Solutions for Singletons: Building a Professional Learning Network

Guest post by Abbey Duggins and Amber Schroering

If you’ve spent any amount of time building a high school master schedule, you are familiar with the dreaded “singleton.” A singleton happens when just enough students sign up to create one section of a course—usually an AP or obscure world language—and it throws a major wrench into scheduling every other aspect of the student’s day. A singleton is a scheduling nightmare, but it is also a necessary part of education.

Many positions in instructional leadership can feel like a singleton: there is one superintendent, one principal, one coach. These positions are often lonely, lacking the camaraderie that classroom teachers develop among their peers through the common bonds of students, lesson planning, grading, shared hallways moments, and outside-of-school fun.

So what is a singleton to do? Much like the puzzle of building a tricky master schedule, instructional leaders must work to build a professional structure that supports their professional growth as well as their personal need for bonding and friendship.

National Principals Conference: Meeting in Philadelphia

Our story of professional collegiality and personal friendship began when we met in the summer of 2017 at the annual National Principals Conference in Philadelphia.

Amber’s thoughts on meeting Abbey: “When I met Abbey, I heard her share how she was making a positive difference in her rural, poverty-stricken community and was immediately drawn to her positive energy and her goal to ‘courageously champion equity.’ My instincts told me that Abbey was someone who could make me better and from whom I could learn.”

Abbey’s thoughts on meeting Amber: “Similarly, I was drawn to Amber’s passion for all students and her drive to bring her A game to any situation. Her mantra—‘Never met a young person who wasn’t worth the best I’ve got’—inspired me, and I hoped that Amber could share her ideas and experiences with me as a colleague and friend.”

Partners Collaborating Across State Lines

Here are a few examples of our cross-country connections:

  • An administrator at Abbey’s high school wanted to explore restorative justice practices. Abbey knew that Amber had presented on this topic a number of times and was passionate about it. Abbey connected this fellow administrator to Amber via Twitter and the two have since shared ideas and strategies that ultimately benefit more students.
  • Abbey shared with colleagues Ross Greene’s work on collaborative problem-solving that she learned about from Amber.
  • Abbey exposed Amber to the little-known, unpublicized work by Mike Schmoker about writing more and grading less, which Amber, in turn, shared with many ELA teachers in her district.
  • When Amber’s district launched a kindness campaign this past school year, she shared with fellow administrators this incredible video about how to talk to kids, which she learned about from Abbey. Those leaders showed the video to their respective staffs, resulting in hundreds of educators becoming more cognizant of the profound impact that kind, positive words have on students.
  • When Abbey was feeling a little overwhelmed and, quite frankly, lonely, she was able to reach out to Amber for support. It was so nice to get support from someone who has no emotional connection to her workplace context.

How can you make and maintain connections, especially when life and school are busy?

  • Get involved in professional organizations like NASSP and attend the conferences. (Join us at the 2018 National Principals Conference in Chicago on July 11–13.)
  • Increase your presence on Twitter by following new people (and connect with those they follow) and participating in educational chats like #APChat on Sundays at 8:00 p.m. (ET).
  • Celebrate others publicly! Amber uses #GoodNewsCalloftheDay and Abbey’s district uses #180DaysofSaludaPride and #SHSTigerPride to share the amazing things teachers and students do daily.
  • Be a positive voice anywhere you go. Educators, colleagues, and potential employers are always watching.
  • Be authentic, transparent, and always in pursuit of our students’ best interest. In this way others are drawn to us and we begin to surround ourselves with a network that pushes us to be and to do better.

Sonia Nieto, in her 2013 book Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds,leaves educators with some relevant pieces of advice. She reminds the reader to cultivate allies,because “teaching is an incredibly difficult job, and trying to go it alone can be overwhelming,” and have a life,because “thriving as a teacher is also about thriving as a person.” The trick is connecting professionally and personally with educators who both support and challenge your thinking. We do hard work every day for our students and for our colleagues and the work that we do makes a difference. So, find your tribe and get to work!

Who in your professional learning network (PLN) makes you better? Who in your PLN do you make better? How can we assemble the type of PLN that grows us professionally while giving us a platform to positively impact students’ lives outside of our immediate school districts?

Abbey Duggins, PhD, was recently named director of curriculum and instruction at Saluda County Schools in Saluda, SC, where she has worked for the last 15 years as an English teacher, literacy coach, and assistant principal. She was the 2017 South Carolina Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @asduggins.

Amber Schroering is an assistant principal at Brownsburg East Middle School and was the 2016 Indiana Assistant Principal of the Year. She presents regularly at state conferences and hosts site visits to share processes and strategies that she has found successful in guiding young people toward the best versions of themselves. Follow her on Twitter @AmberSchroering

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