How to Create Your Dream PLN
PLNs have been a hot topic in education for several years. PLNs refer to Professional, Personal, or even Personalized Learning Networks that professionals create via social media tools and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate, and create with connected colleagues anywhere at anytime (Whitby, 2013). Thanks to technology and social media, educators are able to leverage new forms of communication with each other.
Technology has changed how we network as educators and it is important that we tap into that potential. J. Kelly Hoey (2017) argues that technology has transformed the new economy by giving people access. While past networking relied on face to face interactions, today’s workforce depends heavily on communication via technology. All these new tech tools have influenced how we engage with other professionals in our field. And with these new interactions, social media and technology impact how educators can not only network but turn those networks into opportunities for themselves and their careers (Hoey, 2017).
Whatever approach you take to your PLN, the goal is to connect with others who share similar goals and can assist you in meeting those goals. I will discuss several tools that can help develop your own PLN as an educator.
Know Your Why (What Do You Want To Accomplish?)
Before digging into to tools of the trade, it is important to explore your why—or your driving force— to network. What exactly do you want to accomplish with your PLN? Do you want to connect to others to gather information on the latest trends in education or your specific field? Do you want to network to gain input into your own practice and strategies? Are you the “lone ranger” in your district and find yourself isolated in your own district or campus? Or are you a naturally curious educator who wants to know what others are doing in your field? These are just some questions to ponder as your embark on what drives you to eventually individualize your PLN in order to make the most of your time and efforts.
Tricks of the Trade
The best advice to follow when it comes to PLNs is to focus and be selective on who to follow or groups to join. As you are navigating, pay attention to what is being posted and whether that information or knowledge is relevant to your specific needs. If you find something useful or inspiring, the chances are that individual or organization can bring value to your learning. Just as we go that extra step in individualizing learning for our students, that same approach must be taken with our own learning as educators. “Find your tribe” is a current buzz phrase and it refers to finding those who can help you grow. This is accomplished by intentionally seeking out individuals or organizations/groups that are open to dialogue and constantly share best practices, strategies, or resources. On that same note, once you are comfortable navigating these online spaces and create your own PLN, make sure you are giving back by doing the same.
Where to Begin with Social Media
With the growing number of social media tools at our fingertips, it’s overwhelming to keep up with the latest trends and much less know which ones would be the most effective for building your PLN. The following section will outline some of the most frequently used social media tools among educators and ways to leverage these for maximum results when it comes to connecting, sharing, and networking.
Testing the Waters with Facebook Groups and Instagram
Facebook remains one of the most utilized social media tools, especially among educators. Recently, there has been a shift from Facebook being a space to reconnect with friends and family to being a hub for specialized groups—including teachers. You will find a variety of groups that range from incorporating technology in the classroom to world language groups. These groups usually require approval from the administrator of the group, yet offer excellent opportunities for teachers to pose questions they may have, take polls, and share resources that can be used by others in the group.
Just like there has been a shift with Facebook, there is one with Instagram as well. However, instead of groups, Instagram utilizes hashtags to categorize posts that relate to teachers and education. With Instagram you get a more visual approach in sharing knowledge and sometimes posts or accounts are linked to accounts on Teacher Pay Teachers. So, either route you take, there is something for every educator. It’s just a matter of customizing your stream to fit your needs.
Getting Acquainted with Twitter
Twitter has been a popular choice for educators because it offers different features that streamline networking for educators. First off, users have the ability to categorize tweets on their stream by liking tweets, which then archives it for reference later. Another unique feature is that users are able to create lists that categorize those individuals or accounts they are following. For example, if you teach science, you can create a list labeled “Science Teachers,” that will only display those users (and their tweets) you have included in that category. Being able to categorize tweets and accounts followed comes in handy in narrowing the stream of information that is most relevant to you as an educator. Think of it like narrowing a Google Search but only the information is coming from other educators who are sharing what works for them.
Twitter chats are usually untapped potential for networking. These chats take place in real time on designated days and times, where other Twitter users “gather” to discuss a topic of choice. Some chats take place weekly while others occur on a monthly basis.
What’s unique is that most education Twitter chats are led and organized by other educators, educational organizations, or companies. As a result, the topics and information shared during these chats are not only relevant but usually tried and true by other educators. To get the most from these chats, it is best to find one that specifically suits your needs and jump right in. For example, if you are an elementary gifted or enrichment teacher, Gifted and Talented chat might be a good fit for you. To read more about how to get started with Twitter chats, feel free to view “Cybrary Man’s Educational Websites on Twitter Chats.” For a complete list of Twitter chats, view the Education Chats Google Calendar here.
Networking with Voxer
Another application that has grown in popularity among educators is Voxer. This phone app allows its users to use voice recordings, images, and text to communicate in groups or private chats with other users. You will find many educator chat groups on Voxer and will need to be accepted by the group moderator(s) before you can join in a conversation. Voxer seems most personal of all the social media tools mentioned because you get to hear the voices of those involved. Also, if you are active on Twitter, chances are you will “run into” someone you already follow on Voxer. Some advice for those new Voxer is to be mindful of your notification settings because educators are constantly having conversations!
While the plethora of social media tools available to our fingertips can be overwhelming at first, it is important to be selective in not only the tools that we choose to mold our PLNs but the focus we choose to guide that PLN. Knowing your why and driving forces behind networking will help hone into what is most important to you, which will in turn help you vet sources, information, and even who to follow and include in your online spaces. Keeping that in mind will help you not only develop a solid PLN, but also valuable relationships that can help shape your career and future opportunities.
Are you a part of a PLN? Do you want to be? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology
Hoey, J.K (2017). Build your dream network: Forging powerful relationships in a hyper-connected world. New York: TarcherPerigee.
Whitby, T (2013). How do I get a PLN? Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-do-i-get-a-pln-tom-whitby