Building PLN’s: Tips from One Beginner to Another

Want a way to keep up with current practices in education, to receive feedback from experts, and to connect with other educators around the globe?  A PLN allows you to achieve all this and more!

PLC + PLN = Ultimate Personalized Resources Goldmine!

A PLN is frequently known both as as a “Professional Learning Network” and a “Personal Learning Network.”  Examining the meaning behind both phrases aptly describes its nature.  Professionally, a PLN allows teachers to expand in their knowledge of best practices and resources as they learn from fellow educators across the globe.  Personally, it allows teachers to design and develop a learning network to meet their own individual needs and preferences.  The image below is a valuable representation of a PLN’s personal nature, as well as its existence both online and offline:

Mathieu Plourde
Mathieu Plourde

Like most teachers, before coming across the concept of PLN’s, my concept of collaboration with fellow educators was limited to PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities) and other professional development on a local sphere.  It’s important to note that this image does not exclude such “offline” relationships as they can be very beneficial to professional growth as well.  However, the picture also clearly allows us to visualize the opportunities that stretch much further with online networking.

In Unlocking Twitter’s Classroom Potential, we listed 5 reasons educators should join Twitter. Since Twitter is such a vast and user-friendly network already filled with thousands of educators and education experts, these 5 reasons also apply to why you should build a PLN!

A PLN Metaphor

Attribution: Clouducation
Retrieved From: Clouducation (original creator unknown)

Another helpful image that can springboard each individual’s thinking about their PLN’s is the “Pencil Metaphor.”  Many of us have alternatively fit various roles through the years of teaching.  For instance, when new ideas sparked my imagination, I have been a “Leader,” at least at my school. (Disclaimer: some ideas definitely worked out better than others, like being the first at my school to implement student blogging; on the other hand, my enthusiastic attempts in a DIY wii-remote interactive whiteboard–not so much).  When I’ve gathered ideas at professional development meetings, but allowed them to gather dust on my mental shelf because I was just too busy, I’ve been a “Hanger-On.”  Most of the time, though, I’ve fit “The Sharp Ones” description, which is advantageous for maximizing technology effectiveness.

Despite being a “Sharp One” with regards to classroom technology, I am as of yet a PLN novice myself.  Most of my Twitter acquaintances have been utilizing its networking resources for several years now, while I’m only just nearing a year (I didn’t even know educators used Twitter professionally before then!)  And to be quite frank, it can be discouraging to compare my scanty quantity of followers with the thousands my acquaintances have gathered.  However, while I’m not as “ahead” in my own PLN development, I am now benefiting by the trial and error shared by earlier explorers.  I share all this to help fellow PLN novices realize that we can all be “Sharp Ones” as we work at this valuable endeavor.  Start small by picking just one or two ideas, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your network–and resources–grow!

5 PLN-Building Ideas

#1: Find blogs and subscribe!

Just Google “Educational blogs.”  Some personal favorites include Plpnetwork and Whatedsaid.  Engage in the conversations by leaving comments!

#2: Find Facebook pages of educational organizations and “Like.”

This is a great option if you’re already a regular Facebook user–now is your chance to help enhance its use for you professionally, too!  For instance, after a school PD training with a member of the LitLife organization a couple years ago, I looked up their Facebook page and have found PLN opportunities ever since, from webinar announcements to inspiring resources!

#3: Subscribe to RSS Feeds & Choose a Handy Reader

On many websites, there are options to subscribe with an RSS feed.  If you utilize this option, be sure to download a RSS feed reader to match your existing digital habits.  For example, if you are a Chrome lover, download their RSS Feed Reader Chrome App!  The benefit of this PLN resource lies in its ability to bring information right to you–all tailored to your personal interests!

#4: Join Twitter→ And then participate!

Twitter is an exceptional online PLN tool because it allows for back-and-forth feedback, as well as connections with real educators across the globe.  As a result of my exploration there, my professional discoveries on Twitter have so far included student blogging resources, Quadblogging, Flipped Classrooms, some Common Core resources, thought-provoking videos, photos, and other media, TweetChats, and much more!  Below are some Twitter-specific tips that have been most practical and beneficial as I’ve used it to expand my PLN:

  • Download TweetDeck: Available as a Mac, Windows, or Chrome App, it is perfect for casual browsing or live conversations on Twitter!  I’ve especially loved using it for TweetChats scheduled by certain hashtags.  For instance, just on Tuesday, I joined a #5thchat Tweetchat (scheduled every Tuesday at 8 pm ET) on the topic of media literacy.  I was able engage with fellow fifth grade teachers around the world, checking out shared resources, and adding my own thoughts to the conversation here and there.
  • Use tools to help you stay consistent: On the one hand, consistency is a great way to gain additional followers since they see you contribute regularly.  On the other, it can be difficult find time to regularly browse and Tweet.  Tools like Buffer make for an excellent solution!  When you do have time to browse Twitter, and you find amazing resources or think of fantastic ideas you’d like to share, “Buffer” them instead of Tweeting them immediately.  This means that Buffer will Tweet posts for you at spread-out, optimal times to more effectively reach your followers.  Make sure you still jump into conversations whenever you can, though!
  • 5 More Excellent Tips from this website, including establishing a solid profile, asking for a shoutout, and replying to individuals.  I also echo a tip from the comments section, made by Rob Bell, “Make yourself useful!”

If you are just starting out on Twitter, you won’t want to miss our article on that very topic!

#5: Keep it Real for YOU!!

Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones sums it up perfectly with her graphic below:

Gwyenth Anne Bronwynne Jones
Gwyenth Anne Bronwynne Jones

***BONUS: Why not teach your students how to build PLN’s, too?!  Both the skills in developing a PLN, as well as the PLN’s themselves will serve students well throughout their lives in the 21st Century!  For more ideas, check out this fantastic Slideshare, “Empowering Students Through Personal Learning Networks.”  

Photo Credits:

JD Hancock (featured image)

Mathieu Plourde

Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones

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