Sunday, July 10, 2016

Making your PLN truly personal

Last April at the Iowa Association of School Librarian conference I had to pleasure of listening to Shannon Miller and Michelle Luhtala as they gave a Lightning Talk entitled "Friendspiration." In their sharing, they told the story of how their collaboration via social media blossomed into a true friendship that inspires both of them as professionals and individuals.

Being a librarian can sometimes be isolating. We are often singletons in our buildings, some are singletons in a whole district. We belong to everyone, and yet we belong to no one. 

Yet, there's hope! As technology continues to increase our access to information, so does it increase our access to each other. You hear about the power of being a connected educator, the opportunities it can provide for your students. We know it's important to build your Personal Learning Network (PLN) in order to continue to grow professionally.

But what about your personal growth?

I have been blessed to have my own stories of "friendspiration." There are members of my PLN who have truly become friends. These are the individuals I turn to when I have questions, when I need inspiration, when I need to vent. We leave each other inspirational messages, we lift each other up, we help each other out. We have truly become friends. But none of it would have happened without social media.

For me, Twitter has been a life-changer. I remember the first time I met one of my Twitter EduRockstars. It was at EdCampOmaha, and I awkwardly introduced myself to Nate Balcom, an amazing Elementary Integration Specialist from Grand Island, NE. We laugh now, but I do believe my first words were, "Hi, I'm Lynn. I follow you on Twitter." Since then, Nate has been someone who inspires me, who willingly embraces the crazy collaboration ideas I throw at him, and appreciates my random Dr. Who references.

Or take for instance another life-changing moment: The first time I ever met Cynthia Stogdill in person. Cynthia and I were both Teacher Librarians, graduates from the University of Nebraska-Omaha's program. We'd interacted a few times via Twitter chats. But it wasn't until NETA 2015 that we actually met in person. We hugged each other like we were old friends (disclaimer: I'm a hugger), and spent several hours brainstorming our big adventure together. It was because of this encounter that the Midwest Teacher Librarian Chat (#mwlibchat) was born! Cynthia is not only my partner-in-crime, but she's my sanity. She listens, she affirms, she guides, and she refocuses me. A lot.

The day Cynthia Stogdill and I meet and #mwlibchat was born!
Then there are my amazing fellow Iowa Teacher Librarians I met during ITEC in the fall of 2015. Alyssa Calhoun, Miranda KralSarah Staudt and I were strangers at the start of the conference, but we definitely left as friends. Although we are spread across the state, we've kept in touch via Twitter, we have a special group chat via the app Voxer, and we're planning a reunion. These ladies not only provide me with inspiration and ideas; we are always plotting shenanigans. But most importantly, they make me laugh!  

Sarah, Miranda, Alyssa and I are the IASL conference 
Most recently, my PLN become more personal when my good friend Stony Evans, a Teacher Librarian in Arkansas, and his lovely wife Cindy, also a Teacher Librarian, made a special stop in Omaha on their way home from a conference in Colorado. 

Stony and I had first met last fall during a Twitter chat. We immediately hit it off. We have since collaborated several times, not only connecting our students, but also connecting for some professional development for the Teacher Librarians in his district (descriptions of these collaborations can be found on Stony's blog). We use the app Voxer to touch base almost daily, chatting about everything from a brilliant idea to our shared adoration of Shannon Miller. Stony is one of the most inspirational individuals I know. His passion for our profession and his gift for story-telling are a winning combination.

Although Stony and I had never met in person, when he mentioned that he and Cindy were thinking about taking the scenic route back home, I immediately extended an invitation to visit. I was thrilled when they accepted. We spent the whole day touring the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo (my children served as our tour guides), chatting away as though we'd known each other for years. My husband and Stony even cooked up some collaboration ideas over dinner. The conversation never stopped, and the trip was over way too soon.

Stony, Cindy, and I after dinner at one of my favorite restaurants
I am forever changed because of the encounters with these individuals, amazing people I would have never met had it not been for social media. And because of social media, especially Twitter and Voxer, the distance is never a limitation for our "friendspiration." And I can only imagine what adventures the future may hold!