Monday, May 28, 2018

PLN Assemble!

Ever since I was young, I've been obsessed with superheroes. When I was 7 or 8, my mom hand crafted an amazingly realistic Robin costume for Halloween. To this day, it's the best costume I've ever had. It was so true to what I saw in the comics and in cartoons, I was blown away. I FELT like I was Robin when I wore it. Compared to all the plastic-masked superhero costumes in vogue when I was young, mine was the pinnacle of superhero cool.
As I matured, my tastes shifted from sidekicks to my two favorite superheroes of all time: Batman and Iron Man. While I never aspired to be a billionaire playboy like Bruce and Tony, what I loved about them both was that they were humans who used their intelligence to help others. The weren't aliens; they weren't mutated science experiments like Peter Parker or the X-Men. They were something I could become if I used my brain, and I loved that.

Through Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and even George Clooney, I relished every Batman film. I reveled in the glory that was the Christian Bale trilogy of darker Batman movies, but as I aged more, I found myself drawn to Tony Stark and Iron Man much more than Bruce and the Bat. I chose snark and snappy comebacks over brooding and the sore throat that inevitably came when I tried to speak like Batman. Soon after this shift, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began its supremacy at the box office. In Robert Downey, Jr., I saw the perfect embodiment of my hero, and I began to discover even more in common with the Avenger. I was rash at times, impatient even. I hurried to try to fix problems, and I often created more problems in the process. When I began a project at school, I tuned others out, found myself not always seeking help, and thinking I had all the answers.
A decade later, as I viewed Avengers: Infinity War for a second time, I saw a more mature Stark, though he still held on to his signature snark and superiority complex. But he was now a hero who knew he needed others to succeed. He was a team player. He cared more for others than for himself. And as I watched Tony and the Avengers combat Thanos, I realized that my affinity for superheroes in some way lead me to a profession where I have formed my own wonder team. Tony has the Avengers, and I have my PLN.

Realizing that the Avengers are just a high-scale PLN was a shock to me in the theater, and then I couldn't stop making comparisons. Like the Avengers, each member of my PLN has a special talent and a specific personality (albeit without the sweet costume, sadly). Each member brings something the others in the group do not possess, and when we share, the entire team is stronger. The Avengers have Thanos, an entity obsessed with his own brand of mercy, as their nemesis. My PLN has inequity, social capital gaps, hunger, literacy gaps, and more; we attempt to combat these issues to give our students a fair chance in this world and to let each student shine with his or her own special talent. The Avengers aren't perfect. They bicker and let ego get in the way, at times. My PLN is the same. We aren't always shiny, happy campers singing "Kumbaya." While we don't often degenerate into wars either Civil or Infinity, there can be miscommunication, hurt feelings, and uncomfortable breakups. When we need each other, however, our strong bonds overcome our differences.
A PLN, like a good superhero team, needs additions and, sometimes, subtractions. It needs to evolve in order to attack specific concerns and issues, and members will come and go. But the PLN is an essential part of a master teacher's arsenal. My own PLN is made up of people I see on a daily bass as well as some I have never met in person, but who I feel comfortable calling on for help with any topic. Twitter, Skype, Google Hangout, and Voxer are incredible tools to help you build a PLN of educators from around the globe. Not too long ago, I created this YouTube playlist of videos explaining the hows and whys of creating a PLN. I invite you to watch the videos and then ask yourself how much more you could accomplish and how much more you could help students achieve with the assistance of a band of your own personal superheroes.

And just remember, while you may feel like Iron Man with all his technology and expertise at times, there will also be moments where you have to wear the Hawkeye mantle, standing awkwardly to the side with little to do. Use these moments to soak up the talents of your PLN and learn from them, adding to your own special powers in the process. You will have moments to shine, and you will grow stronger working with a group focused on a common goal.

Now, if I could only market my PLN the way Marvel does the Avengers, I'd be all set! :)

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