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Welcome to the fourth step in our free professional learning series on building your PLN.

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 step you will explore:

  1. How PLN development can be overwhelming
  2. Get some tips for building your PLN and avoiding being overwhelmed

Sarah Poling

This information was written by Sarah Poling who is passionate about finding and using technology as a motivator and time saver. 


When I started to learn best practices in educational technology to share with pre-service elementary teachers 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:

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.

Set a goal

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

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.

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.

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.

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 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. 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.  Leave a comment on this post to tell us about your current PLN and what areas of developing a PLN you want to focus on.
  2. 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.  Let a comment on this post to share your ideas on how you will make time to build your PLN.
  3. Leave a comment to share your top tips that have helped you not get overwhelmed and helped get you started building a PLN.

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


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  1. I’ve just joined Twitter.. it seems quite overwhelming right now. I’m sure that in a few months I’ll feel like a pro! #edtech202 I am excited to find other educators with various degrees of experience to collaborate with and learn from as well.

    • Anita Murnighan
  2. I just used the futureme.org advice and emailed my future self with my plan so that in one year I can evaluate what has worked, what hasn’t and what changes I’d like to make. The Goals I set for the next year concerning my PLN is to become active on Twitter by following along for 15 mins daily and to post at least 1 time a week. I would also like to maintain my activities on Tumblr (which currently has a “study” focus that I will change to a more professional teaching focus as I draw nearer to graduation). And, last but not least, I am planning on adjusting my current blog (shiveracademy.com). I have let it gather dust the last few years as I have slowed down on homeschooling. I would like to continue sharing my curriculum ideas, but I need to broaden the scope a bit so that my network grows.

    • Patty Thompson
    • Your goals sound great, Patty. How funny will it be seeing that future email. Maybe I should try it myself!

      • Kathleen Morris
  3. The one thing that I have done with adding to my PLN is to take it ONE step at a time. Kind of like baby steps. Except. I only focus on mastering one social media at a time. This way, I’m not trying to get the hang of ALL of it ALL, at once.

    • Patty Thompson
    • Good idea! You don’t have to be on all social media either. Even a lot of the ‘pros’ just focus on a couple. Personally, I mainly use Twitter and Facebook. I dabble with Instagram and Pinterest and would like to use them more but that would be too time consuming!

      • Kathleen Morris
  4. I would love to start a LHS Dance Education PLN and post photos and videos from our day in the dance ed classroom but my district has a policy that states we are not allowed to post students on social media unless their parents have signed a parental consent permission form…how do I go about getting through this block in the road in order to create a PLN students, parents, the community, and my fellow teachers and dance educators can join and appreciate???

    • Hi Jodie,
      Some people post photos of students that either don’t show their faces, or they use an app/online tool to blur students faces or put an emoji over them. So perhaps you could ask your district if it’s okay to post photos without faces and names??
      Otherwise, you could consider using a private blog if that’s something your district would approve. You’d just have to give the people you want to access the blog the password. 🙂

      • Kathleen Morris
  5. I think that using some of these tools will help me significantly develop my PLN and if help myself by developing a time frame to put more into it I think I will get the most out of it.

    • Mattie Bennett
    • Sometimes giving yourself a time frame is a really useful strategy! Good luck.

      • Kathleen Morris
  6. I think that this workshop is very innovative and I am hoping that it will help make preparing much quicker and effective.

    • Indira Pierre-Louis
  7. This is quite overwhelming but I look forward to spending at least 20 minutes a day building my PLN.

  8. I plan to set aside 30 minutes a day each evening to mine my PLN. I hope to limit what comes in to a manageable level so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

    • Darlene Hubber
  9. I am starting slowly to create my PLN, and blogs and twitter are a good start for me, as I become more familiar I wont feel like I am just lurking:)
    I do feel excite about having a twitter page that my students and their families can follow,I will add moments throughout our day and photos I think this will be a lot of fun, as well as build a community for our kids, families, and school.

    • Mary Ellen Mulderrig