Sustaining the Professional Learning Network (PLN): It’s as much personal as professional

If the old saying “a picture is a thousand words” holds true, then this post should be worth at least two-thirds of my usual verbose fifteen-hundred plus musings – as it should be since I invested as least two hours learning to create my first sketchnote (not to mention another hour spent upon revisions) using the Flipink app and a Wacom stylus.

My various experiences in my PLN during the past seven days (a BCTLA-sponsored Webinar, a dinner book Club meeting with teacher-librarian colleagues and friends, informal hallway and office conversations with colleagues, reading and posting via Google Community, Twitter and Facebook) inspired this visual response.

Appropriately, this response evolved as a result of new connection in my PLN, Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth) and Jacques Cool (@zecool), who created and publicly shared an artistic and thought-provoking sketchnote “How to Grow a PLN”  shown and referenced in my previous blog post.

I followed the guidance of a sketchnote resource posted in Google Communities by Duckworth and a helpful Google Site of useful resources for the novice sketch noter to create my illustration.   Although nowhere near as artistically polished as many online examples, my effort does answer the question I posed in my previous blog entry: how can I sustain my PLN? My sketchnote addresses this question in four parts, extending Duckworth and Cool’s garden metaphor.

1) The sunflower: a metaphor for me, and my own growth. The yellow represents my optimism, one of my favorite paintings (Van Gogh’s iconic “Sunflowers”, and personal connections to Slovenia and my grandparents. Sunflowers grow in abundance in the Metlika village where my grandmother grew up and I recall with fondness these stunning flowers from her garden in Nelson, B.C., but I digress. Really, the key analogies include growth – a dynamic process with a variety of environmental conditions necessary to sustain it  – as well as the sharing of learning and growth, represented by the seeds, some of which will be absorbed into the PLN.

Sunflowers in a Slovenian village, Drasici, near Metlika.  Photo by Wendy Burleson
Sunflowers in a Slovenian village, Drasici, near Metlika. Photo by Wendy Burleson

2) The roots: representative of my current PLN foundation – informal and formal networks, and the intertwining  and inextricability of  several tools within this network. That is, although the foundation of every PLN is student learning, personal chat and socialization represents an important element. A few examples. I’m part of a Fitbit challenge with my M.Ed cohort, and enjoy connecting to colleagues personally in the chatroom of our weekly video conferences. These interactions make me feel part of a team and help to reduce stress around course assignments.   At my school, I chat with colleagues during lunch hour walks and conversations in the library office. I’m connected with colleagues on Facebook and Twitter, where I share resources, but also things of personal interest. Such interpersonal connections sustain my motivation to learn with and share with others.

3) The sun and daylight: the sustenance for these roots to thrive on a daily basis – the connections I foster with my colleagues online and in person. That sense of connectedness manifests, for me, in the words I’ve chosen for the sun’s rays. Two colleagues recently remarked that they enjoy collaborating with me because I help them feel supported and validated. Another expressed appreciated for the ideas I suggest for making her re-think and add to her existing research projects.   Although I felt elated receiving this feedback, in truth, this sustenance extends both ways. These rays do not represent only what I attempt to give, but also what I receive from my colleagues. I am fortunate to work in a highly collaborative school with creative, innovative colleagues who inspire me to think within the box – working to improve upon existing strengths – and outside of the box – doing and trying things (like Flipink) that may help me develop directions for change and improvement in my teaching.

Thinking inside and beyond the box;  Jan. 2015 Library display by Wendy Burleson
Thinking inside and beyond the box; Jan. 2015 Library display by Wendy Burleson

4) The moon and night: the personal time I require to implement inspirational ideas.   For me, reading and running are natural and necessary means by which I reflect and recharge – hence the choice of my Twitter profile image @wendyburleson_5. I truly believe that many of my most innovative ideas have originated during a 5-10 km run (not a half-marathon, mind you, as I’m focusing solely upon finishing the race!), especially as I often run “unplugged” free of even my ipod Shuffle, leaving my mind free to muse about quotes, articles, conversations I’ve curated in my mind.   And as for daily reading, well, this is simply my natural element as a teacher-librarian, English teacher, and my personal continuation of a healthy life-long habit.

Today, on Twitter, I enjoyed an inspirational quote by Carl Jung and shared by @Ignitefor Schools Feb. 1, 2015.

Ignite for Schools quote

A serendipitous time for me to read this today, after  creating my sketchnote.   I believe that the quote can apply to “the soul of the teacher” as well.  For me, human feeling, warmth – that sense of personal connectedness –   ultimately drive and sustain my professional learning network.

Sketch note created by Wendy Burleson, Jan. 31, 2015

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