A Running Start with Your PLN to Edcamp Rewards

I felt like I’d been shot from a cannon. Edcamp was the crescendo of a story I’d already begun telling.

The energy in the room was palpable, and I felt like a lightning rod in a thunderstorm. I had big ideas about how to organize lessons around authentic phenomena. A recent conversation about standards-based grades has me thinking about how I promoted student mastery using grades as feedback. I also had questions, like, “What could making look like in a 2nd grade classroom?” When we were building the board of the day’s topics, I felt a sense of purpose as I made my selections.

I was surprised by how quickly I built momentum. I realized that my personal learning network  (PLN) had given me a running start for this year’s Edcamp. Building your own PLN can help you catch fire faster at the next Edcamp, and adding another resource can make anybody’s network more rewarding.

Build a PLN with many voices (including your own). The diverse perspectives are the greatest strength of your network.

The foundation of any effective community is people. Twitter is an excellent way to meet new people, but that network should be anchored in professionals who you trust. Educators with whom you share your core values. Humans who will ask questions, share their perspective, and disagree when appropriate. I’ve got some really awesome people supporting me (shout out Olathe East science department). On this foundation we will build!

I’ve been amazed by how meaningful my growth has been since I’ve expanded my PLN to include more professional sources. I’ve been hosting an education podcast for about a year now and I’m floored by the dynamic community that has grown around this medium. Our most recent episode included a discussion of Dr. Eve Manz’s paper on professional development, and her supportive, collaborative attitude led to a connection on Twitter. That interaction propelled a conversation in our Edcamp session on making (check out the discussion on Two Pint PLC, and her paper).

I’ve also been a voracious podcast consumer, and I find that the new connections feed into the discussion when we all come together. Brad Shreffler had a recent episode with Rick Wormeli (The Planning Period Podcast) and it prepared me for a rich conversation on student mastery, John Spencer did an episode on design thinking (The Creative Classroom) that aligned well with my own work on the design process, and Angela Watson did an episode a while ago (Truth for Teachers) that helped me have more challenging conversations about growth mindset in the classroom.

Connect with voices on a topic that is important to participants. Build space for those relationships to grow.

These folks are, almost universally, ready to connect and collaborate on Twitter and they will be valuable members of anyone’s PLN. Find a way to offer some value before an event to get the ball rolling: host a Twitter hashtag, be a guest on a podcast, or contribute to a related blog or forum. Whatever you’re sharing, make sure it’s useful on its own. Enrich the practice of teachers who will be attending, and the audience who can’t be there.

When you choose what to share, communicate with the hosts that they will have a chance to build on the topic at an up-coming Edcamp. Ask the leaders of the hashtag if they can visit a session (remote presence can make it possible to chat with anyone) to continue conversations that began the previous week. Invite the podcasters to live tweet with a session that is discussion the topic of the episode (you could even use a projector to show a “tweet stream” throughout the session).

One of the greatest values of Edcamp is how it is driven by participants. Remember to stay flexible and responsive to what the participants need. Empower them with space, time and tools so they can develop a conversation that starts. An event that prepares participants to connect with a broader PLN can have an impact on students all year long.

Michael Ralph serves as a master teacher with the Center for STEM Learning at the University of Kansas. Ralph works with preservice teachers in the UKanTeach program while he provides educational support for STEM teachers in and around the Kansas City area. Ralph also hosts Two Pint PLC, an education podcast, and work as an officer for the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers. He has also authored two instructional books on biology education and taught in a high school for eight years.