As a teacher in the MetroWest of Boston, my professional learning was EVERYWHERE–the immediate network of teachers and PLCs around me, a robust district professional learning program, and first-class trainings and workshops out of district. Now that I am the professional learning coordinator, though, I’m in a stand-alone position in Central Office. I have no job-alikes in the district, no PLCs to be part of; I get to sample tons of professional learning for educators, but (most of the time) it’s no longer directly applicable to my position. Where do I get my professional learning now?
In this first year, I’m finding the answer to that question is in the networks we create. I have two networks that have guided me, sustained me, and contributed greatly to my growth and development as professional learning coordinator. Interestingly, both networks bridge a personal/professional sphere, shifting and telescoping to be what I need, when I need them.
The first network has been a horizontal(ish) one: I’m lucky enough to live in close proximity to several other districts that also have PL coordinators; six of us meet monthly as a job-alike group. We share what’s going on in our respective professional worlds; we trade resources on everything professional learning, and reach out to one another when we encounter a question in our home districts. Our job titles are all slightly different, and our responsibilities vary from district to district, but I have found this group to be hugely important to my professional growth. Networking with my job-alike group has helped me identify questions I didn’t know I needed to ask, close gaps in my understanding of the bigger picture in state education policy, and offers a fantastic barometer of what’s trending in our area in terms of professional learning. In addition to all those benefits, occasionally the discussion shifts to venting about some of the frustrations of the job–not in an unhealthy way, but in a way that helps me remember that working with humans is not always easy and I’m not the only one who struggles sometimes. And then last month, we went down a rabbit hole and debated the nuances of supervision and evaluation as a tool for improvement–most of us don’t have a huge role in the district supervision and evaluation systems, but collegial debate amongst professionals with different perspectives is a learning opportunity that I don’t think we get to engage in often enough. It’s FUN, too!
The key piece about my job-alike group is that it is a space for flexible support–I have found it to be true professional learning and development. The group members themselves hold a wealth of resources and connections that I can draw from to improve upon the work I do in my district. They each have different experiences and perspectives that push my thinking forward and open me to new ideas. Finally, they are kind, caring people who love education and professional learning, and make time each month to share their expertise and passion with someone new to the job.
I did say there were two networks that I draw from for professional learning– I’ll save that second network for another day! If you’re in a stand-alone position, how do you find your professional learning networks? Please share!