What is a Professional Learning Community and What Can I Get Out of It?

In my 2nd week of my graduate program in Digital Learning and Leading, I was asked to research different learning communities/networks and to join at least two.  As a third year teacher, I was quite surprised at the amount of support there is in these online professional learning networks, and a little embarrassed that I hadn’t even heard of the majority of these!  Prior to this, the extent of my learning communities and networks were YouTube and Pinterest. These were my “go-to” websites for all sorts of inspiration, craft/art activities, fine motor development support, etc.  I was so oblivious to this whole other world of real teacher support.  I began that week researching what a professional learning community is and the benefits of joining them.  Very quickly, I learned that being a member of a PLC has numerous benefits, the main one being the opportunity of “soaking in new ideas and sharing perspectives” (Donovan, 2015), with real teachers around the world.  Research has shown that “learning happens through discussion, reflection, collaborative teamwork” (Donovan, 2015), and through the ability to question and discuss within a community of fellow learners.  This applies not only to our students that we teach in the classroom, but to ourselves as well-because after all, as teachers, we are modeling the concept of being life-long learners.  In their studies, the National Council of Teachers of English (2009) found that by interacting in these learning communities, teacher quality is being enhanced, which in turn enhances student achievement.  They continue to state that “PLCs support the use of formative assessment”, as opposed to only summative assessments, which does not offer a student much room for revision.  This shift that we see in 21st Century education, revolves around the need to have more on-going assessments of descriptive feedback for students and PLCs embrace these ideals of continued, life-long learning.

    My next step was to now search for different professional learning communities to add to my network.  Within the last 2 weeks, I have joined 4 learning communities that have given me a really solid foundation of teacher support.  Listed below are the 4 networks I have joined with some personal thoughts and information about each network that I have gathered within the last 2 weeks:
1. Edutopia– This was the first network that I joined.  I first went to this network because I had noticed that some of our required readings were from Edutopia, so it was a good starting point for me.  Right off the bat, it was very easy to maneuver and it is free to join.  I liked how Edutopia’s vision for students is to “identify and spread innovative, replicable and evidence based approaches” (Edutopia, 2016).  They essentially build on the concept of life long learning and developing the skills students might need to be successful in the 21st Century.  Although this network offers great insight and information to educators, the only downside that I have to mention is that they only focus on grades K-12.  There is no inclusion of Early Childhood, which is where I am in the classroom everyday- and although I have joined the Kindergarten community to get some ideas and sharing from others that I can modify, I’d like to have a network specific for my everyday professional life.  Edutopia does have some great blog posts, discussion forums and presentations, it just requires a little more maneuvering through the website to find these specific posts, but once found, they are a great resource for teachers.
2. edWeb.net– This is the next network that I found and joined, and I LOVE it.  edWeb.net has been a network that I frequently log onto.  What I really love about this network is that it is a great tool for educators who are looking for new ways to improve teaching and learning (edWeb.net, 2016). This network is also free for members to collaborate and share ideas.  In addition to their inclusion of Early Childhood, what I particularly like about edWeb.net are the live webinars that are available with online support.  Upon registering with the network, I immediately followed/joined the “Early Childhood Learning Solutions” and “Game Based Learning” groups.  In the Early Childhood community alone, there is a plethora of knowledge.  I can sit for hours, watching the webinars (which come with completion certificates- great for PD hours!) and presentations offered up by some great speakers.  I feel as though edWeb.net is more relevant to my place of work and professional life, the primary reason being because there is an amazing community devoted to my target grade level.  I also like that the webinar archives is easily seen and accessible here, as well as a preview of their most recent blog post, discussion posts, etc. all on their community home page.
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3. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)–  I just joined ISTE during this past week.  I’ve been hearing so much about this network since starting my graduate program and so I decided to look it up and read more about it.  ISTE has become a very large and credible network- a group of “educators, leaders and experts who are committed to expanding the horizons of education technology” (ISTE, 2016).  After looking around the website, I decided I wanted to join as a member.  For a while I was only able to see two different joining options- a premium level membership at $305 and a basic level membership at $125.  In my mind, the cost of joining really added value to this network for me, but at the same time, I wasn’t ready to spend that kind of money to join a professional learning network.  Finally, I was able to figure out that you could, indeed, join ISTE for free by just clicking “Register”, but I found the pricing information under the “Join” tab to be a little misleading.  Once I was able to get into the network, I went through the process of personalizing my profile.  I was pleased to see many detailed interests and divisions that you could select so that each member of the community can have a really personalized experience and see information, articles and posts that apply to them.
4. Teaching Channel– This network has been one of my favorite finds! The first thing I did when going to the Teaching Channel was read their mission statement.  Their mission is “to create an environment where teachers can watch, share, and learn new techniques to help every student grow” (TCH, 2016).  At the Teaching Channel, they know that video has become almost a necessity for helping teachers see a “broad range of approaches for working with students and for fostering self reflection” (TCH, 2016).  On the homepage, I saw active topics in Math, Science and Language Arts.  The photos and snippets just captured my attention so I immediately joined.  TCH is a free learning network, and upon registering, you can select the school you teach at, along with the subjects and grade levels that you teach.  Also in your profile, is your own very own workspace, which is sort of like your own virtual bulletin or cork board.  You are able to add the “Save to Tch” button to your browser tool bar, so that whenever you come across anything on the web that you want to save, be it a video, article, blog post, etc, you can virtually save it to your work space.  I look at is as “pinning” it to your cork board.  I’ve been a member of this community for four days and I have spent more time on this network that any of the other ones.  I have loved going through the videos that have been filtered to my preferences.  There is just so much information and knowledge that has been shared and I like how I can combine what is on TCH to what I find anywhere online and have it all in one place for me to come back to.
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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed researching and joining these PLCs.  As of right now, I have been a strict consumer of information.  Since it is all so new to me, I am absorbing all of the information that is available to me from my peers around the world.  As I reflect on my activity in the communities, Teaching Channel has been for most interactive for me.  I have watched and taken notes on many videos already under the Pre-K tab, on topics such as fine motor, behavior and assessment.  and I’ve also been able to really play with my workspace.  During these last couple of weeks, I have found a handful of blogs that I’d like to follow, and what I’ve done is save these blog pages to my “lesson planner” in my workspace on TCH.  It has been so much fun customizing my own workspace and adding pages and links in the lesson planner so I can have it all in one place.
Donovan, Jody. (2015). The Importance of Building Online Learning Communities. Colorado State University Online. 
Retrieved from: http://blog.online.colostate.edu/blog/online-education/the-importance-of-building-online-learning-communities/
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). (2009). Teacher Learning Communities.
Retrieved from: http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CC/0202-nov2010/CC0202Policy.pdf

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