Reading through accounts from learning coaches brings forth a common problem coaches face: overcoming isolation and maintaining effectiveness. Professional Learning Networks can be immensely important tools for education professionals in this effort. Networks allow professionals to develop connections that provide “a vast array of knowledge and information from other professionals across the globe” (Meader, 2018).
While teachers can easily develop a formal Professional Learning Community within their buildings due to their greater numbers in a single location, instructional coaches are often unable to do so because they are frequently the only coach in their building. Learning coaches need for connection and support to perfect their skills is similar to that of the teachers with whom they work: “just as we know that teachers need coaching support after a PD to make changes in their practice, coaches, too, need this ongoing support to keep their skills sharp in order to be able to meet the ever-changing needs of today’s teachers” (Moreland, 2019). Instructional Coaches may find that network for ongoing training and networking through district-wide in person networks, by attending conferences and events, or through digital means online.
Face To Face Networks
Professional Learning networks can occur in person at district-wide meetings, conferences and other events where learning coaches come together to grow and gain expertise. For example, “many ICs within school districts will conduct monthly coaches meetings, with dedicated time to split off and coach in groups of two or triads for meta coaching” (Groskin, 2021).
One benefit of face to face professional learning networks is that they remove the hurdle of the generational divide, allowing instructional coaches who have strong skills and experience to work alongside coaches who are digital natives without the obstacle of a medium with which they may otherwise struggle. Further, they allow coaches to provide in-person support and feedback that may be more difficult or impossible online. In-person networks can often lead to online network connections as follow up.
Advances in digital communication technology have increased methods by which coaches can connect online “in particular, social media has exploded with PLN opportunities that allow teachers to overcome time and distance barriers to connect with educators from around the globe” (AVID, 2021). Without these barriers, coaches have greater reach and ability to gain perspective and expertise easily outside of their district. An additional benefit is to increase the speed at which changes in educational theory can reach the individuals best suited to support teachers as they implement these changes.
The platforms by which professionals can connect online change over time, for example, a 2018 list includes “Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Google +, and Pinterest” (Meader, 2018). However, in the last three years, Google+ shut down, and other platforms have found increasing use (Gismondi, 2021). Although the platform names may change, Dene Poth explains that “these platforms create a space for educators to stay informed about issues in education, brainstorm ideas for bringing about change in teaching practices, and fostering new connections” (2020).
When choosing online platforms for building a personal learning network, coaches benefit from the plethora of resources on all platforms. Because of the way in which digital platforms encourage the free sharing of ideas, “the key is finding a platform you’re comfortable with and that helps to propel your practices to the next level” (Groskin,2021).
In Person and Online Networks
Whether in-person or online, some aspects of successful professional learning networks remain the same. For example, professionals frequently cite the importance of safety as an essential element for discussion, feedback and improvement in skill (Prenger, 2020). Another element that frequently appears is the idea of active participation and reflection through PLNs as an essential element of refining “current practices and develop[ing] new ideas and beliefs to utilize in the future” (Reischl, 2018).
Most studies regarding preferences in professional learning network style and format center around teachers. For example, the results of one study “indicates that teachers’ experience of professional learning through a PLN is highly personal, with variation depending upon their individual learning purposes, characteristics as a learner, and the structure of their PLN” (Oddone, 2019). Teachers, and by extension coaches, have differing motives and methods for participating in their professional learning networks, which in turn impacts their needs and experience. Some may be best served online and others in-person. The best PLN medium for each individual learning coach may be specific to their needs, personality, and methods of accessing support.
AVID Center. (2021, August 2). Join a Professional Learning Network. AVID Open Access. https://avidopenaccess.org/resource/plug-into-a-professional-learning-network/
Dene Poth, R. (2020). Professional Learning Networks and Mentoring in Education. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 36(2), 80–81. https://doi.org/10.1080/21532974.2020.1739491
Gismondi, A. (2021, August 24). Top 27 Social Media Apps for Your 2021 Strategy. Kubbco. https://www.kubbco.com/top-27-social-media-apps-for-your-2021-strategy/
Groskin, C., & Christensen, V. (2021, August 10). 3 Ways to Build Your PLN as a New IC. Teach Boost. https://blog.teachboost.com/3-ways-to-build-your-pln-as-a-new-ic
Meader, D. (2018, July 6). 10 Paths Teachers Can Follow to Grow and Improve. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ways-to-enhance-personal-growth-and-development-for-teachers-3194353
Moreland, K., & Dennis, J. (2019, January 3). Launching a Virtual PLC for Instructional Coaches | The International Educator (TIE Online). The International Educator. https://www.tieonline.com/article/2489/launching-a-virtual-plc-for-instructional-coaches
NCTE. (2018, September 6). Professional and Personal Learning Networks. https://ncte.org/blog/2016/04/professional-and-personal-learning-networks/
Oddone, K., Hughes, H., & Lupton, M. (2019). Teachers as Connected Professionals: A Model to Support Professional Learning Through Personal Learning Networks. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(3). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/4082/5109
Prenger, R., Poortman, C. L., & Handelzalts, A. (2020). Professional learning networks: From teacher learning to school improvement? Journal of Educational Change, 22(1), 13–52. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10833-020-09383-2#citeas
Reischl, N. G. A. V. (2018, January 1). Professional Development via Social Media – Igniting Your Teaching with Educational Technology. Pressbooks. https://edd7032017f2.pressbooks.com/chapter/6/