An educator and community manager outlines some great ways to stay connected.
GUEST COLUMN | by Ann Crilley
For educators across the country, September does not signal the end of summer, but rather a continuation of our efforts to support the success of all students. While school was out over the summer, we attended workshops, participated in conferences, and stayed connected to our fellow educators through our involvement in various professional learning communities (PLCs).
While educators are by nature predisposed to worrying about others before they address their own needs, now is the time to be selfish about personal growth. As a new school year begins and your responsibilities again increase, I encourage you to continue learning, sharing and connecting with your PLC, or if you are not yet participating in a PLC, I urge you to join a learning community that will enrich not only your professional practice, but all facets of your life.
‘I urge you to join a learning community that will enrich not only your professional practice, but all facets of your life.’
For many, selecting the right PLC to join is often the largest barrier to participation. In my previous life as public school educator—first as a high school math teacher and then as an instructional technology facilitator—I was surrounded by educators who helped me sort through my many options and to find the best fit for me. My first suggestion is to ask trusted friends and colleagues for their PLC recommendations. If you need additional help in selecting a PLC, here are six more steps you can take to find the best community for you:
- Spend some time thinking about the topics of and the goals you’d like to get from your perfect PLC. Are you looking for others who do exactly what you do? Are you interested in connecting with others to learn something new? When I was looking for a community, I was a high school math teacher, so of course I wanted to connect with others in that field (Shoutout to #mtbos community on X!), but I was also interested in learning more about technology in the classroom, so I searched for ways to connect with other educators to learn more about education technology.
- Think about the current edtech products you use in the classroom. Many companies have their own educator communities designed to support you. Is there a product or two that you (or your students) absolutely love to use in the classroom? Explore those companies to see if they offer PLCs that might be a fit for you. For example, my company offers the Discovery Educator Network, one of the longest standing communities in the edtech universe. Apple also offers their own PLC, as does ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education. There are many other options, so start by looking at the products you already know and love, as they could be an easy entryway into your first, or new favorite, PLC.
- Explore all types of communities. In addition to the more formal PLCs, there’s also very informal communities — Facebook Groups, X and TikTok hashtags, LinkedIn Groups. etc. The #mtbos community on X is absolutely thriving and is a great way to be inspired by others. Other subjects and topics have their own groups and hashtags that you can find and join.
- Reflect on how much time and effort you want to spend in this community. Most communities are open-door and let you be as involved as you’d like to be. They recognize that your free time ebbs and flows throughout the school year, so you have freedom to do what you can, when you can. But some will have requirements of how much you need to do to stay in from year to year and some may even have a rigorous application process. Be sure you are looking into all of that before joining a community to ensure it’s the right fit timewise.
- Lurk if you feel like it. Once you join, don’t get overwhelmed! There will likely be lots of information and opportunities. You may be ready to jump in and, if so, do it! But, if it’s overwhelming, I strongly encourage you to lurk! Click around, read posts, grab links, and get inspired. Don’t feel like you must contribute right away. It’s okay to lurk, borrow ideas, and go try them in your classroom. Once you get the lay of the land, you can find a place where you can share your knowledge. And remember, there are other lurkers in there just getting started — you don’t have to have some grandiose huge idea/project to share —it can be something small and still be life changing for someone else!
- Stay connected. Throughout the school year, your free time will fluctuate as you take on different roles at your school or district, but even when your free time is non-existent, I strongly encourage you to still set aside an hour every few weeks to touch base with your community. You might find that the next inspiration or an easy lesson to integrate with little effort! Communities are great for saving you time in the long run. And, when you have some extra time to devote to the community — take advantage of their opportunities! Attend their webinars and events, write the blog, connect with someone else in your grade band, and brainstorm a lesson. It will return ten-fold to you professionally, impact student engagement in your classroom, and help others in your PLC.
Thanks to technology, our choices in professional learning experiences are not limited by time or proximity. Social media and the internet empowers us to join the group (or groups!) that work for us and participate when and where we like. Take the first step and find a professional learning community that is right for you.
Ann Crilley is Discovery Education’s Senior Manager of Community Engagement. Prior to joining Discovery Education, Ann taught in North Carolina’s Rowan-Salisbury Schools and Cabarrus County Schools. Connect with Ann on LinkedIn.