I've been building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) for about half a year now, and while the people I am meeting are great, one segment of the profession is noticeably absent: High school ensemble directors. There are a few of us online, to be sure, but nowhere near the participation we are seeing from general music, middle school music teachers, private teachers, and college music majors. So, while I am thrilled to be interacting with those folks, we're usually not able to converse much about the classroom, which is of course the biggest reason to build a PLN.
So where are these directors? I generally find that they are "too busy" to try one more thing. This is something that I have heard regularly over my 20 year career. Too busy to run small ensembles, too busy to travel, too busy to switch kids to bassoon, too busy to go to the doctor even though I feel terrible... you get the idea. I am guilty of these statements at various times (especially the last one, which resulted in pneumonia, very dumb), but I think that overall I was fortunate to learn early on that the investment of time into pedagogy, tools, and philosophy pays dividends, and the dividends ultimately result in working smarter, not harder.
"I'm too busy to have successful students" is of course a crazy statement. But our actions demonstrate our beliefs, and most of us work extremely hard doing the same things we've always done, hoping for better results.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Our music department has six concert bands, five choirs, three orchestras, five big bands, three vocal jazz groups, and AP Theory all within the school day in a school of about 2,000. We're pretty busy. I feel I have no choice but to work smarter at this point, and my guess is that you need to work smarter as well.
So back to my PLN. My focus has been simply to (a) share what I find and (b) share what I'm thinking about. By doing so I've met many people who are also sharing, and as a result we quickly reached a tipping point: we now receive far more ideas than we give. It's simple math. If everyone in your PLN shares one idea, you are going to get a LOT more in return than you give, and you don't need to feel guilty about it either!
Many of the ideas I've received via my PLN are now being used in my daily planning and teaching, and this is resulting in students that are more engaged and learning faster. It is leading to better record keeping, project management, assessment, and being able to look further down the road to see if where we are headed is in agreement with where we expect to go. I am able to get more done in the same amount of time....working smarter not harder.
With my workflow in pretty good shape, I'm wanting more dialogue about repertoire, instrumentation, equipment, curriculum, and so forth at the high school level. If you feel like your nose is just above the water line I encourage you to take a deep breath, join Twitter (make an account specifically for PLN building) and http://musicpln.org and start by sharing one idea per week. Pretty soon you are going to find your head above water, and eventually maybe you'll even be standing on the shore again. See you there.