My very first position as an instructional coach was actually a coach of the coaches….and it was almost twenty years ago when no one was quite sure exactly what a coach was and what he/she did let alone what a coach of the coach did. So, what’s a new coach to do? Find support.  

I started with those around me. I reached out to the other coaches in my area, completed graduate classes on literacy leadership and sought out every workshop and learning experience I could find.

But it wasn’t enough.

I needed more. I needed to talk with other coaches in my position. I needed someone to inspire me so I could inspire my coaches. I needed someone to show me the ropes, so I could show others, too. And since the things I needed weren’t geographically close, I had to lead my own learning in other ways.

So, I started cultivating a personal learning network to lead my own learning with the help of technology and social media. A personal learning network (PLN) is a vibrant ever-changing group of connections where teachers both share and learn, reflecting their own values, passions and areas of expertise (Crowley, 2014). And almost twenty years later, I’m still growing my PLN and have dedicated my entire career to supporting those who lead the learning of others to help them do the same.

Crowley (2014) likens a PLN to the waves that ripple out when dropping a rock into a body of water:
  • The smallest inner ring represents the educators we work with on a daily, and often in-person, basis. They understand our teaching contexts, work alongside us and provide the day-to-day support and camaraderie that only close colleagues provide.
  • The middle ring represents those we connect with that have the same passions and interests as we do. These connections might be found in our own schools, but often, are those that we meet and connect with because of our professional interests: educators we meet at book clubs, professional conferences or workshops. These opportunities and educators fuel our passions and motivate our continued work.
  • The outer layer comprises the professionals and researchers we look up to and learn from. While physically the farthest away, with the help of technology and digital tools, we can easily connect and learn from those that are leading our field.
If we consciously spend time cultivating those three layers of a PLN, then we can take control of our own learning community and fuel our coaching in ways we might not have thought possible. Here’s how you can boost your own coaching PLN in three easy steps:

Step 1: Create Your Social Media Bio and Audit Your Feed

The first step is to carefully create or refresh your biography on your favorite social media platform. What does it say about who you are as an educator and who you might like to connect with and learn from? Here are a few things you might include to ensure your bio has to better connect with others who could broaden your PLN:
  • Your role in education
  • Your passions and interests
  • Your message about your work
  • Keywords from your niche in education
  • Links to learn more about you
Now remember, you only have 160 characters to create your bio, so think carefully about what you want to say and how you can say it quickly.

Next, it’s time to audit your social media feed. Head to your favorite social media platform and browse the accounts you have previously chosen to follow. First, unfollow any accounts that will not support your mission of being a healthy, happy, productive lifelong learner. And don’t feel guilty about it, either, because we need space to grow, even in our social media feeds.

Then, find at least ten new accounts to follow that have similar roles and interests in education. Simply type your chosen keywords into the search bar and happily browse potential new virtual connections.

After that, find at least ten new accounts to follow that do NOT have similar roles and interests in education. Why? It’s important to surround ourselves with like-minded people to fuel our work, but it’s just as important to surround ourselves with people who can help us think differently and from a new perspective, too.

Step 2: Develop Your Passions and Interests

Now, it’s time to cultivate our PLN around the things that matter most to each of us. To start, follow the professional organizations in your field on your favorite social media platform. Here are a few that I follow to support my literacy coaching:
  • International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
  • The International Literacy Association
  • National Council of Teachers of English
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children
  • Learning Forward
No matter what content you coach for, we all have professional organizations that can fuel our work. Having a membership to these organizations is ideal, but simply following their social media feeds yields rich content and information to boost our own learning and ultimately share with teachers.

Facebook groups also hold incredible potential for boosting our PLN. Today, I invite you to join my own Facebook group for instructional coaches: Leading by Learning. It’s a special space for instructional coaches who understand that in order to lead well, we must remain lifelong learners ourselves. Just answer the 3 quick membership questions and then I’ll let you right in!

Lastly, it’s time to explore Pinterest through the lens of a coach. As your first step, I invite you to take a look at my Pinterest coaching boards. I’ve got a board for every aspect of my coaching and I link to all of my related blogs posts, podcasts and tips, tools and hacks. Take a look here!

Step 3: Connect with Mentors and Leaders

Finally, it’s time to connect with the mentors and leaders who could inspire our work. And I have two favorite ways to do just that: with Bloglovin’ and podcasts.

Bloglovin’ is a blog curation tool. Each morning when I wake up, Bloglovin’ sends me a personalized email with all the recent posts from my favorite blogs. Rather than remembering to check my favorite sites, I simply open my email with a cup of coffee and see what’s new. It’s the perfect way to stay up-to-date AND broaden our coaching circles with a simple click of a button. So, if you don’t have an account head, make that your mission today.

Next, it’s time for my second secret weapon in keeping my motivation high and feeling more connected than ever: podcasts. If you had yet to get bitten by the podcast bug, here is your chance. =) Here are my favorite coaching education podcasts to listen to:

The Coaching Sketchnote Book (that’s mine!)
Buzzing with Mrs. B
The Heinemann Podcast
The Cult of Pedagogy
The 10 Minute Teacher Podcast
The Truth for Teachers Podcast

Open the podcast app on your phone and add a few that look promising to you. Now, don’t think you have to stick to coaching/education podcasts either….growing your PLN means honoring ALL interests you have. So if a podcast about fashion, cooking, reading or true crime piques your interest….subscribe to it!

Well, there you have it! Three ways to boost your coaching PLN this summer to return to school refreshed, refueled and ready to coach with joy in your coaching heart.

But there’s one more thing!

I’ve created a 21-day Coaching PLN Challenge to personally coach you through each step of the way. All you have to do is sign up to receive a daily email for 21 days with one little thing to accomplish to build your coaching connections. It’s FREE for the entire summer. What better way to spend the summer than connecting with other coaches who could inspire your work?

Are you looking for more coaching inspiration? Get my newest blog posts, podcasts, special events and more delivered straight to your Inbox. Sign up here!
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