The Power of a PLN

Over the past decade, lots of schools have begun PLCs (Professional Learning Communities). They vary from school-to-school and level-to-level, but the basic idea is the same. Teachers are grouped together to plan common assessments, discuss data, and design better instruction.

As you read about PLCs (and there is a lot to read out there!) they sound great—and they can be. The problems with PLCs comes when you have teachers who don’t want to be there, and are forced to be a part of something they didn’t want to join. An unhappy PLC member can derail the entire group, and when you add on time and scheduling constraints … well, they can be completely unproductive.

But, a PLN (Professional Learning Network) is entirely different! PLNs are formed by teachers who want to work together—teachers who see every day as an opportunity to both share amazing things that they do and learn amazing things from others. And thanks to platforms like Twitter, PLNs exist for nearly every grade and subject area.

Which brings us to, well, us.


We are the moderators of worldgeochat, and are new guest bloggers for National Geographic Education. We are five teachers at different points in our careers, at different grade levels, and from different regions of the country. With the exception of Ed and Chris who work across town from each other, we had never met face-to-face until recently at the National Conference for Geographic Education.

We created a PLN to support ourselves and others who teach geography, global studies, or, really, any subject area. Our Twitter group, #worldgeochat, has become the go-to resource for teaching geography to students of all levels. This community of educators is passionate not just about geography, but about supporting all educators to become better at their craft. Each Tuesday evening at 9pm Eastern/8pm Central, engaged learning commences with such fervor it can be put into action the next day. Worldgeochat is not an echo chamber of educators parroting the most recent buzzword, synergistic theory, or insincere platitude. It’s an invested community that believes in supporting each other and challenging preconceived perspectives in order to become better each and every week.

So who are the #worldgeochat moderators and new NatGeo Education bloggers?

Chris Heffernan teaches 7th-grade world geography at Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois, and is starting his seventeenth year there. He began teaching world geography weeks before the September 11, 2001, terror attack, which transformed how we would address geography. Rather than focus on memorization of facts and locations, Chris helps students see the similarities among people around the world rather than just the differences. He has been a moderator of #worldgeochat since its inception in 2014, and credits that group of educators with keeping him excited and challenged. His passions include watching soccer, listening to and playing music, and listening to a ridiculous number of podcasts. Curious how to add geography to your already-busy classroom schedule? Chris has some ideas!

Jennifer Garner teaches 9th-grade AP Human Geography at Forsyth Central High School in Cumming, Georgia. She is starting her twenty-fifth year of teaching. During those 25 years, she has taught a variety of subjects in grades 6-12—but geography, particularly Human Geography, is her favorite course as it can be seen in all aspects of life, it is relevant to all students and can help students understand the world around them. Jennifer’s goal as an educator is to help her students to become global citizens. She joined the #worldgeochat crew in 2015 and the connections and ideas shared among the group push her to be a better teacher each and every day. Jennifer has already started the school year—and has already learned something.

Ed Casey teaches 7th grade world geography at Lincoln Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois. He is starting his eleventh year teaching geography and has also taught Language Arts for several years. Prior to beginning his teaching career, Ed was a police officer in a southwest suburb of Chicago. Ed was inspired to undergo a career change into teaching by his parents. His mother was a reading teacher and his father is a huge history buff who took his family on history-themed vacations throughout Ed’s childhood. Ed loves to make learning fun and believes that students learn best if they feel excited and engaged with what they are studying. He tries to model this enthusiasm for learning each day. When not teaching or spending time with his family and perfect dachshund Frank, Ed enjoys running, reading young adult fiction, and watching as much baseball as possible, especially his beloved Chicago White Sox. Ed can help you think outside the box—with boxes.

Like Chris, Sam Mandeville teaches 7th-grade world geography, but at Horace Mann Middle School in Franklin, Massachusetts. She is starting her third year as a full-time teacher. Before that, she traveled to 18 countries while teaching in Cuzco, Peru; Suphanburi, Thailand; and backpacking across Europe and Southeast Asia. From her experiences, Sam developed a mission as an educator to break down the four walls of the classroom and help students develop their sense of curiosity and create global connections. She joined the #worldgeochat crew in the fall of 2016, and it has changed the way that she thinks about education. Being a part of this community has helped her grow tremendously as an educator and an individual. Curious about how to bring your passion to the classroom? Samantha Mandeville shares how she does it!

Pete Spiegel is a former 6th-grade geography teacher who taught and developed curriculum in the Newton, Massachusetts Public School system for more than 13 years before entering the educational consulting world. Prior to becoming a teacher, Pete worked in a variety of professions including finance and the National Park Service. He has always been drawn towards education and helping others learn about the world around them. His inspiration for geography comes from a large 1856 Monk’s school map that used to hang over his parents’ bed. Across the continent of Africa were the words “Unexplored Region”; his passion for maps and geography was ignited from that very moment. When not diving deep into Google Earth or helping schools learn how to leverage the platform to augment their curriculum, Pete is also a personal trainer and healthy living coach. He currently resides in Hallowell, Maine with his wife and two adorable children. Why is Pete a teacher? Because he cares.

worldgeochat is a professional learning network at its finest—a community of learners who work with each other and for each other. Join us each Tuesday night at 9 Eastern/8 Central—click here for a list of upcoming topics!

6 thoughts on “The Power of a PLN

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