A GLN Before My PLN…The Power of Networking

I had a interesting epiphany yesterday while home on vacation, which really reinforced for me the importance of PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) and why they are so valuable.  Indulge me for just a moment as I build some context about my own early experiences with networks and their value in supporting learning.

Thomas Martellone and PrinceLike most kids, I was no different in that I loved learning.  I was a voracious reader, searching out information on Bigfoot, Loch Ness, and many other subjects that provided my sense of curiosity something to “dig into”.  When I was about 12 years old, I met my extended family in Louisiana for the very first time.  How was it I had gone for 12 years and never knew I had four cousins, and an aunt and uncle that were as excited to meet me as I was to meet them?  It was on that first trip that I was unknowingly launched into one of the most fascinating hobbies and a journey of a lifetime that would build my early PLN (GLN) back in the late 80’s.  

My aunt was an avid genealogist when we met, and eager to share with me her research about our family. I can’t say that I jumped on board immediately, seeing that I was only 12 years old, but as I mentioned previously, I was always curious and an eager learner, so I listened to what she shared with me about genealogy research and I listened closely to the stories she told me about our family.  Within a few years, my interest in genealogy and family history grew, and before I knew it, I was totally hooked.

Martellono Family Arizona 1911As I write this, it is hard to believe that I’ve been working on my family history for 33 years now!  It seems like just yesterday, I was listening to the stories, dabbling here and there, just trying to figure out how all the puzzle pieces fit.  Over the years, my research has brought me into contact with many, many people, some who have been related in some form, and many that were helpers along the way.  I’ve had people that I’ve been distantly related to and we’ve stayed in contact for over 20 years, sharing findings, pictures, documents, and stories.  Some folks have been helpers, giving phone numbers, looking up quick documents, and some even as kind as going to a cemetery in Texas and photographing a gravestone for me since I live so far away (Boston).

Two days ago, I connected with a gentleman through Ancestry DNA and he was able to share information with me that connected me to another line of my family and helped me get back two more generations!  Our sharing took place via Ancestry messaging and then E-mail.  It was amazing.  It was in that moment that I realized I had been working with an early PLN/GLN (Genealogy Learning Network) for the past 33 years!  Right along, I had been part a learning network, much like the PLN I belong to now professionally!  My GLN provided me the following:

  • Networking with like minded individuals that had similar beliefs, successes and challenges
  • Opportunities for discussion, research, problem solving and inquiry
  • New and available resources and sharing of resources
  • New learning and research techniques
Shared from hacklibraryschool.com
Shared from hacklibraryschool.com

I don’t think I ever realized this was an early PLN due to my immersion in the research and work.  My participation in a great Twitter chat yesterday alongside my working on my genealogy made me realize that my PLN affords me the same opportunities as my GLN.  The interactions I’ve had with my genealogy network have shown me the importance of being networked and have proven that the collective power of networking professionally can provide some of the most limitless learning that can take place!  

Of course I’ll continue to work on my genealogy and family history as I’ve done for the past 33 years, and I’ll also continue to network with those people that I can support and that can help support my research as well.  It is always about sharing resources and ideas.  As I continue that work, I’ll also continue to capitalize on the power of my PLN in regards to my professional life as a school administrator.  After reflecting on the amazing discoveries I’ve made with my GLN, I know that my PLN can help me do anything I set my mind to, and that I too, can help support other administrators and educators as well.  

John Edwin Courtney & Mary Elizabeth Harper Courtney Circa 1873
John Edwin Courtney & Mary Elizabeth Harper Courtney Circa 1873

If you aren’t a part of a PLN, I welcome you to join me and the people in my network.  They’re great educators, thinkers, innovators, and people that are working to make a difference for students.  I know from my GLN the power of collective thinking, so don’t wait, and be sure to be building your PLN today!  If you’re also a genealogy buff, let’s connect!  I’m always interested in learning and sharing!  I can be reached at tommartellone@gmail.com



Leading and Learning

After a brief hiatus from my blog writing (the Administrative” Spring rush” and then the summer unwind), I am back at school and back online thinking about the upcoming year.  I didn’t really take a break from leadership over the summer, as I worked a bit from home, continued to watch news around educational issues and most importantly, still thought about school and my work.  With the impending start of school right around the corner, it has me thinking about how much I love the time just before school starts.  There is that “buzz” around getting things ready and getting things done in the school to welcome children back.  The fact of the matter is; I love being a school leader.  I love working with children, teachers, parents, and other school community members that contribute to a worthy cause, which is educating children.  And despite the period of upheaval that is currently taking place in education, I still love leading my school and helping to make a difference for children.

Shared from Frank Belzer's blog, The Sales Archaelogist.
Shared from Frank Belzer’s blog, The Sales Archaelogist.

The one thing I know about being a school leader is that I still don’t have all the answers and that I’m still learning too.  I think some people believe that principals have all the answers within the school, however, just like students and teachers, we’re still learning and trying to figure some things out. That is one of the other great things about summer, preparing to start back to school, and working in education.  I get to look back on the year that ended and reflect upon what we did as a school and what I did to lead those efforts.  That doesn’t just mean reviewing data about student performance.  It also means playing back in my mind decisions I made during the year, revisiting interactions and conversations I had, celebrating successes, and making an honest appraisal of my work in leading a school full of teachers and students.  That honest appraisal also includes things that did not work well. The process isn’t one day, and it isn’t a week.  It is a summer of darting in and out of my thoughts around my own practice and how I served the students and the greater school community.  It involves confronting my own short falls as well and thinking about where I need to make improvements and provide better leadership.  In the end, strong and capable leaders not only honestly look at where they need to improve, they admit that and share it with those that work with them and around them.

Ultimately, for me, that is the joy of being a school principal and one of the great opportunities of working in education.  Often times, I feel many people think the term leadership implies that the person leading holds every bit of knowledge there is.  In my opinion, leading and learning go hand in hand.  It means that as I lead, I learn, and vice versa.  It means that I have a growth mindset, and I am open to learning more so that I can be of the greatest service to students and teachers, and that I can support the organization I work for in a way that moves it forward too.

As many of my principal colleagues get ready to begin or have already begun their school year (those near and far), I hope that they have the opportunity to learn about their own work, celebrate their successes and think about the work they will change to help them have the most successful year possible with students and teachers, both leading and learning!

School Leadership: What Are Your Big Ideas?

Mike McCarthy, a 30 year educator in Maine shared with Edutopia what his big ideas were around school leadership.  The very first idea shared by Mike was, “Your School Must Be For All Kids 100 Percent of the Time”.  This is a pretty powerful statement, and while one would think that every administrator would have this as one of her or his “big ideas”, it is sometimes harder to actualize than most would think.

ideasPrincipals at all levels face pressures from a number of constituencies across the school community: Parents, teachers, school committees, superintendents, students, state and federal agencies, and other central office departments.  Decision making can be hard, especially if you know that the decisions you will make are in the best interest of children and your school, yet you know that not everyone will like them.   When you do make tough decisions, what happens when not everyone likes them or believes in them?  Even though you may be for kids one hundred percent of the time, it can be easy to back away from discourse when staff or community members do not like the course you have chosen.  My experience is and has been, make decisions based on what is best for students, be prepared to explain the “why” and stand firm.

Mike noted that it is important to create a vision, write it down, and start implementing it.  I appreciated this, especially his thought that by doing so, you bring consistency to the work that you do.  In a day and age where education is changing rapidly, what will help a school stay the course in the work it does for children?  Educational leaders “steer the ship” at the school level, helping move things forward no matter what initiatives are on the forefront.  It is key to have a vision and make sure that staff know what that vision is. As Mike noted, everything you do should be related to the vision that you share for the school.

People in education like it when things work the first time, which is great, except a reality is, not everything you try will be perfect.  You may even decide that you can’t perfect some things that you try, and maybe you abandon them.  Going into situations with realistic expectations always helps.  Additionally, letting staff know that it is “ok” if it does not work perfectly helps tremendously.  People need to know that they have permission to try things and that they may not work perfectly.  Mike McCarthy was sure to point out that as the leader, you have responsibility for the good and the bad.  I’ve always said, “All roads lead back to the principal”.

I agree with Mike’s thoughts on change, and that large change needs to come quickly.  Waiting for the “right time” or the perfect conditions can create a culture of mediocrity.  Now, that said, I don’t think that decisions can be made wrecklessly, but if a decision is going to be made in the best interest of students and change needs to occur, it is likely better to have everything thought out, be reflective, and push through.  It’s like taking off a band-aid…sometimes the slower you pull, the more it hurts.  One quick pull, and it is less painful.

Those are some of the ideas I liked from Mike’s piece.  To read the entire piece and see a short video clip with Mike McCarthy, click on the links below.  In the meantime, give some thought to what your “big ideas” are and where you stand in regards to school leadership.


Thomas Martellone, Ed.S