The Value of a PLN For New Music Educators
By Julie Manfredi
If you had asked me 4 years ago what professional development was and what it could do for me, I would have probably given you a blank stare. As a brand new college graduate, I was completely consumed with preparing my resume, applying and interviewing for jobs, and trying to secure a career in my dream position. Professional development fell pretty far down on my list of things that needed to get done.
Little did I know that even as a fledgling teacher, attending conferences and workshops, joining professional organizations, and developing a PLN (Professional Learning Network) would become some of the most important steps that I could take. I cannot put into words the amount of support and resources that I have gained through these connections. Here are just a few things that I learned on my journey that may be useful to you:
Develop a PLN
Your first few years of teaching are completely overwhelming and chocked full of planning, organizing, and adapting. I was fortunate to get a job (and a contract!) in a wonderful district right out of college, but I was moved to 4 different positions in 4 years! This most recent move was to my now permanent position in an elementary school – a complete change from my first three years in middle school. This would have been my toughest, as well as loneliest switch, if it hadn’t been for my PLN.
I have heard the acronym PLN used as both a Professional Learning Network and a Personal Learning Network – I like to think that it’s a combination of both. My PLN is full of wonderful people that are willing to answer questions, give advice and share resources, as well as offer a kind word or listen to one of my rants. I have met a few members of my PLN in person, but the majority of them have never seen my face or heard my voice. Barbara from Teaching Village said, “The teachers in my Personal Learning Network are some of the best friends I’ll never meet” and I couldn’t agree more!
So how does one go about starting a PLN? Put yourself out there! Use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to locate like-minded people.
- On Facebook, the recently formed Music Teachers group has already accepted 1,600 members! With a community that size, there is always someone willing to answer your question, recommend a resource or sympathize with a bad day.
- On Twitter, music educators use hash tags such as #mused chat, #mused, #musiced, #mpln, and #musedmot (music ed motivation) to ask for advice, share resources, and commiserate. Every Monday night at 8pm EST, there is a moderated chat through the #musedchat hash tag. Because of school obligations, I have missed some of the most recent chats, but I am looking forward to getting back into them – it is such a great way to start off your week!
- So many music educators have created profiles on Google+! Doing a quick search will bring up tons of names that you can add to your circles to build your contact base. In fact, Justine Dolorfino has created a circle of over 100 music educators that she shares on Google+ – click HERE to view and add the circle to your own page!
Perhaps one of the biggest things that beginners forget to do is to INTERACT! The great thing about PLNs is that everyone has something to offer, even beginners. I learned very quickly that even though I thought I was clueless, some of my resources or ideas were new to others. Having a PLN is like having 24/7 professional development at your fingertips – don’t become a taker without giving back to these wonderful new friends!
Conferences and Workshops
I would love to have a bottomless bank account so I could make attending conferences and workshops a full-time hobby! Not only do these events provide you with countless resources that can be immediately used in the classroom, but they also give you a chance to broaden your PLN. Meeting new people, exchanging information, and creating contacts can be as invaluable as the resources that you collect.
Nafme, the National Association for Music Education, is a great organization for any music educator to join (you can also follow them on Twitter at @NAfMe). The NAfME website provides resources, discussion boards, advocacy links and job opportunities to those that are a part of the organization. It also has statewide chapters that offer workshops. Attending these workshops and taking advantage of the discussion boards that are offered will help you to meet and mingle with other music educators throughout the country, consequently multiplying your PLN. Always be willing to share you social media info or email address so that you can continue to communicate with your new found colleagues.
AOSA, the American Orff Schulwerk Association, is another wonderful resource for music educators, and my personal favorite when it comes to professional organizations. AOSA also has local branches that offer workshops – these events foster a wonderful feeling of community and provide irreplaceable resources and activities that are classroom-ready. I attend monthly workshops held by my local Orff chapter, and I have been able to meet local music educators with the same mindset and goals as myself. Not only have I been able to add all of these wonderful people to my PLN, but our bond has been strengthened by getting together fairly regularly to share ideas and learn together.
If you ask me today what I think is the most important thing to do as a new teacher I would be quick to answer: BUILD A PLN! Using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ as well as professional organizations at the local and national level will help you to find and meet a plethora of music educators willing to share ideas and see what you have to offer. Resources, support, advice, laughs – what more could you ask for? I don’t know what I would have done without the constant support of my Internet music education family through these last few years. I hope that these tips have inspired you to find that same feeling with your very own PLN!