Summer Learning: Developing and Expanding Your PLN

Monday, June 5, 2017

For many of us teachers, summer vacation is finally here! It's a time for rest and relaxation, going swimming at the pool, beach, or lake, spending quality time with family, and catching up on much-needed sleep. It can also be a time to recharge professionally; brushing up on current trends in education, reflecting on the past year’s practices, and developing fresh ideas for next year. It's also a good time to develop and participate in your professional learning network (or personal learning network).

As educators, we are always learning from each other and we all have ideas and strategies that are worth sharing. A professional learning network (PLN) is a way to do both. A PLN is a group of connected educators engaging in informal learning experiences through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. Basically, its professional development but in your personal time. 

While professional development is a necessary practice for all educators, PLNs are an engaging form of PD where you get to choose the subject areas you are interested in and learning is personalized to your individual needs and skills. It's an opportunity for teachers to participate in thought-provoking discussions and reflect on their practices. However, participation is not limited by school or district resources. Within your PLN, you will have a group of individuals from around the globe to turn to for questions and discussion, gaining multiple perspectives on the same issue. Your PLN can also be an incredible platform for professional and personal reflection.

How I Use My PLN to Grow as an Educator

Participation in my professional learning network, especially Twitter, has helped me stay fresh on trends and issues in education, specifically educational technology. Following bloggers that I like introduces me to new activities or fresh ways to teach a tried and true lesson. Aside from learning new activities, my PLN offers encouragement in a stressful profession. I also can ask questions and get real-time answers from experienced educators around the country or even the world. Further, writing my own blog posts allows me not only to share what I’m doing with other educators but to reflect on my instruction. Finally, I’m extremely excited about creating and moderating a Google+ community where the teachers in my district can encourage and learn from each other!

The Ultimate PLN Platforms: Twitter and Beyond

Twitter is my favorite platform for my PLN (I use Facebook for mostly personal use). I like Twitter for following educators that inspire me, bloggers that provide excellent resources, and accounts of products I use on a daily basis to stay abreast to new features and ideas. One of the most awesome things about Twitter for PLNs is the Twitter chat. Participating in a real-time discussion with like-minded (sometimes) educators is not only informative but fun. Twitter is also great because you can get insight or ideas in fewer than 140 characters! Perfect for those days when you need a little inspiration, but don’t want to do a lot of reading. Some of my favorites to follow:  @Seesaw, @ClassTechTips, @alicekeeler, @jmattmiller, and @PintoBeanz11. And of course, you can follow me on Twitter, too!

Other options for PLNs can include connecting on Facebook or Google+ Communities (my second favorite!), following blogs, and subscribing to newsletters. On Google+ Communities or Facebook, follow other educators, join communities or create collections, follow the accounts of products you use in your class, or create your own posts to share your ideas. While there is no shortage of educational blogs and newsletters out there, some of my favorites include Vicki Davis, Tara Martin, and George Couros, as well as Common Sense Education and The Curriculum Corner. Even Pinterest could be a platform for your PLN. Just make sure your pins are related to improving your or your students’ learning and not just cutesy activities or classroom decor.

Developing Your PLN

When it comes to developing your PLN, here are a few pointers (from easiest to most challenging) for developing and expanding your PLN and your own personal learning:
  • Join a digital professional learning network. Start small by following a few people on Twitter or subscribe to a few weekly newsletters. Hint: If you can, organize the newsletters in your email to be filed automatically so that they don’t clog your inbox, but you can easily find them to read later.
  • Be an active participant in your PLN. Post, comment, add content, etc. on social media. Try commenting on a blog post that interests you, or share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. Participate in a Twitter chat. Hint: If you find a discussion on Twitter that interests you, follow it using a hashtag search.
  • Be a leader in your PLN. Create your own a professional newsletter or blog which you add to regularly. Create and moderate a Facebook Group or Google+ Community and ask others to join. Host a Twitter chat (my next goal) and lead a discussion about an area you are passionate about. Hint: Tweet your blog post on Twitter to generate traffic to your blog.

Your PLN and Your Classroom: Applying What You Learned

So you’ve tweeted and retweeted to your heart’s content, but now what?! Your ultimate goal with your PLN is for it to have a direct impact on your students. Again, start small: don’t try to do everything you’ve seen. Go back through your retweets and choose one or two things to try. Make sure you prepare well, especially if it is something new. But be you may have to go off script, though, because nothing usually goes as planned. And even if something goes wrong (and it probably will!), don’t be afraid to try again! After you put an idea into practice, share your experience on Twitter by posting some pics or a brief reflection.

If you already have an established PLN, share one specific idea, topic or lesson plan that you found particularly interesting that impacted your teaching. It may spark someone else’s PLN!

*****UPDATE***** Check out the Common Sense Education post about PLNs that I contributed to!


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