Lincoln did it right, surrounding himself with people who would question his opinion and provide passionate and sometimes contrary perspectives of their own. He didn’t call it a “mastermind group,” as Andrew Carnegie would a few decades later, or a “creative council” as Thomas Edison would dub the diverse personalities in his inner circle. Many of us have our own group of people we bounce ideas off, either publicly through social media, formally in a professional learning community, or informally through phone calls, emails, or meetings over coffee. I’m blessed to have all three, and use them weekly as I navigate the waters of being a middle school principal.
My Professional Learning Network (PLN) isn’t anything formal or particularly unified. Not unlike the ragtag fugitive fleet of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica show, it’s the Twitter feeds and blogs of educators from across the globe that I travel with …in pursuit of that glittering planet of progress. As different as we all are (some working in small schools, some big, some without brick and mortar schools at all), the educators I follow and interact with online each provide me with perspective that helps me be the best I can be. Some I’ve met only a time or two, at an EdCamp or conference; some are people I work with every week, colleagues from other schools and our district office; and some I’ve never met in person, but consider professional colleagues (and even kindred spirits) who I hope to sit down with someday face to face.
There’s a saying that PLNs are like friends and PLCs are like family. We choose our Professional Learning Network, but our Professional Learning Community is usually the result of proximity with others at our school. At Diegueño, I’m fortunate to have a great professional family. Creative, collaborative, and curious, the teachers and others who make up my PLC have the courage to speak honestly, disagree with respect, and stay focused on finding solutions. I’m a fellow of discretion, so I won’t name names, but when “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” the voices I seek out for advice always give me much to think about. The common denominator of my onsite creative council isn’t credentialing or position; it’s a passion for helping kids and a commitment to speaking the truth …even if the boss doesn’t share that opinion. Maybe especially then.
And for the times I need advice, consolation, or just an ear to hear, a constellation of educators fill my night sky, always pointing true north. Some have never been in the same room: the teacher from Richmond, the assistant principal from LA, the EL Coordinator from San Rafael. Some know each other well: my first admin team consisted of me, Lars, and Justin, and while we can’t see each other every day as we once did, I still lean on them when it matters. Physical distance doesn’t mean as much as it once did, and I know that someone to talk with is just a text, phone call, or email away.
I’m thankful for this interconnected world. Unlike Lincoln, Carnegie, or Edison, my creative council is always there. My mistakes are my own, and I try to use every one to get better, but my potential to succeed is improved by the many, many people and perspectives I have the privilege to know and draw wisdom from every day.