Better Together: United as One

Professional Learning Networks In consideration of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs), it really dawned upon me what a small world it is. A teacher recently shared with me that she still serves as a reference for an individual that she worked with 13 years ago. Sometimes after you leave a place, you have a tendency to just become focused on the here and now, but it is nice to know that you have great connections no matter how far back you go.

There’s Someone Out There I have no idea how many schools I will work at across a career, but it is nice to know that there is someone out there who understands and can offer support from a building/county/state/or even country afar. I think this will especially be key in these earlier years in the profession and I hope that I will utilize these resources despite the inevitably of being buried in other tasks. “…the loneliness and isolation I felt as a new teacher has dissipated because I have found a community that supports me no matter what I might be grappling with in my practice” (Rodesiler, et. al. 2014). What encouragement it is to know that not only can I find this type of aid online (English Companion Ning, #engchat,) but also with other professionals in-person at events/workshops hosted by (NCTE, GCTE, Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project, etc….) Such can also be accomplished on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn (connect with me there at the link below).

My Past/Present Network
  • Teachers, secretaries, clerks, administrators, and para pros that I met and established professional relationships with during my substitute and supply teaching journeys.
  • My 1st Cohort at Kennesaw State University (I am doing an altered version of the Masters of Arts in Teaching Secondary English program that will provide me with the affordance of having two cohorts…more people to meet/have in my professional network!)
  • Professors from the Department of English and Bagwell College of Education at Kennesaw State University.
My Future PLNs:
  • Professionals that I will meet in the high school and middle school placement of my Year-long Clinical Experience (YCE).
  • My 2nd Cohort at KSU (Fall 2019/Spring 2020)
  • The 2-3 remaining professors that I will have in the final year of my graduate program.
  • Professionals that I will meet wherever I land a job for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Professionals that I will meet from other schools within the county that I find employment (and neighboring systems).
  • Professionals who connect with me on LinkedIn.

Using Technology to Map My PLNs I have captured the above networks using mind-mapping tool, XMind: ZEN (see mine of my PLN below). To use the tool, you must download it from their website. It costs $1.24 (mobile) – $4.99 (mobile/desktop) a month, however, there is a limited free version. This version allows you to add topics (I chose- Schools, KSU, and Beyond), subtopics (here I broke down the names of schools/position titles), and draw relationships between different items on your map (I linked my YCE placement school from “Schools” to grad school under “KSU”). 2 other free features to use that I chose not to employ- summary and notes. While this presents my past/present/future PLNs in a visually appealing/organized format, I personally prefer the straight-forwardness of bullet-point lists.

Strategy to Expand My PLNs: During breaks (maybe not Thanksgiving and Christmas), I would like to evaluate at least one PLN that I am not implementing into my study and reach out or make plans to initiate that relationship. It may be signing up for a seminar or workshop, joining a certain online group, contributing my own writing on teaching ELA (on this blog or at writerswhocare.blogspot.com ), emailing a former professor questions that I have about my practice, or scheduling lunch with a former cohort member(s).

Mind map of my past/current/future PLNs. Created with XMind: ZEN.


Affordances of Mind-mapping with XMind: ZEN:
  • Allows you to add many topics and subtopics.
  • Users can share their work via PDF, Word, or PNG.
  • Program is easy to navigate. Users can go into the “outliner” view to form the map in a more traditional “bullet points” format.
Constraints of XMind: ZEN:
  • Requires users to download the program onto their PC or phone.
  • Options such as uploading photos to your mind-map are not available on the free/trial program.
  • A non-removable watermark is left present on products produced by the free/trial version.
Suggestions for Using XMind Zen in the Classroom:
  • Mind-mapping would be beneficial for ELA activities such as designing character charts/maps.
  • Could use such as a platform to list strengths and weakness of several arguments.
  • Additionally, mind-mapping could serve as a method of brainstorming topic ideas for writing assignments.
Cautions:
  • XMind: ZEN may not be the best program for students as it requires a system download (unless school computers already have the program ready for student usage).
  • It is important that students/teachers save their map sooner than later (I recommend downloading it by sharing it with yourself as a PDF) because if you do not properly save your work, the trial version will not save/recover it.
  • It is probably best that teachers do not mandate mind-mapping and allow for other forms of organizational diagrams to cater to a variety of learning styles.
Questions for Teachers About Mind-Mapping:
  • Have you used mind-mapping in your classroom? If so, have most students found it to be useful? What have been some of the drawbacks?
  • What is the best FREE mind-mapping program that you have discovered?
  • What types of assignments have you used mind-mapping for with your classes? How often do you think this tool should be employed in the classroom?
  • What advice do you have about maximizing your PLNs?
  • What PLNs do you utilize and which ones have you found to be most beneficial in your practice?

Reference:

Rodesiler, L., Rami, M., Anderson, G., Minnich, C., Kelley, B., & Andersen, S. (2014). Transforming Professional Lives through Online Participation. The English Journal,103(6), 52-58.