Edublogs Teacher Challenges

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Step 1: What is a PLN?

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Welcome to our professional learning series on building a PLN.

This series guides you step by step through the process of setting up your own PLN.

The aim of this first step is to:

  1. Explain what is a PLN.
  2. Help you understand why educators create their own PLN.

michaelThe following information on PLN was co-written by Michael Graffin, a relief/substitute teacher and blogger from Western Australia.

You can check out Michael’s original “What the heck is a PLN” post here.

What is a PLN?

The word “PLN” stands for “Personal Learning Network”, and it has its origins in connectivism theory (Siemens, G. & Downes, S., 2005).

Why you should begin your own PLN —Ashley Azzopardi (@ashleyazzopardi)

Why you should begin your own PLN —Ashley Azzopardi (@ashleyazzopardi)

Let’s take this a little further…

The Personal:
Having a PLN is about making connections and building personal relationships with teachers, school administrators, university professors, and experts around the world. No matter where you are in the world, there’s always someone online available to answer questions, share their expertise, and simply chat about what’s happening in their lives and classrooms.

The Learning:
Having a PLN is about sharing ideas and resources, collaboration, and learning. We may share our learning, ideas and expertise in different ways; using different media and tools, but the essence is the same: the PLN is simply the best professional development you will ever participate in – and it’s available 24/7.

The Network:
The defining feature of the PLN is that it is a global learning network, enabling people to tap into and share diverse, global perspectives on teaching strategies, educational issues, and technologies. If takes time and effort to build these connections, but it’s well worth the effort.

What is a PLN Video

Watch this video to learn more about what is a PLN.

Why create a PLN

“From little things, big things grow”

I’m a fairly new teacher, and a relative newcomer to the online education community. When I become an active social-media Twitter user, one of the first questions I asked myself was “What is a PLN?”

Within six months later, I realised that developing a Personal Learning Network is an empowering, transformational process, which fundamentally transforms your professional learning and teaching approach. And my experience is hardly unique

Real People, Real Teachers – Why we have a PLN

Being a connected educator

A connected educator is a connected learner who collaborates online and uses a range of social media tools to build their own personal learning network to interact with other educators.

Watch the following video to learn more about being a connected educator.

Building your own PLN

Best of a PLN is it’s personal!

You make all the choices:

  1. What tools you use!
  2. Who you connect with!
  3. How you want to learn!
  4. When you want to learn!

The idea of this series is to guide you through the process of building your own PLN.

Remember as you work through the series we each have our own preference of what online tools works best for us and we’ve included the most popular tools for building a PLN to help get you started.


Your Task

Personal Learning Networks are all about sharing, collaborating, and learning from each-other. So here’s your chance to ask a question, comment, and get involved!

We’d like you to add your voice and ideas to our ongoing conversation about PLNs by undertaking one or more of these challenges:

  1. Watch What is a PLN video.  Leave a comment on this post to explain what a Personal learning network means to you.
  2. Check out Real People, Real Teachers: Why we have a PLN voicethread.  Leave a comment on this post to share what you learned from the Voicethread.
  3. Watch the connected educator video and leave a comment on this post to explain why it is important to be a connected educator and how a PLN can help you.
  4. Write a blog post to explain what you have learnt about Personal Learning Networks.  Leave a comment with a link to the post so we can have a look at how you went.

Also feel free to leave a comment to ask any questions or share your tips.

185 comments for “Step 1: What is a PLN?

  1. Megan
    October 14, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    PLNs are amazing tools and I’m so glad I started cultivating one earlier this year – it’s grown tremendously, dramatically improved my teaching and awareness of the forefront of education, and can make me feel connected even as a California educator living here in Paris. Read on about my PLN and what is means to me on my blog: I’d love to connect!

    • Sue Waters
      October 14, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      Hi Megan

      Thanks for writing a post on PLNs and your advice. I left a comment on the post but it may have been sent to your spam folder. Please check your Comments spam folder in case it was spammed by mistake.

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

  2. Tina
    October 12, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    I hadn’t really thought about it before, this PLN thing. Initially thought, “Why would I do that?” less time in the garden, less time on my bike, more hours thinking work. Yet when I’m doing those things my teaching passions are interwoven anyway. My mobile phone is full of images to be used in some sense at school with my students. My notepad is full of snippets of ideas and links and things I’ve seen online or PD I’ve followed up and found out more that pop into my head when doing the weeding. What is my measure of my teaching? What is my scope for connecting with transformative ideas? A PLN enables those very things. It could enable me to push what I know. It could enable me to push how I do things. It could enable me to find inspiration.

    • Keith
      October 17, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      I have also found a mobile device to be a great tool in the garden! The ideas come and I can easily put them down for an upcoming lesson or share them with others.

  3. Tina
    October 12, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Listening to Voicethread is so evident that teachers from everywhere value the opportunity to make links beyond their immediate teaching settings. I too appreciate the flexibility and personal control over the participation and contributions I make. Not anchored to a timetable or meeting schedule you can fit your exchanges around other things in your life and build your professional capacity when it suits you. Having recently initiated blogging with my students through the Teacher Challenge I have learnt so much. If I had to wait for this PD to be booked at my school, or for other teachers to want to learn about this, my students would not be a powerhouse of writing motivated by their global audience.

    • Sue Waters
      October 14, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      Hi Tina

      It is an amazing Voicethread that Michael created with support of his PLN.

      It is also really great to hear how much you gained from the Teacher Challenge – student blogging series. Lots of teachers have told us how being able to work through the series at your own pace really helps.

      Thanks for sharing what a PLN enables you to do!

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

  4. aaishaz
    October 11, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    To me as new blogger and Twitter user, growing my PLN is really important. I have been recently given the post of a PD Lead Teacher which puts a lot on my plate. Without having a good PLN I would feel isolated and under pressure. I know I can learn so much and ever since I’ve started blogging and using Twitter, I have already grown so much! Here is a post I wrote on being a connected teacher.

    Have a look :)


    • Sue Waters
      October 14, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      Hi Aisha

      Congratulations on your post of PD Lead Teacher! Well deserved; you’ve been working really hard to connect with otter educators by developing a blog and using Twitter. Both of these will definitely help you.

      I also loved your post. It is very important while developing our PLN that we also look for ways to connect more with our local educators.

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

      • Aisha
        October 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm

        Thanks so much Sue. Edublogs has helped me through and I owe the team in general and you in particular a lot! CPD is my passion and edublogs is my new love. You guys are doing an amazing job.

  5. Anne Schaefer-Salinas
    October 11, 2014 at 8:04 am

    I LOVE my PLN. It is so helpful to have a group of educators from around the world that I can bounce ideas off of and collect ideas from. As an Administrator, our “learning team” at our site is extremely limited. Thus, it is crucial to be able to have others that I can turn to with questions or when I need support. A PLN is the best way to get pushed out of your comfort zone to keep growing. It is the best place to test out new ideas as well as have ideas challenged. Being part of a PLN has made me a stronger leader and educator as well as a more reflective practitioner. All of these skills are key to achieving our best. As Tom Whitby said, we can’t tell our students to be life-long learners if we don’t model learning as well. A PLN is the best way to find new ideas, curate resources, and grow your circle that I have found. It takes work, but it is so worth it.

    • Sue Waters
      October 14, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      Hi Anne

      I agree! I love my PLN and as Tom says tell our students to be life-long learners if we don’t model learning as well. Developing a PLN is one of the best ways of modelling life long learning.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Sue Waters
      Support Manager
      Edublogs | CampusPress

  6. Megan
    October 11, 2014 at 3:40 am

    Great article, thank you! I’m so glad a professor in my M. Ed. program started me on the process of building my PLN earlier this year, and am loving the increased community and vast teacher development it brings me wherever I am in the world.

    I am however, stuck on how to get to a few of the next stages of building my PLN – can anyone please help?

    1. For “Subcribe to Blogs,” does that mean email signups? Or using the blogreader on WordPress (which I still don’t understand very well).
    2. What does “Join a Community” mean? Is this a labeled group or contributing to your online community? Can someone please provide examples?
    3. “Attend Webinars” – can you please define this further? How do I find them?

    Thank you so much for reading and responding and helping me grow!

  7. Yvonne Harrison
    October 10, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    My PLN is really important to me because it consists of people who understand what it is like to explore and comment on technologies and pedagogy. They see world trends and embrace changes that support the development of innovative teaching methods. Sometimes I feel like I am on a wild ride but I know that getting out of my comfort zone is the best way to learn! That’s what my PLN does for me!

    • Dan Leeman
      October 13, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      Hi Yvonne,

      I think exploration is such a key part of online PLNs. No one can really take a backseat when it comes to online connecting as the culture depends entirely on members actively exploring and collaborating.

      Do you have any colleagues that are especially observant when it comes to understanding global trends? At Edublogs, our team is made up of several people from different countries around the world and we’re always looking to follow educators with a pulse on educational trends around the world.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  8. Amy
    October 9, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Excited to get started rebuilding my PLN… started a couple years ago but got stuck in a rut… saw this challenge and knew it was for me :)

    • Dan Leeman
      October 13, 2014 at 8:22 pm

      Hi Amy,

      Thanks for joining the Teacher Challenge!

      What led to getting “stuck in a rut”? Lack of time or support?
      Let us know how we can best help you in reinvigorating your PLN throughout this challenge :)

      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  9. Lisa
    October 8, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Having a PLN is important to me because it has helped me connect to people around the world. Being connected with other teachers is imperative in today’s world because we don’t teach alone. As a teacher, having that support network- whether it is at school or online, can make a difference in the way you teach. As part of the #blogsync project I wrote about the importance of being connected and how this has saved me from the dreaded “5 year burnout” (1st link), the other is an old post I wrote when I joined Twitter.

    • Dan Leeman
      October 9, 2014 at 4:40 am

      Hi Lisa,

      Good to connect with you again! I enjoyed your re-igniting passion for teaching post :)

      It’s fun to see how much the PBL trend has caught on fire over the past couple of years. I’ve really enjoyed some of the PBL chats on Twitter – great way to connect with creative teachers who are building authentic learning experiences for students.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  10. amycottonteach
    October 8, 2014 at 9:50 am

    I’m an Australian (NSW) high school English teacher who has stepped out of the classroom to take up a role focussed on providing professional development help to all types of teachers in NSW and ACT.

    I’ve recently started a blog focussed tightly on NSW film texts found on the HSC prescriptions list. The blog is a way for me to keep connected with my English teacher colleagues but also to remain on top of my syllabus content. It will give me the structure and drive to keep developing my understanding of the texts and find new ways to help students explore them. I’m hoping that my colleagues will add their suggestions and thoughts to the blog to help it grow from a single to multiple point of view warehouse of ideas.

    A PLN to me is not only integral to my current role as a PD facilitator, but it will help me build and maintain connections with my English teacher colleagues. It will also allow me the chance to put a little bit back into the community that helped me get on my feet as a teacher.

    Although I’m new to blogging, I’m looking forward to being part of an active and creative PLN.

    • Dan Leeman
      October 9, 2014 at 4:31 am

      Hi Amy,

      Sounds like an exciting new position. It’s great how we can use PLNs to customize our own educational experiences; in your case, you can connect simultaneously to other PD facilitators while maintaining connections with your English teacher colleagues.

      Thanks for being a part of the Teacher Challenge!
      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  11. Dan Gallagher
    October 7, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    I listened/read the Voicethread and added my two cents as well, “Hello! My name is Dan, I connect so I can help share ideas. Something that worked for me might be able to assist another or they might get inspired and adapt an idea to fit their situation. Connecting is impacting on others for the benefit of education! I’ve gained many new tools, resources, techniques, etc. from reading the ideas shared by others!”

    In the video, ‘What is a PLN’, Marc-André summed up a personal learning network rather nicely. It is a group of individuals or organizations, which I choose, to network through a platform(s) which I feel comfortable using; for the betterment of our education.

    For Connected Educators Month, I have submitted an event to the collective calendar. I will be moderating a webinar of educational panelists discussing one of their ThingLink interactive images. Here is the link if you are interested in attending:

    • Dan Leeman
      October 9, 2014 at 4:12 am

      Hi Dan,

      Good to connect with you again! You must hold a record for all of the different Edu-challenges you have completed :)

      Thanks for sharing the link with us to your CEM panel on ThingLink. Cool to watch ThingLink take off, what a great resource!

      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

    • Dan Leeman
      October 9, 2014 at 4:09 am

      Awesome! Thanks for sharing your post, Cyndi.

      I especially enjoyed the coloring of the Google letters :)

      Sounds like you’re really connected as an educator. Are you sure you shouldn’t be teaching a PLN course? ;)

      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  12. Ms K Kauffman
    October 7, 2014 at 12:11 am

    To me, personal learning networks can be any group of professionals selected by an individual to be part of a community of learning. As a librarian, I am part of several professional organizations, and I consider those to be my personal learning networks. We are able to get together as a group IRL a couple of times a year to discuss issues related to school librarianship; however, the conversation also extends to email listservs and social media even after our workshops and conferences have ended. Beyond professional organizations, I have a group of educators that I follow on Twitter and Google+. I am also very fortunate to be a part of the Google Certified Teacher Google Group, and I have learned an awful lot about Google tools in the past year from these incredible educators! I would love to connect with more people, especially on Twitter – find me @mskkauffman.

    • Dan Leeman
      October 9, 2014 at 3:04 am

      Hi Ms. K,

      That’s a great definition of a PLN. I’m glad you’ve had such great experiences within traditional professional organizations with the balance of IRL and online interactions. In my experience, I found that many of the traditional professional organizations had their annual meeting, collected dues, but didn’t contribute to the overall learning and collaborative culture, hence why many of my colleagues moved to online groups for continual support and communication.

      I’ve heard awesome things about the Google Certified teachers group. When did you go through the process, and how many teachers are a part of that group now?

      Thanks for sharing!
      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  13. momahony
    October 6, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Here is my very first post! OK, so I really have to put some time into making my blog look better – but I’d rather just get started. Ironically, I’ve just set up my grade 12 students on another edublog site for them to explore and reflect on ways of coping with stress – by testing strategies on themselves – and accessing current primary research. I’m kinda’ hoping I continue to learn from them!

    • Dan Leeman
      October 9, 2014 at 2:48 am

      Hi there,

      No worries about making your blog look better, we all start somewhere! And I think most bloggers would agree that it’s more important to get started by writing great content – and then tweaking the appearance can come later :)

      Thanks for connecting with us!
      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

      • Meg O'Mahony
        October 9, 2014 at 2:57 am

        Thanks for the comment! Whew!

  14. Michelle
    October 5, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    PLNs are a fantastic way to continue learning! I find that by expanding my PLN both face to face and online, it has really enriched my teaching. Here is a blog post about how broadening my PLN through Twitter has improved my teaching.

    • Dan Leeman
      October 6, 2014 at 7:55 am

      Hi Michelle,

      I think using a combination of face-to-face and online techniques to build your PLN is a great strategy.

      I’d like to check out your blog post, but it appears that the link shortener isn’t working. Would you mind posting again?

      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  15. vandana ramteke
    October 5, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    a very goodmorg….
    its a worth speaking that edublogs and the team members are doing such a nice job for us special for the teachers and those who are student teachers to make them familiar with new source,ideas and information that one can express through blogs and enrich the life of numbers of students as well as of own…
    of course this is my first time i heard about PLN… i gone through the introduction video and i love the way its made me easy to get.. as i belong to India here people are not so much into blogs and all specially for educational purpose… somewhere i feel very upset of this lack of knowledge create a sort of barriers and when this PLN theme is there i can connect to the our educators to know how about teaching ways…second thing is that i am going through school and colleges to teach them how to develop edublogs and introduce them in their schools and colleges.

    • Dan Leeman
      October 6, 2014 at 7:23 am

      Hi Vandana,

      Thank you for your kind comments! We appreciate your hard work and are excited that you are teaching others in your community about blogging.

      The awesome part about PLNs being global in nature is that you can find support and encouragement from educators all over the world. Even if there are barriers in your own area, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of bloggers in other countries who would love to collaborate with you!

      Please let us know if we can help!
      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  16. Cyndi
    October 5, 2014 at 3:54 am

    PLNs are invaluable. I started 2 Twitter accounts last year, one for personal and the other for education. I am never on my personal account anymore; however, my educational account is always logged in. I also am an advocate for using Symbaloo, Pinterest, and even Facebook for furthering my connection to other educators.

    • Dan Leeman
      October 6, 2014 at 6:16 am

      Hi Cyndi,

      I completely know what you mean about trying to manage two Twitter accounts, it’s awfully hard to keep up with both of them! I’m always impressed by how much educators shape Twitter – I can’t believe how often I see an edchat of some sort trending on Twitter.

      We’ve shared a little bit on the Edublogger about Symbaloo, but I’m always curious how others are using it. How have you used Symbaloo to connect with other educators?

      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  17. Amy Capalbo
    October 5, 2014 at 3:32 am

    I am a high school art teacher who is using a blog to deliver instruction and am teaching my students how to blog in order to create an online portfolio of their photography and written reflections. I would love to incorporate quad blogging into my curriculum this year in order to make my students’ blogs a more authentic form of learning and communicating. I hope that this challenge will help me to achieve that.

    I watched the connected educator video and the line that most struck me was near the end of the video when one of the speakers discussed teachers not living up to the standard of being a lifelong learner. I see far too much of this mentality and an overall resistance to change from my colleagues. I don’t ever want to get to the point of being annoyed at new challenges or angry about new initiatives in education. I became a teacher to help my students love art and learning. I think this is another great step towards that goal.

    Amy Capalbo

    • Dan Leeman
      October 6, 2014 at 6:08 am

      Hi Amy,

      I saw that you were a part of the Teacher Challenge for blogging with students and already saw our post (Step 10) which talked about Quad Blogging. Did you need any help to make that a reality? This particular teacher challenge won’t focus specifically on that since it is more geared to teachers’ own professional development, but we’d love to help if you need any.

      I agree it is difficult when we see our colleagues that are resistant to change. I think there is a good middle ground – being able to be critical of new changes (does a new initiative actually help improve student learning, or is it to satisfy some meaningless objective or a matter of PR?) and being receptive to lifelong learning. Glad to hear you’re passing on your own love of learning and love of art to your students :)

      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  18. Lisa Suhr
    October 4, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    The concept of a PLN for me has changed over the years that I’ve been in education (25!!). When I first started teaching, technology was limited and I relied on my building and district colleagues, professional reading, college courses I took and professional organizational memberships to continue to learn. Attending conferences introduced me to short-term connections to others, but not until email came in to the picture did long-term connections to others outside of my small rural Kansas school district become possible. My first long-term “expert” connection came through a partnership with the American Meteorological Society that paired science teachers with practicing meteorologists to increase our learning through in-person visits as well as course work faxed back and forth between the teacher and the meteorologist!! My first long-distance peer connection was with a teacher in the Boston area whom I met through the online Monster Exchange project and with whom I emailed and exchanged drawings and writings of our classes by uploading projects to the project website.

    Today the social media technologies that exist completely change the ease of connections and the variety of connections available to educators. It is exciting to me to see the opportunities that our young educators have for such professional growth early in their careers! It should be good for retention as well as improving the profession!

    • Dan Leeman
      October 6, 2014 at 4:23 am

      Hi Lisa,

      What a great picture you paint of the way technology continues to shape the education profession!

      It’s awesome when k-12 educators can team up with experts in their field, providing practical applications for the professors/researchers, and content experts for teachers and students.

      I think one of the benefits of using technology to build a PLN is that it is easy to find other educators who are passionate about their field and education in general. In my mind, any teacher that takes time outside of school to continue to learn and grow is the kind of teacher I want to meet and collaborate with. Twitter and other tools make it easy to identify those that are constantly sharing and perfecting their craft.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

  19. Arta Szathmary
    October 4, 2014 at 7:30 am

    I think I have a PLN, but it is “home grown” and want to take this challenge. I am a retired Computer Science Professor, President of PA4C, Secretary of CSTA Philly, Leadership team member of PAECT, Master Teacher for MIT App Inventor, wife, mother and Grandma to 9 wonderful kids. I call it Rewirement, not Retirement. One of my tag lines has been “The only thing that is constant is change”. And I want to see how best to organize my PLN, get the most out of it, and add the most to it!

    • Dan Leeman
      October 6, 2014 at 4:05 am

      Hi Arta,

      Home-grown PLNs are some of the best!

      I love that you are in rewirement :) So many people envision retirement as some fantasy land where we suddenly drop all ties to anything that we have been passionate about and end up on an exotic beach. It’s refreshing to hear how involved you are!

      What are some ways that you have grown your own PLN?

      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

      • Arta Szathmary
        October 6, 2014 at 4:48 am

        I belong to a few key groups in my area.
        I actively use linked in and google plus and have grown my networks in both of these.

        I have set up community for my own students in google+, and have joined a number of communities that interest me such as GEG Eastern PA, and GEG NJ

        I wrote a rule in IFTTT to post to facebook and twitter if I post to google plus.

        I have all of my emails forwarded to one location– account.
        I have written rules in outlook so that my incoming email is sorted into appropriate folders.
        I try to answer any questions within 24 hours.

        Who do I count as prime members of my PLN?
        Josh Sheldon from MIT
        Rich Kiker
        Alfred Tompson
        Kathy Schrock
        Laura B.
        Brandon Lutz

        to name a few.

        I try not to go crazy when I get 300 emails in a day!

  20. Natalie
    October 4, 2014 at 5:50 am

    I wrote two posts, one on Sept 21 about my PLN and one for Oct release about how I connected with others on twitter

    • Dan Leeman
      October 6, 2014 at 2:29 am

      Hi Natalie,

      Thanks for sharing your blog posts with us. Impeccable timing!

      I’m surprised more schools have not moved to an autonomous and continuous professional development model as you have suggested. Perhaps it was just my local area, but it seemed that the districts were more interested in bringing in the “big names” for one-off PD days rather than allowing teachers to explore their own ideas and paths of development. It seems ironic, especially when we are encouraged to focus on different learning styles and abilities of our students, that teachers should be grouped into one giant lecture for professional development.

      It’s great to hear that your new principal took the opinions and learning goals of teachers into consideration when planning professional development. It reminds me a bit of the Google 20% time that allows employees to devote some of their work time to creative projects that better the company. When professional development only follows a top-down approach, it fails to harness the expertise of teachers who know what is most important for their own growth and teaching.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Dan Leeman, Edublogs Support

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