For educators across the country, it’s time to get back at it. Summer is over, and if we are not yet back in school teaching, we are sorting through class rosters, getting our first week planned, and tying up the hundreds of loose ends that need to be addressed before we welcome our students back to school.

However, for many of educators, the end of summer signals not a return to work, but rather a continuation of our efforts to support the success of all students. While school was out over the summer, we attended workshops, participated in conferences, and stayed connected to our fellow educators through our involvement in various professional learning communities (PLCs).

While educators seem predisposed to worrying about the needs of others before they address their own needs, now is the time to be selfish about personal growth. As a new school year begins and your responsibilities again increase, I encourage you to continue learning, sharing and connecting with your PLC, or if you are not yet participating in a PLC, I urge you to join a learning community that will enrich not only your professional practice, but all facets of your life.

Many years ago when, as a young teacher in Philadelphia’s Julia de Burgos Bilingual Middle School, I began searching for PLCs to join, my choices were limited largely by time and geography. However, thanks to the internet, today’s educators have a variety of PLCs to choose from.

From global PLC’s such as the Discovery Education Community–which consists of educators passionate about teaching with digital media, sharing resources and strategies, collaborating, and networking–to smaller, school-based communities with a more specialized focus, educators have a range of PLCs in which they can choose to participate.

If you are considering joining a PLC for the first time, or a veteran networker looking to expand your horizons, here are three important tips for maximizing your participation in a PLC.

1. Assess or Reassess What You Want to Learn – If you are joining a PLC for the first time, begin by considering in what areas you would like to grow this year. Looking to become more technologically savvy? Seeking a deeper dive into pedagogy? Want to grow your leadership skills or seeking new ways to apply data to teaching and learning?  There is a PLC for you, and you should seek a PLC that expressly targets those needs.

If you are a veteran of the PLC world, you may want to begin the school year with a reassessment of your personal needs. This will help you decide if your current PLC is still a good fit, or if it is time for a change.

Finally, as you look at which organizations you are seeking to join, consider how you plan to participate in your PLCs. Are you seeking to help lead a PLC or have you served in that capacity before and are seeking to step back a bit? Are you seeking a more casual affiliation with your PLC, or a more rigorous experience? There is no right or wrong way to participate—just remember that your professional development is at the center of your decision.

(Next page: 2 more PLC tips for the school year)

2. Know That Sharing is Caring – We’ve probably all told our students at some point to not to fear asking questions because someone else in the class probably shares the same questions as you. The same is true for educators. Sharing a question is a great way to enter a PLC. Often, when a newcomer to the Discovery Education Community asks a question, existing members will go out of their way to greet the new participant and make them feel at home.

Likewise, a question will help grow a community and take the conversation to a new level. I am constantly amazed at how when someone asks a question in my PLC, fifty people from all over the world will respond to the question by building upon each other’s ideas, creating a rich and engaging conversation.

Also, as you think about the role questions play in your PLC, remember that your ideas, as well as your questions, are worthy. While humility is a genetic predisposition for educators, you bring a unique experience and perspective to every conversation. Don’t be shy about sharing it!

3. Connect, Connect, Connect – Often, educators will participate in a number of PLCs, each supporting a different professional learning goal. You participation in PLCs should not be limited by the logo in your email signature or one membership card. Your participation in PLCs is about you, your professional learning journey, and the peers with whom you enjoy learning, sharing, and connecting.

With that in mind, now may be the perfect time to expand the PLCs you participate in. You can begin researching new PLCs with a good old-fashioned Google search, or you can ask your peers or a trusted mentor which PLCs they would recommend you join and why. Likewise, you can review education media such as eSchool News and others to see what sorts of PLCs get mentioned and what activities they offer. Also, during the course of professional learning events like the ISTE Annual Conference, network with others to learn about the pros and cons of the PLCs they participate in. Once you have found some possible new PLCs you are interested in, dive right in.

These are a few key tips to get you started on your path to getting the most out of your PLC. But remember, the most important thing is that you MOVE FORWARD. While the most rewarding of professions, a career in education, like all careers, will have ups and downs. A strong relationship to peers in a PLC will help even those highs and lows out and will make you a better educator that is even more capable of supporting the success of all your students.

Remember, we’re better together.

About the Author:

Lance Rougeux is Discovery Education’s vice president of Learning Communities. Lance formerly taught in Pennsylvania’s public school system and served as an Executive Policy Specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Bureau of Educational Technology.