Build Your Own Professional Learning Journey


“We’re all learners, and we should be growing ourselves every day.

We ask our students to show up every day ready to learn… Yet as adults, how committed are we to that same learning adventure?”

– From Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us, by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney

Learning becomes exponential when it is shared with others. My mom is an educator, and then I married an educator, so dialogue about our classrooms, schools, and teaching have happened around me all my life. My sons have grown up in and around the educational conversations that we share, in a family culture of sharing our strengths with each other while supporting each other’s challenges. We share our thinking, our reading and writing, give each other feedback and edits, proofread, work through math problems, argue about ideas, and push back when we disagree. Who helps you deepen your thinking about education and libraries? Who do you turn to when you’re exploring a new idea, and need some honest feedback? Who are your “YES, AND” people who say “Yes! And have you thought about…?” Who do you learn with and from?

Two educators pictured with author Penny Kittle

Author Penny Kittle (center), with Eichenlaub (left) and Patti Forster (right)

“Yes! And…”

Last summer, two of my “YES, AND” people decided to take a risk with me. We envisioned a virtual professional learning network that would connect educators across the state of Maine, centered on Penny Kittle’s Book Love: Developing Strength, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers. This book has influenced each of our practices and approaches and we wanted to share our passion with other educators. Patti Forster is an English department head and a NBCT at my school (see previous post on another recent collaboration with Patti). Debra Butterfield is Maine’s 2018 School Librarian of the Year, and a librarian at Gardiner Area High School. We decided to create a virtual learning space for Maine middle and high school ELA and literacy specialists and school librarians to explore the ideas in Book Love—and the BookLove VPLN (virtual professional learning network) was born!

Details and Planning

Though we did not kick things off until January 2019, Patti, Debra, and I started meeting virtually in the fall to plan the BookLove VPLN experience, from promotion and sponsorship to planning the syllabus for our group. We wanted this VPLN experience to feel accessible at all levels of participation and used a closed Facebook group as our platform. We reached out to Penny Kittle who agreed to participate in a one-hour virtual visit with our group (at no charge)!

We received a $100 Staples card from ECET2 Maine that helped us produce some promotional materials. Patti wrote a grant to the Maine Education Association (MEA) which helped to purchase some giveaway books to participants (and promoted our offering in their magazine). Karen Cook, our regional representative from Heinemann Publishing (Kittle’s publisher) also helped us get the word out. Debra and I are both board members with the Maine Association of School Libraries (MASL), and Patti is a board member with the Maine Council of English Language Arts (MCELA). These organizations both promoted the BookLove VPLN—through social media, emails to members, and newsletters. MASL let us use their GoToMeeting premium account so we could host Kittle’s virtual visit and record it. And an interesting sidenote? Prior to this, there had been no collaboration or connection between these two organizations, though we are natural allies in supporting literacy for Maine students!

Inspiring Change

Our Facebook group had over 60 members—some were active participants (posting to our weekly prompts and responding to each other), and other members participated by reading posts. What was most exciting to me were the ideas that were generated! Ideas for talking about books with students, book promotion and book displays, creating reading cultures, for book groups, for collaborations in our schools, and so much more. We shared booktalks with each other via Flipgrid, and Patti and I made a video with booktalking tips. A teacher in my own district shared that last year she ended each 6th-grade language arts class with some time for students to share their “WOWs”—books that made them think, “Wow! I really love this book!” At the end of the year, that list became a summer reading resource for kids to take home, with a coupon from our local bookstore for 10% off any purchase. This list was also shared with the bookstore, so their selection of YA books could match what was “hot” locally. This was such an awesome way to connect our students to their community! Though it happened right across town from me, I wouldn’t have known about it without the BookLove VPLN connection.

Share and Connect

When we sent out a post-VPLN feedback survey, over 70% of respondents indicated they were already making changes in their classrooms and instructional practices. Some of the best parts of the experience, according to respondents, were “connecting with other educators,” “getting ideas from others,” and “the virtual book club format.” One respondent said, “This group was so informative! There were so many shared ideas! I want to use this page as a resource!”

When we make space and opportunity to grow our professional networks, this type of energy and passion is a natural outcome. And if you want a taste of that passion and energy right now, take a look at our interview with Penny Kittle! When we share our learning and best practices with each other, when we take risks in our own learning, our growth occurs in leaps and bounds. With joy.


Author: Iris Eichenlaub

Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Professional Development

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