain your values and philosophy behind your decision. Exemplary: This lesson learned from my former principal will never be forgotten. When making a decision I think some members of the community will not agree with, I try to preempt the phone calls with a communication stating the values and philosophy behind the dcision. Click here for an example.

*Have fun! Exemplary: I absolutely love what I do and can frequently be heard stating, “How can you not be happy working in an elementary school?”

Like Justin, I will be transitioning into a new position as the principal of a K-5 school in MA on July 1. I am hoping that this pause for reflection will inspire me to work towards following my own advice more often. I encourage you to visit Justin’s blog and give him advice as he embarks on this next chapter on his journey as an educator. I then encourage you to reflect on whether you follow your own advice – it is time well spent!