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

In the first step, we unpacked the definition of a PLN and looked at the benefits of being a connected educator.

You may now be wondering how to begin building your own PLN.

The aim of this step is to:

  1. Offer an overview of how to build a PLN
  2. Provide a snapshot of some tools educators use to connect with their PLN
  3. Share tips for connecting with educators from around the globe
  4. Discuss barriers to building a PLN

The Networked Teacher

Around a decade ago, Alec Couros created two diagrams that have been shared thousands of times.

This first diagram demonstrates how a teacher would traditionally connect and learn.

Image by Alec Couros, CC CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This diagram of “The Networked Teacher” demonstrates just some of the ways that educators can connect now that technology is at their fingertips. Note, the “old” ways of connecting are still there.

The Networked Teacher diagram by Alec Couros showing the different media that educators can connect with -- blogs, social bookmarking, chat etc.
Image by Alec Couros (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Alec’s brother George reminds us that the arrows go back and forth and it’s not only about what you consume but what you create. You can give as well as receive.

What Tools Are Used?

Teachers from all over the globe are online and learning together, but where exactly do you find these teachers and develop working relationships with them?

In a 2016 study called “Together we are better: Professional Learning Networks For Teachers”, K-12 teachers were asked how they use PLNs.

The most popular tool in the sample was Twitter with 53% of participants indicating that they used this tool to connect with others.

Other popular tools listed in the survey included blogs, Edmodo, Facebook, Discovery Education Network, and Pinterest.

84% of survey participants indicated that they use more than one medium or site.

How Are Teachers Connecting On Online Platforms?

Teachers use social media and other online spaces in a variety of ways to connect with their PLN.

Here are ten examples:

  1. Twitter — Educators follow people they’re interested in, ranging from “thought leaders” to everyday teachers in a similar subject area or age group. Teachers also use hashtags to follow topics of interest, and join Twitter chats to discuss ideas in real time. Be sure to follow Edublogs and CampusPress on Twitter. The next step in this series will explain how to start using Twitter.
  2. Facebook — Educators follow pages and profiles of people and businesses involved in education. They also join Facebook groups to post questions, ask for feedback, and respond to others. Visit our Edublogs Facebook page and Facebook for Education to start learning something new.
  3. Instagram — You can follow educators to get new ideas for lessons, activities, learning spaces and more. Hashtags make it easy to search for topics you’re interested in. Check out Tony Vincent’s Guide to Instagram For Teachers.
  4. Pinterest — Pinterest is ultimately a ‘discovery engine’ and is becoming a go-to for many educators looking for fresh ideas, resources, and connections. Be sure to follow Edublogs on Pinterest!
  5. Blogs — Blogs play an important role in most educators’ PLNs. This might include reading blogs from a variety of different people or writing your own blog. Visit Step Five of this series for more information.
  6. Email newsletters — There might be an educator, thought leader, or blogger who you really enjoy following. Chances are, they have an email newsletter that you can subscribe to for free to have curated news and contented delivered straight to inbox!
  7. Voxer — This walkie-talkie like tool can be used as an app on your mobile device or on your computer. Educators can engage in both synchronous and asynchronous conversations about their professional practice. Learn more in this article on Voxer by Amy Heavin.
  8. YouTube — Video is a powerful medium. Many teachers enjoy following a selection of YouTube channels to keep up to date with a variety of topics. Check out Kasey Bell’s 20 YouTube Channels for Educators to find some channels that might interest you.
  9. LinkedIn — Considered a “professional” social networking platform, educators can connect with a large community of professionals on LinkedIn. Explore this collection of 25 LinkedIn groups for networking teachers via Fractus Learning.

Feel free to share this graphic on your blog or with your colleagues.

Popular ways educators are learning with their PLN Edublogs Teacher Challenge

Tips For Developing Relationships

PLNs are all about relationships! Here are a few tips to consider as you begin to build your PLN.

  1. Invest some time in building your PLN. Set aside even 15 or 20 minutes a day and you’ll build momentum in no time.
  2. PLNs work both ways. Remember, the more you share, the more you’ll find you receive in return.
  3. Try different tools. There are so many different forms of social media, online tools, and ways to connect. Dip your toes in and see how educators are using various tools.
  4. Find tools that work best for you. While it’s definitely worth giving things a try, not every platform is for everyone. Choose to dedicate time to the tools you enjoy and find the most rewarding.
  5. Follow up with people. If someone connects with you whether it’s through a tweet, blog comment, Facebook group, or any platform, thank them, ask a question, and get to know them. These are the building blocks of forming a relationship.
  6. Ask for help. If you find someone who already has a number of connections (on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or wherever) ask them to introduce you to others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re figuring out how various platforms work either.
  7. Curate wisely. If you want to share interesting resources with people in your PLN, make sure you read beyond a headline and share things you think will be truly useful.
  8. Diversify. Try to connect with people with diverse opinions and points of view. It’s easy for “birds of a feather to flock together”, however, sometimes there is more to gain from communicating with a range of people from different backgrounds.
  9. Involve your students. Once you get to know a few educators, you might start to think about ways you can connect your students. Check out our Edublogger’s Guide To Global Collaboration for lots of ideas.
  10. Spread the word. As you begin to explore PLNs and online communities, share this information with others in your school or district. Maybe they don’t realize this wonderful virtual opportunity exists!

Barriers To Creating A PLN

In our first step, we looked at many of the advantages of building a PLN. If the benefits of being a connected educator are clear, what holds so many teachers back from building their own PLN?

Perhaps the first obstacle is that many teachers simply don’t know about PLNs. They don’t know there are thousands of educators from around the world who are online connecting, collaborating, and learning together.

Furthermore, Tom Whitby has outlined three deterrents to educators using PLNs as a tool for ongoing learning.

The PLN is a mindset, not the outcome of a workshop or the PD offered annually by many school districts. It is not a one-shot fix.

Teachers have learned through the “sit and get” model for generations. This mindset shift where you need to realize that you are responsible for your own learning and you can take control can be difficult to adapt to.

Additionally, prioritizing the investment in time that building a PLN requires would certainly be an obstacle for some. Step seven in this series offers some tips on finding time to invest in your PLN.

Successful users of PLNs overwhelm the uninitiated with techno-babble.

Hopefully, the future steps in this course can break down any overwhelming “techno-babble”.

You will probably find that many teachers who are regular uses of online technologies proclaim that they are “not very tech savvy”. Even George Couros who has a Twitter following of 224,000+ has said, “I’m not that good with technology and you probably aren’t either“.

It requires, at least at first, digital literacy beyond a Google search.

It is certainly essential that educators develop their digital literacy. As Silvia Tolisano has pointed out, our notion of what it means to be literate or illustrate calls for an update. 

... merely reading and writing in text form and on analog platforms is simply not enough to call yourself literate. The skills and abilities MUST include reading and writing in various media forms and on multiple platforms INCLUDING digital spaces. We can’t continue to differentiate between our analog and digital world. We live in ONE world after all.

If you feel like you need to improve your own digital literacy skills, don’t despair! You don’t need to learn everything before you embark on building your PLN. We will provide you with the essential tips and skills throughout this course and you can learn as you go.

If you feel like your skills need updating in other areas, such as blogging and online tools, we have other free courses you can work through at your own pace too.

Conclusion

Becoming a connected educator is something that takes work but has enormous advantages for both you and your students. In fact, many educators would say that it’s an essential responsibility of teachers to connect and commit to lifelong learning.

As George Couros has said, “Isolation is now a choice educators make“.

There are so many ways to free yourself from isolation. The following steps in this series breaks down three powerful avenues to becoming a connected educator — Twitter, blogs, and content curation.

Your Task

We’d like you to add your voice and ideas to our ongoing conversation on building your own PLN by undertaking one or more of the following challenges:

  1. Preferences: We all enjoy connecting in different ways. Write a post or comment on this post about how you plan to connect with other educators. What sites or tools do you think you’d prefer to use to make connections. Why?
  2. Relationship tips: Revise our list of tips for developing working relationships with other educators. What resonates most with you? Do you have any ideas to add? Tell us in a comment.
  3. Barriers: We have identified some common barriers to building a PLN. Leave a comment and tell us what the biggest barrier has been for you (or others you know). Share your thoughts on how this obstacle can be overcome.

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

How to leave a comment: Scroll down to find the comment box. Write your comment, then enter your name and email address (email addresses are not published). Enter the anti-spam word. Press submit and we will moderate your comment ASAP.

183 Comments

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  1. My biggest barrier has been that I have never thought of myself as technologically savvy. I basically know enough to get by, but it does not come easy to me. I have this underlying fear that something will go wrong or that I will look ridiculous as I try to master this new world that is ever-changing. I am excited about it though and I am ready to connect with other educators through Twitter. I do use Pinterest to get fresh ideas for my classroom and I do use Facebook but only to communicate with friends and family. Besides Twitter, I am also interested in investigating Edublogs on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.

    • Cynthia Berube
  2. As an educator, I often connect with other educators on Facebook. I am connected to different educational groups. In these groups, we usually share helpful information that benefits other educators. I plan on being on many platforms in order to connect with other educators.
    Lynette Moffett

  3. I frequently connect with a few different educational groups on Facebook which are very helpful. I also connect with other professionals through Instagram and Pinterest. I am beginning to utilize YouTube as well. I have tried Twitter but I cannot focus on the feed very well so I do not think that platform would be an option for me.

    • Kristen L Rosenberry
  4. I have made connections on several types of social media platforms but never thought of the information as professional development even though I was learning a new strategy or teaching tool.

  5. A student of mine helped me set up a Twitter account for a group that we co-facilitate. After presenting at a conference, I have found many people reaching out to me for resources to replicate the work this group is doing. I have not been able to keep up with this account and so our support is losing momentum. My goal is to be able to use Twitter to share our group progress but also to reach out to other educators and get inspiration. Moreover, if I am a critical consumer of educational related content on TWITTER then I can help my pre-service candidates look to this forum rather than pinterest and TPT,

    • Vanessa Christine Boryenace
  6. I am most familiar with Facebook, although I do have a Twitter account I haven’t used in years. I am excited to start using Twitter to connect with other teachers because it sounds like a lot of teachers are using it.

  7. The biggest tools I use to connect are twitter and facebook. I find it often can be time consuming to connect with educators in other ways, and these are both beneficial because I can quickly find ideas and tools to use. They are are updated constantly, have commenting features, and have an ease of use that makes connecting less time consuming.

    • Caitlin Slinkerd
  8. As an administrator, finding time to engage in a PLN can be difficult. However, if I narrow in on specific networks, I may find that it takes less time. I seem to get caught up in all the opportunities and end up falling down rabbit holes of possibilities. I spend more time looking than actually learning.

    • Ann Lachowitzer
  9. Personally, I use twitter and Instagram as my top tools to connect with other educators. No only are these update very frequently but they also have comment sections on every post so I can see how other educators feel about the post.

  10. I plan to connect with other educators via Twitter or Facebook. These are the platforms I am the most comfortable using and I’ve already seen a lot of activity from educators so I feel that they would be great places to start out my PLN.

  11. I prefer to connect with other educators over Twitter if I want to share or need feedback. I prefer to connect with other educators over Pinterest to find new ideas.

    • Deihjzia Fountain
  12. I think staying connected with other educators is very important. The tools that I would most likely use would be Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and maybe blogs.

  13. For me personally, I would much rather use tools like Reddit or Youtube to connect to other teachers. I like Reddit because it’s individualized for certain topics and it’s a place where likeminded people can all aggregate. In regards to YouTube, I like being able to have longer videos that I could show to my class, coworkers or just watch myself in order to grasp a concept better.

  14. I prefer to connect on something that does not show my personal information. I do not want other people to be able to find a way to have access to my personal accounts. So I guess Reddit is a good platform because everything is anonymous.

  15. My favorite way to connect with other educators is to use Twitter. I think that connecting through hashtags is easy, accessible, and guaranteeable for quick and efficient relationships online.

  16. I would like to connect with other teachers but I have difficulty to find time and find a suitable tool that is easy for me.

    • lubna m othman
  17. My preference for connecting is twitter because it is a platform I am use to using and already have a professional account set up. However I am open to using other tools and sites as I learn more about them.

  18. I plan to be open to as many different options that I can. I will initially start with Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and video chats. There are so many different ways now with technology that I am sure I use some without even realizing it. I will take some time to learn new ways other than the ones I listed above. LinkedIn I one I need to get a lot more familiar with to be able to use it effectively. The tools I chose were probably because they are the ones, I am most comfortable with using at this time.

    The tip that resonated most with me was the more you share the more you will get in return. This is true in almost anything, so it is important to be connected and present if you want that in return.

  19. My biggest barrier to building a PLN was simply not knowing that enough about the tools. For example, in a course I took about a year ago, there was a short tutorial video about Twitter. Within the tutorial, Twitter was described as a tool for keeping in contact with loved ones and sharing all the little details of your life (like the fantastic meal you ate at your favourite restaurant). Making small life details public held no interest for me.

    Now that I have been learning more about the tools, my next barrier is having the time to learn how each of these tools work. I’m thinking a bit of lurking may be in order 🙂

    Finally, it’s not so much a barrier, but taking a course such as this to help learn how to build my PLN will be beneficial.

  20. There are multiple social media networks that I already have a professional account for that I plan on using. As a teacher, I prefer twitter, linked, blogs, and pinterest. All of which you can learn a lot from other educators and even share your own ideas. The two relationship tips that resonated with me was #1: invest some time. If you don’t invest some time in building relationship with other educators, then it’s not going to happen. And #2: ask for help. This is something that I can definitely do a lot better. The barrier that has stopped me from connecting, is just not knowing about PLN’s. I never thought about the fact that there were so many other educators out there sharing their knowledge and ideas and creating a community of teachers all of the world. I was just expecting to bounce around ideas between the teachers at my school.

  21. I think I’d prefer to connect with educators through Pinterest and Youtube. I think I like Pinterest the most because the whole platform is based around sharing tips and ideas and it is more idea-focused than it is person/creator-focused. I also like youtube because that platform allows for videos longer than 1-5 minutes (whereas Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have time limits on the videos). I like how in-depth the content creator can go on topics.

  22. I definitely believe that the hardest part about being a connected educator and building a PLN is going to be getting myself to stay on top of it in the beginning. It has been difficult for me to stay involved with my professional twitter and pinterest because I’m not physcially in the classroom this semester. I can agree with starting by working on your PLN for 15-20 minutes a day to get the ball rolling.

    • Brooke Flowers
  23. I will connect with other educators using Twitter or Facebook. I am not familiar with these social media outlets, but I am excited to learn more about them. I think it is important to connect with other educators to stay current on different issues in education.

  24. The greatest barrier for me in developing a PLN online is the frequency with which I use social media. I spend about fifteen minutes a day on Pinterest, but it is difficult for me to make mental room to check Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. I just don’t think about it. As I develop a PLN online, I need to find platforms that do not require regular checks. I hope to find sources that I can check with specific concerns or that reach out to me with a newsletter or a blog post. If the source requires that I remember to check it, I will miss information because it’s not concretely in front of me. I need an online version of walking down the hall to talk to a fellow teacher—concrete and easily accessible when I need it.

    • Maribelle Perrigo
  25. I think social media can help people network. I am not familiar with Facebook or Instagram. I am a little nervous using social media because I am a private person. I think I would prefer using Pinterest or creating a blog.

  26. I use Facebook and Instagram quite often. I follow many different teacher/educational accounts on Instagram to get ideas to do with my preschoolers I work with! I am not a huge Twitter-person and don’t like the idea of me tweeting, but I do enjoy reading some Tweets from other educators! My preferred method of staying connected with other educators is going to be through Instagram. I enjoy seeing pictures/short videos of activities and think it’s a great platform to work with!

    • Linda Sengdara
  27. I have to admit to feeling so overwhelmed at the thought of creating a PLN; however, I am already familiar with Twitter and other social media programs, so I believe that is where I am going to start. Although Facebook is huge with many resources, I find that I enjoy the Twitter interface more than the Facebook one, so personal preference will win there! For more of my thoughts, go to my blog! https://dcepegasus.edublogs.org/2020/04/05/the-building-of-a-pln/

    • Christina Kirk-Schellenbach
  28. With the growth of teachers using the social media platform Instagram to share pictures of different classroom organization, technology, curriculum, etc., I would also love to join this community of educators. Teachers are able to share pictures and videos, as well as, explain their thoughts behind different elements elated to teaching.

    • Aubrey Desmet
  29. A barrier for me when building a PLN would be my lack of knowledge to today’s technology. I have a great deal to learn about the world of technology and how all of these new apps and programs work. I feel that until I learn how to navigate my way through it building a PLN would be difficult for me to accomplish.

    • Kristi M. Tataleba
  30. Preferences: We all enjoy connecting in different ways. Write a post or comment on this post about how you plan to connect with other educators. What sites or tools do you think you’d prefer to use to make connections. Why? As a future teacher I would use sites like Facebook and twitter. I feel like Facebook has so many teacher connection pages. I would join these pages to meet new teachers and receive and give new ideas to all the teachers.

    • Alyssa McGhee
  31. I use face book and twitter to connect to other educators.

  32. I mostly use Instagram and Pinterest to connect with other educators. It is through these sites that I receive valuable information and ideas. It also motivates me to become creative with my own planning and instruction. I am also very familiar with these sites so navigating it is easy for me. One site that I want to utilize more is YouTube. I think that YouTube videos will be very beneficial in all classroom and educational topics. A goal I have for myself is to start providing others with my own resources and ideas through one of these sites. As mentioned above, “you can give as well as receive.”

    • Raegan Nakama
  33. I hope to achieve connecting with other educators by using Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. I use Instagram every day, and it is very helpful at times. All I have to do is search a hashtag, and millions of posts pop up with that hashtag. I have never used instagram for education, but it is very helpful when trying to locate a specific recipe or nail design. I do not currently have a Twitter, but after reading this article, I am more inclined to make an account. Pinterest is one of my favorite things because it allows the user to combine many different individual posts into a “board” where you can share your ideas. I think Pinterest would help make a good PLN because not only can you browse 1 or 2 posts by a person, you can see a whole board of 20+ ideas.

  34. I plan to connect with other educators by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I would like to get inspiration from different point of views. I like pinterest for classroom ideas and projects.

    • Dina Silvanio
  35. The most appealing platform to use to connect to other educators is blogging. Blogging is appealing because many blogs contain material that can be used to make interdisciplinary connections. Discovery education allows teachers to make ELA connections in other subjects. Blogs often contain step by step instructions for scaffolding learning and already made materials. Asking questions is a great way to build relationships and explore multiple ideas. Other professionals can assist those struggling with ideas and give them guidance with effective methods that have been tested. The biggest barrier to creating a PLN is overcoming technology reluctancy. Some educators are still reluctant in joining social media sites. They should view social media as a means of expanding their learning network.

  36. I want to try to connect first with Twitter, then grow from there. I like the idea of searching by words to connect with other teachers. The best way to build relationships I think, is to walk beside the person you talk with and vice versa. No lecturing or putting on a snobbish air. My biggest barrier and fear to a PLN is “exposing” my name, to hacking, or misuse. I don’t understand the security that would protect me in Twitter for example.

  37. When choosing a platform to connect with other educators, I think my favorite would be Instagram. This platform appeals to me because I love seeing pictures of things that others create!

    • Casey Leigh Essinger
  38. As a teacher, I feel that I will be using multiple different platforms to make connections to other teachers. For example, I will be sure to use twitter to learn from other teachers and connect to multiple different groups. Twitter is a great way to catch up and connect with others all around the world. The downside to this platform is that it will have a limit on the amount that you can say. I will also use pinterest as a way to find cute and new things to do in my classroom and also share different things I have done in my own classroom. One of the biggest barriers I have had to deal with is finding the best places to get resources or connect with others. I always want the best for my students and want to give them the best. I think that if we are all willing to work with one another and learn from one another in different ways then we can do great things.

  39. I prefer to use Facebook and Email newsletters as the platforms I use to connect with other teachers, parents, and other education and music centered groups. I prefer this method because I already have email and Facebook accounts which make this the easiest for me to access. I would like to try blogs and see what resources I can find using this medium.

  40. I think I would use pinterest and YouTube equally when getting new ideas for my classroom and how it will run. I use pinterest now to a very high extent to get very valuable ideas for anchor charts and new ways for students to organize their learning and thoughts. I also like to use YouTube to see someone do the steps to develop and plan out the ideas that I see on pinterest. I am a visual learner so it helps me to see someone take something step by step.

  41. Social media can be a great tool that is used in the classroom, and I thought that this article did a great job expressing how it can be a useful tool. One platform that I am comfortable with and would love to use in the future is YouTube. Students are drawn to videos, and would love the opportunity to be on an educational vlog. Not only could YouTube be used for an educational vlog, teachers can post their classroom management tips, classroom styles, and any other educational tips. YouTube is definitely a social media platform I want to implement more with networking and within my own classroom.

  42. Twitter: This seems to be a platform that a lot of people use. It allows teachers, in my case History teachers to connect, and share ideas. Also, can be a great platform to ask other teachers for advice on lessons

    • charles elliott
  43. I think that Instagram is a very new and great platform to connect to other teachers. It is a great way to connect through posts, Instagram Live where you can post videos, and through hashtags where you can find specific topics that are specific to your needs. Many teachers have created new instagram accounts that are solely for posting about their classrooms and curriculum. Instagram provides you with opportunity to message with other teachers, follow their posts, watch videos, and search for ideas using hashtags.

  44. I would like to start using Twitter to connect with other educators. I already use Instagram to connect with other educators and I get a lot of new ideas from the content they post. I think it would be beneficial to use Twitter as well as Instagram. I like Twitter because it is easy to use and read. Instagram is picture heavy and while Twitter has pictures, there is usually more text and information.

  45. I would like to use Twitter to connect with other educators. I would like to use Twitter because Twitter is a social media that is extremely influential. I consistently find myself learning from others in all aspects of life on Twitter. Twitter is also a platform that directly lets you respond to the people you are learning from. I like the fact that I can reply back and forth, in a seemingly professional social media app, with others about topics, whether I agree or disagree. I’ve also used it for years, and I’ve found it to be very user friendly.

  46. I feel like I am highly likely to connect on Twitter and Pinterest. These sites offer more connectivity in my opinion. I use pinterest all the time to connect with other teachers and see ideas for classroom activities since I am on a budget (like every other teacher or student). Twitter is a good site to connect to parents and other teachers tomshare whats going on in your class.

    • Steele Clowers
  47. I guess I would use twitter because so many education specialist use this as an outlet. I already have a twitter that I follow other educators on to get new ideas and inspiration.

  48. My favorite way to connect to teachers is through the social media platform of Instagram. I know how to use Instagram very well. Therefore, I am most comfortable using this platform. I use Instagram to look at other teacher accounts. On these accounts, teachers post different lesson ideas, classroom management tips, and classroom organization tips. I find this very helpful because I can use these tips and tricks in my own classroom.

  49. I would like to connect with other educators via Facebook or Pinterest. I feel Facebook is a great communication platform since we can not only message publicly or privately, but we can also post live videos for each of us to watch and interact through. I also feel that Pinterest would be useful since we can easily share new ideas and photos of ways to enhance our teaching and our classrooms.