Building Leadership Capacity

Reflections On Our PLNs

When I was a kid, I had a big yard with an orange orchard behind our house. My friends and I would play outside all day until the street lights came on or we heard the whistle or call from one of our parents. There was an older group of boys who always tried to raid our forts or intrude upon our games, but our small band of brothers kept these marauders at bay. We learned to build sturdy forts, throw oranges at moving targets, and create secret codes. You might say this was my first personal learning network (PLN).

I throw fewer oranges today. I still associate with a group, but the structure and purposes are very different. Instead of building forts, I attempt to build leadership capacity in my staff and others. While throwing oranges at each was entertaining as a kid, the collaborative work I now do with adults is much more rewarding. I am also more intentional with my participation because my focus is to become a more effective leader and cultivate leadership in others.

Our Leadership Framework

The focus for Between the Johns centers around our efforts to be effective leaders and support the innovative use of technology. We will be using many sources, but our framework will be based on research supported by the Wallace Foundation. Harvey and Holland’s 2013 report on the school principal points to five effective practices. Number three of these five is Cultivating Leadership in Others. As John and I prepared for our podcast on this topic, we reflected on how we attempt to cultivate leadership in others. We quickly found ourselves talking about our PLNs and their influence. We agreed there was tremendous power in the PLN to build our leadership capacity and to support leadership development in others.

PLNs Are Significant

It is 2018. Therefore, PLNs can be physical and virtual. As John and I talked, we identified examples of both formats that were excellent resources for us as site leaders. Vroom (2017) calls this like-minded PLN a tribe. John and I compared our current tribes for commonality (both present and in the past), and we agreed the tribe itself was not powerful enough to cultivate leadership in others. The power came from the intentionality of our involvement. That intentional focus was critical if our PLN was to impact our leadership and influence our leadership of others.

Another benefit of current PLNs is the asynchronous role technology can play in allowing PLNs to influence greater numbers. Our present work with podcasts, blogs, and Twitter allows for the exchange of ideas at all times of day versus specific hour or location. That ability to connect with our tribes when we have time (or energy) increases our likelihood to be engaged and intentional with the exchange of ideas. This reciprocity is critical for personal growth. Sheninger (2014) calls out the obligation of “connectedness” because leaders typically focus on self-development. The virtual nature of today’s PLNs facilitates that involvement, reciprocity of ideas, and increases the likelihood the participant experiences leadership growth. The participant can bring back those ideas to facilitate the growth of leaders back in the workplace.

Cultivating leadership in others is critical to any principal, teacher-leader, coach, or district office leader. While there is never enough time in the day, it is an obligation to continue to learn and grow in our field. We create the conditions for success at our work sites, and PLNs are a powerful way to learn, share, influence, and bring back ideas to grow leadership in others.

  • Do you have a tribe (PLN)? If so, is it physical, virtual, or both?
  • How intentional are you about your learning, the learning of others within your tribe, or expanding the influence with others outside your tribe?

The Significance Of Shout-Outs

Finally, John recently shared with me his insight from a podcast, Teaching Tales with Brent Coley (2018). Brent’s guest was Angela Maiers, and she spoke about the incredible value of noticing others. As we talked about this, we both agreed that noticing others was important to our topic of cultivating leadership in others. Regardless of how busy we become in our roles, we must take time to notice others; especially those that have helped cultivate leadership in us.

  • How do/can you let others (especially those in your PLN) know they matter?


We asked some of our PLN partners to give a shout-out and recognize either individuals or their PLN. Here are a few that came in.

“Hello, I’m Michael Jephcott, a Technology Integration Specialist for the Bassett Unified School District in La Puente, California.  I have been helping our district lead the way in developing and deploying computer science and computational thinking at the elementary level.  Without the encouragement and support from my Twitter #PLN most of this work would not have been possible. So thank you, @annkozma723 @bribriggs @TechTomBUSD @MsGeekyTeach @judyblakeney @chonito928 @jcorippo @MsHaughs @cogswell_ben @codeorg and @drezac”

“I’m Cindy Bak, proud principal at Valencia Park Elementary School in the Fullerton School District. I’m helping to cultivate leadership and build capacity in my leadership teams to take ownership in the decision-making processes of the school. Together, we will reflect on our identity as an innovative, forward-thinking, Apple Distinguished School school and together, identify our next steps in moving our school forward to provide the most engaging, relevant, and rigorous learning environment for all students so that they may discover and explore their passions, find purpose and act with purpose, and unleash their full and unique potential. I want to thank the Fullerton SD Ed Leadership Team, Fullerton SD Tech TOSA team, Cotsen Principal Tech Network, and all of my fellow principal friends for being a thought partner along this journey in my first year as principal. Your encouragement has been a source of support during challenging moments and your critical feedback has been a catalyst to spur on deeper reflection and professional growth.”


Harvey, J., & Holland, H. (2013). The school principal as leader: Guiding schools to better teaching and learning. The Wallace Foundation.

Vroom, C. (2017). Professional learning networks: Harness the power of professional growth. Principal Leadership; Reston, 17(7), 52–54.

Sheninger, E. (2014). Connectedness: The New Standard. Principal Leadership; Reston, 14(7), 46–52.

Coley, B. (2018). Angela Maiers & Noticing the Value in Others.

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