PLN Challenge #4: Making Time To Build Your PLN

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This guest post was written by Sarah Poling who is passionate about finding and using technology as a motivator and time saver. This is post #4 in the “30 Days to a Whole New PLN” challenge!

Now you know what a PLN is, and how people use Twitter to build one, we’re going to discuss ways of making time to build your PLN.

In this activity you will explore:

  1. How PLN development can be overwhelming.
  2. Get some tips for building your PLN and avoiding being overwhelmed
  3. Challenge task start your PLN: take your own baby steps and share them…


For the past six months, I’ve been learning best practices in educational technology to share with pre-service elementary teachers.

When I started, I just wanted to quit!

It was completely overwhelming to know where and how to start.

A family member and fellow educator said the most important thing to teach new teachers is to create a PLN.

So as any good educator does, I set out to figure out the best ways to create a PLN. Even that was overwhelming, so many choices, and all seemed so new, I started with twitter, perhaps the livefeed was part of my problem- my first tweet, tweets came so fast I couldn’t follow ANY threads of conversation.

Every time I started, I quickly found myself overwhelmed and closing my laptop. In some ways it felt like reading in a foreign language.

But as a lifelong learner, I knew I couldn’t just throw in the towel. I decided I needed a better plan to cope with being a digital immigrant who will be teaching digital natives.

fifteen minutes

I remembered reading, if you do anything for 15 minutes a day, you will be a leading expert in a few years. So I decided that would be my approach. (Perhaps my inner teenager remembered the movie “What about Bob?” and the ‘babysteps’ theory)

I started with what I knew!

I emailed the one educational blog author that I had been reading in my daily inbox for one month, and asked her for help. She told me NOT to be overwhelmed that the information was coming at me like a firehose of information, and that no one can keep up with it, so just jump in and enjoy what I can gain, use and share. She also told me that twitter had hashtag chats, invited me to join #edchat or #ntchat, and to try and attend an online conference that weekend.

I attended a session on twitter and the presenter said he’s only been an active tweeter for 6 months, thus confirming my suspicion. I could do this in small bites and I could even know enough in a few months to TEACH it. I think that was my real fear, that not only did I want to develop my own PLN, but I wanted to be able to train others in all things social media. But as I took small steps, I was hooked. I would just do a few minutes a few times a week when I could find the time. I also wasn’t going to let anything new intimidate me.

One tool at a timeFrom there I just took one tool at a time. I started by reading more blogs and looking for people to follow on twitter. These went hand in hand, many great bloggers, tweet!.

Through my twitter friends and chats, I learned about edublog and the 30 day challenges. I also found the list of the top blogs from 2010, and saw when I tried to set up my own blog, I could see how new other people were to blogging.

I also had a theory that if I could just find people that have time to specialize in different areas and follow them, I would save myself tons of time, by finding people, like I do in real life who are kindred spirits but also ‘experts’ in things I can’t claim to be an expert in. I was amazed at how many experts there are out there, how fast I learned lingo, and how helpful everyone was.

This perhaps was my best ‘aha’ moment. I want to be the best at all that I do, but in this area, I could just look for the best, and use their ideas until I’m ready to share something great, I’m okay learning from others and appreciating their work.

My Tips for Building your PLN

Here are some tips for building your PLN while avoiding being overwhelmed:

#1 Learning styles and personal preferences

Think about your learning styles, your natural preferences or comforts in the options of social media, and start with what you know. You already have parts of a PLN both in face to face life and on the Internet. Look for similar people, styles on the cloud.

#2 Set a goal

I wrote myself a note and sent it to myself at the close of my academic semester using I included my goals and my game-plan to accomplish them.

#3 Set a routine

Choose a time to do this daily or a few times a week. For me it was after the kids were in bed while DH and I were watching DVR and I could multitask where if I became absorbed in the media on the cloud, I could focus and if it was too much, I could just stop for the day and go back to watching my show.

#4 Find Resources that Help

Find resources to help you organize and that will help you stretch. I joined the edublog 30 day challenge, on my newly created blog, I listed my reasons for blogging and my ed tech goals. I found livebinder and put the button in my toolbar to save resources I loved and wanted to be able to use. I also started a googlereader file and learned I could ‘google’ just in my reader so I never had to be afraid of not finding a great blog again. I didn these as they were comfortable to me, I did not overcommit, I jumped in little by little.

#5 Decide what works best for you!

Realize not everything is going to work for you at once.I joined the blog challenge, but my blog is not one that I use yet, instead I focused on finding other established blogs, and trying to determine a niche or angle for my blog that will be helpful to me and others in my PLN. I admitted I’m not going to be the foremost resource on free tech for teachers, or which apps are the best for the ipad. I also realized that I don’t need to be. I have expertise to offer in different ways. Use trial and error to find the tools that fit you and help you grow.

#6 Don’t force it

Be grateful for the help you are finding, don’t try and give back at first, just thank those who are sharing with you with a comment on their blog, a reply tweet, or an email complimenting their work. Soon enough you will be able to add to the conversation with strength, but don’t force it.

Your Challenge

Leave a comment below and answer one (or more) of the following:

  1. Stop and think what type of PLN do you already have, for me it was money saving blogs and christian life blogs that I ‘went to’ automatically every day. I already had a facebook feed that showcased some of the people I wanted to learn from. Figure out which areas are you drawn to: following the person on twitter, reading a facebook status, looking at a blog each day, or reading email every day.
  2. Choose one or two ways that are natural to you like reading statuses, or linking to livebinders, twitter, and then look for new blogs, people, or groups to follow in your favorite mode.
  3. As you build habits of reading and sharing via your favorite tools, add in a new resources to test like twitter or an e-zine. Learn about the new tools in your comfort zone. Set a goal.
  4. Figure out what is the best time to commit to your PLN development. I learned that I couldn’t do my late night research on twitter and things that were brand new to me. I had to try the new stuff when I wasn’t dead tired. New things I tackled for 15-30 minutes first thing in the morning or as a mid day break.
  5. Share what ideas you have for taking to grow or start your PLN. What are your top tips that helps you not be overwhelmed and get you going?

Even better than leaving a comment would be to write your response in a blog post and leave a link to it in the comments :)

Challenge on!

About the Author

Sarah PolingSarah Poling is a lifelong learner and new idea person. She loves to read, and is passionate about finding and using technology as a motivator and time saver. She is a Christ follower and is passionate about educating kids in ALL areas of their lives.

Teaching Bio: Teacher trainer at Emmaus Bible College, Dubuque, Iowa. Her main responsibilities include : supervising student teachers and teaching about: assessment, management, technology use, children’s’ ministry, and special needs.


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38 thoughts on “PLN Challenge #4: Making Time To Build Your PLN

  1. Hi Sarah,
    Great post! For me I think building a PLN is like exercise, you don’t go from couch potato to running a marathon overnight. You need to put in hours of training before the big race. I’ll reflect on what you said and post my own response soon.

  2. Hi Sarah,
    Reading Sarahs response above, I think I was expecting too much too soon when I tried to start a PLN with twitter and blogs before.
    I have had some initial thoughts about my new attempt and posted them on my blog here.

  3. As an undergrad, I had a tech teacher who made it a requirement to join a listserv. This was back in 1999 (Netscape…Unysis anyone…?). By some grace of a goddess, I found the National Council of Teachers of English listserv (NCTE-Talk) and that pretty much saved my new-teacher arse.

    I find Twitter to be invaluable as a platform for sharing resources and the chats are fast-paced fun, but they do nothing for me in terms of the kinds of robust conversations I crave as a professional (like NCTE-Talk).

    Sarah, after reading your post, I’ve decided to set a goal for choosing maybe two or three learning communities (English Companion, Classroom2.0) and stop long enough to take part in the ongoing conversations.

    I definitely spread myself too thin and I never stop in one place long enough to feel a “part” of a community. I miss that.


    • I am replying to your blog as for an assignment in my Master’s class and I have to tell you that this is the first blog I have ever been involved in and have ever responded to. I saw your comment about NCTE-Talk and that was what piqued my interest. I’m also an English teacher at the high school level and love deep and meaningful conversations about literature and poetry. I’m interested in learning about English Companion as another learning community.

      Thanks for your information.

  4. Thanks, Sarah for your wonderful reflection on your journey in building a PLN. I like your time limit strategy, and I have had to do that also because I so want to learn and share with others — to inspire as I have been inspired, and do my part in moving education transformation.

    Here’s my journey based on your suggested steps:
    Building Steps

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  7. Hi,

    I’m only 2 months into building my PLN, I have really enjoyed using twitter and the information that roles in through the feed. I am still in the ‘lurking’ phase of using it.
    I found following hashtag chats very difficult at the begining, but after reading a blog post by Kathleen Morris about ‘tweetdeck’ it has made following those chats a lot easier!

    As I’m in my final year of uni, I find I have a little more time to spend looking through my feed and my google reader. I have found since getting the twitter app for my iphone that I constantly drop in for a look and ‘favourite’ things to come back and look at later when I have more time.

    Thanks for the challenge


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  9. Sarah,
    Thanks for your post! Your challenge was simple and attainable! I took to heart the 15 minutes a day – I can do that. So I started by visiting some of the established PLN Blogs to create a group of professionals I connect with and will now read those blogs everyday – take 15 minutes. I know once I start reading I will stay longer but I like the idea of starting with the media that I feel the most comfortable with.
    Here is my post at my new PLN Blog:
    Establish a PLN Routine

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  13. Hi Sarah,

    Nice post! I appreciate the time you took to share helpful tips for building PLN. I like how you connect it to what already comes natural to them.

    One thing I did was identify the purpose for how I’d use the social networking tool. For example, I use Twitter for my professional life, and Facebook for my personal life. This helped me connect with my different circles, and somehow it helps.

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

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  16. Thank you, Sarah for all your information! I’m brining this all to my principal to see if he can get other staff members to take the Teacher Challenge!! You and the others make it look so easy! Baby steps sounds good to me!

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