Yesterday on Twitter I posted a link to an inspirational NPR piece in which 5 great teachers discuss what makes a great teacher. Because I wear my “teacher” title about as proudly as I wear my “surgeon” title, I was fascinated by what the participants had to say. I loved that everything wasn’t consensual (Give them the tools and set them loose vs. graduated responsibility, as in the bike riding example), and most importantly I found a new-to-me idea in the discussion of personal learning networks by Troy Cockrum. When he described how he improves on the job, it resonated for me in terms of discussions I have had with several of my academic surgery colleagues over the last year or two. And, of course, my curious self had to look up the idea of a personal learning network (PLN).
I found some great information about building a PLN that really emphasizes a key point: It’s not about the content, it’s about the people in your PLN. If they aren’t willing to share, and to help you brainstorm why something succeeded or failed, they aren’t really serving as a PLN. And while I don’t agree with every piece of advice here (I’m still struggling with how one uses Google +), I’ve found that both I and many of my closest colleagues have tripped into doing these things. We use Twitter, we connect, we comment. Somehow in the throes of that, we’ve become research collaborators and friends whom I value deeply. I’ve also come to realize that some of the reason that this blog has been so fulfilling for me and meaningful for others has been the branding of it; it’s been about authenticity as a mid-career surgeon who is trying to juggle a career and a life and a million other things- just like many of you who are reading.
So, yes, a personal learning network is something that all of us who are educators should have, and I would posit that if you’re a clinican/ educator that you might need two PLNs- one for your clinical work, that may be more of an actual local presence, and another for your education work. So, who is in your PLN? And whose PLN are you part of? And how are you going to develop this?
And perhaps the $1 million question that a few of us have pondered: Does the presence of a robust PLN help counter burnout? I might be wrong, but my best guess, is yes.