One of my last assignments for this course is a reflective blog post about the ways I’ve been actively growing and strengthening my PLN, both with other COETAIL-ers and beyond, and how this engagement has helped me grow as a collaborator. While the ongoing pandemic and subsequent transition to virtual learning has been challenging in nearly every imaginable way, it’s also created more opportunities than ever before for connecting and collaborating in digital communities. And even after the current course and pandemic are over, I hope to continue the work of engaging in these communities because they’ve been invaluable in getting me through this time of uncertainty and helping me grow in so many ways. Let’s have a look at some of the ways I’ve been growing and strengthening my PLN throughout the last few months and what my big takeaways have been.
My COETAIL Tribe
The decision to enroll in COETAIL and my commitment to its completion have been without a doubt the best I’ve made since graduate school. I have grown and been challenged in so many ways through my interactions with people in this (and previous) cohorts. Throughout this course specifically, I have turned to several members of cohort 11 with questions or seeking support. And while I haven’t been good about leaving comments on their blogs this course (hangs head in shame), our interactions have morphed into other virtual spaces and become even stronger.
This is particularly true for my interactions with David and Boramy because we are all China-based educators who coach others and have been grappling with things that are unique to only us like website restrictions among others. Conversations between the three of us began in January when we foolishly thought this would only last a couple of weeks. They have continued on Twitter where we celebrate and encourage each other when COETAIL milestones are reached or we need a little push.
But my continued engagement and interactions with other COETAIL-ers is not limited to those above; most of cohort 11 was able to meet in late March for a live chat on Zoom to talk about how things were going with the course and our work once others had received word they would be moving classes online. The small group of us were able to compare notes and share our experiences given that we were in different places on the journey. Here is the recording of that conversation.
Another COETAIL connection was made when I found myself in an online chat in April co-hosted by Ryan, a fellow cohort 11 member. This was exciting for me because there were so many familiar faces in that one chat. It felt for a minute like I was catching up with old friends, the thing I love most about #PubPD.
One final connection I want to note here about my interactions with other COETAIL-ers involves a new member and someone I’m always inspired by, Cindy Kaardal. Our connection predates COETAIL back when we worked for sister schools in Ho Chi Minh City and collaborated in professional development sessions and PubPD meets. She messaged me in January to inquire about whether I would recommend COETAIL over the ISTE certification or UoP degree program as she had been weighing her options.
While I recommended both, I definitely found COETAIL to be a greater opportunity for professional growth and told her as such. She is now in Cohort 12 and I follow her blog even more than I did before. One of the posts she produced in Course 1 was about how she and her grade level had adapted book clubs for virtual learning. This post came in handy when a teacher I work with was looking to do just that!
Besides the ongoing interactions with my COETAIL tribe, I’ve been working on growing and strengthening my PLN in other ways as well. For the last couple of months, I’ve been working to build a community of PYP educators and coordinators around the world who are currently supporting students in the first virtual exhibition. This all happened somewhat organically when I posted on Twitter in early March about what preparing and leading exhibition looks like during online learning. Meanwhile, our AISG grade 5 team and PYP Coordinator, Lydia Van Berkhout, began having the same conversations on Facebook and in meetings. We drafted a survey and sent it out through different social media channels and the response was overwhelming. From there, it felt right to be the organizer of a community effort if enough people expressed interest, so that’s what we did. Here’s what’s come from that initial post:
A Collaborative Padlet for virtual exhibition
One of the online community spaces we set up for this community of educators and coordinators was a shared Padlet where people could crowdsource and share resources for carrying out this herculean effort over the coming weeks.
A Slack channel with 200+ members
Supporting people with resources was helpful, but we wanted to give people additional opportunities to connect with people who were in the same region, time zone, country or stage of the exhibition. I was familiar with Slack because it’s what we use to connect as PubPD facilitators and works nicely for topic-based chatting and virtual message board. Within a week of setting it up, over a hundred people joined and began sharing ideas and asking questions. As we approach the two-month mark, we now have over 200 people connected. It’s been a great success.
Weekly Zoom chats
Padlets and Slack channels are great for the asynchronous sharing of ideas and resources, but there’s no substitution for live conversations. We wanted to engage in discussions with people and feel connected to others who were in the same situation, so we set up Zoom meetings twice a week to span different time zones and create a virtual space for people to come together. These chats have been both draining and rewarding as the weeks go by and no two chats are the same. This week, we will be hosting meeting #15 and #16, and we hope they continue to add value to people’s exhibition experiences. Because people are busy, we record these chats and post them on Slack for others if they are interested. It’s been somewhat a labor of love but we’re happy to engage with others in this way.
Webinar for Toddle
Another opportunity that came from this continued engagement on Slack, Padlet and Twitter was a live webinar through Toddle, a platform supporting PYP educators with inquiry-centered planning, assessments and portfolios. Yo me, this is proof positive of the power of a strong PLN. Without having engaged with others throughout various stages and channels, I never would have been able to collaborate in this capacity with others. The recorded webinar and corresponding blog post can be found here.
So What, Now What?
As I wrap up this post and look back on all of the ways I’ve grown as a collaborator, I feel proud. I’m proud of my efforts to connect with others. I’m proud of my hard work and commitment to my professional growth, to this COETAIL course, to the educators I serve and to all the communities I belong. I’m proud of my confidence and the way I’ve started to recognize leadership qualities in myself.
But proud doesn’t mean I have it all figured out; rest assured I don’t. It’s just that in being able to notice and name that feeling is helping pave the way from here. For now, that road is continuing to grow and strengthen my PLN connections, finishing out the rest of this course and coming out the other side of this school year a stronger and more reflective educator.