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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, Google+, 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 becoming a go-to for many educators looking for fresh ideas, resources, and connections. Explore 37 Ways Teachers Can Use Pinterest by Teach Thought. Be sure to follow Edublogs on Pinterest too!
  5. Google+ — There are all sorts of Google+ communities for educators where you connect, learn, and share. Google Hangouts is also a useful tool, similar to Skype. Check out Mark Anderson’s Beginner’s Guide to Google+ For Teachers.  
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

88 Comments

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  1. Actually, my blog has connected me to educators in the UK and Australia! I really like learning about education in other countries. Twitter is my PLN method of choice. I recently joined a couple of Facebook librarian groups and it is too overwhelming. For me my FB is more about pictures of kids and dogs. . .not work. I am not a big Pinterest person either. . . I find that hashtagging really helps. I would like to expand the hashtags I use currently.

  2. I have always been updated with most educational materials, sites, and networks. I follow tons of educators on different media platforms. What I really learned today is that the PLN works both ways. I have not communicated directly with other educators. I have only transferred the knoweledge to people in my circle and that is why I created my blog. I can’t wait to communicate with the rest of the world.

  3. I use several different types of PLN’s, all for different purposes. When connecting with my staff I utilize Facebook and Instagram. If I need to find policies or new protocols I use Corporates National Email Group. I had never thought of using social media to educate my staff, this is definitely something that I will do as I believe it will cause more of them to become more involved and learn while having fun.

    • Melissa Barnhill
  4. I connect with great educators on MOOC forums like EDX and use Twitter, FB, internal forums of each MOOC platform. I used also platforms like https://www.presencing.org/ and consider Education 4.0 of Otto Scharmer a revolutionary concept.

    • sorinel balan
  5. Personally, I’d prefer using WhatsApp as my platform for connecting with educators because it’s arguably the most accessible form of communication among educators in Nigeria. Though there’s a large presence of Educators on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, WhatsApp is by far the easiest way to communicate with Educators in this part of the world because it’s simple and easy to operate or maintain.

    With this mindset I have created and building a PLN to engage and collaborate with Educators in Nigeria and to encourage PD among them. We’ve just started and we’re making progress gradually, and I believe that by the end of 2019 it’d have grown beyond our shores.

    • stephenobasun
    • How interesting to hear how popular WhatsApp is in Nigeria. I’ve only used it with friends and didn’t realise it’s being used in the education community. It sounds like you have a good goal for 2019!

      • Kathleen Morris
      • Thank you Kathleen for the encouraging words. We are geared to making PD a priority among educators in Nigeria, and we’ll welcome ideas and suggestions from the outside world on how we can accelerate the process. Thanks

        • stephenobasun
  6. My number one preference is Twitter. There are some twitter chats that I participate in on Sundays and Wednesdays. I find that when I participate in them I become more connected and I have been able to build some relationships with the people with whom I communicate.
    I have an instagram teacher account but I rarely use it. Posting pictures all the time is not always possible for me. Plus I have to step out of my comfort zone with that. I guess that is something I can work on this year.

    Bridget

  7. Task 1: Preferences

    I think one of my favorite ways to connect with other educators is using Instagram. There are some really incredible ideas in the land of education, and pictures speak them loudly. I also think Twitter is an incredible tool. Not only does it give you ideas for the classroom, but also professional learning opportunities and resources. It is also a great go to for questions. Twitter is also useful for making connections for your classroom. Educational blogs are another favorite of mine.

    Task 2: Relationship tips

    This is a fantastic tips list for building a PLN. I think my favorites are #2 and #5. It really easy to just stand on the sidelines and take ideas, but it is important to give back to the community you are getting help from. I think this can be scary. Also, don’t forget to respond back!

    Task 3: Barriers

    I think a barrier for me goes along with tip #2, sharing. It’s not always comfortable to share. It can be scary, what will people think? I always try to remind myself that I expect my students to put themselves out there, so I need to do the same.

    Amber

    • You’re right about sharing being scary, Amber. It can definitely feel that way! But as you say, this is what we expect from our students so it’s good to do the same.
      Thanks for pointing out how useful Instagram can be too. It seems like the community of teachers on Instagram is growing all the time and I know how appealing the visual aspect of it is too.
      Kathleen

      • Kathleen Morris
  8. I plan to continue using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for connecting with my PLN. I do use LinkedIn as well, but too a lessor extent. So far, my favourite vehicle for connecting is Twitter because it is so immediate and I can scan a lot of information in a very short time. I also like Instagram because it is so visual.

    I’m hoping to increase the amount of sharing I do this year. I’m still not exactly sure how I’ll do this but my blog is probably a good place to start.

    • I feel the same way about Linkedin, Kirsty. I only get on there very occasionally but it does look like some people do use it really well to connect, share, and learn. I guess you just can’t use everything!

      • Kathleen Morris
  9. I’m leaning toward using Twitter and YouTube for communicating. I’ll be looking into tools, perhaps Hootsuite, to help me organize.
    The biggest barrier is a mental one. Initially I thought “how will I possibly keep up with all the tweets that go flying by on the screen each day?” Doing the reading related to this chapter makes me realize, I don’t have to keep up with all the daily tweets. In fact, it’s not possible. What I need to do is dedicate some time each day to learning something new and making/maintaining connections.
    I plan to use and follow hashtags to help focus my learning.

    • I complete relate with your concern regarding keeping up with all the information – there is so much out there! I’m going to try to schedule regular times to connect but the challenge will be during school term!

  10. I am very interested in OER for medical education. However, it is still very difficult to find good quality ressources. Google search did not really work fine.
    About a month ago, I started to use Twitter. Now, I get more and more information – sometimes even too much information, so I don’t have enough time to follow all links. Most information I found on education itself – to date not so much medical education. But this inspires me to generate medical didactics ressources on my own.
    Most intersting is, to get to communicate with other people which are intestetd in the same subjects.
    I also consume Pinterest a lot – also very inspiring. But to date I have not found the right tool to create own Pinterests 🙁

    • Bernd Romeike
    • Hi there, I know it can be difficult to find too much information and not have enough time to read it all. You might be interested in a tool like Pocket. It lets you save web articles you come across to read later. https://getpocket.com/
      I agree, connecting with others who have the same interests can bring the most benefits!

      • Kathleen Morris
      • Hi Kathleen Morris,
        thank you very much for your comment and advise. I will try Pocket. It seems promising.

        • Bernd Romeike
  11. I feel for me a barrier to building a PLN is being overwhelmed! There is so much out there that I don’t know but I do love the idea of being in control of my own learning. As I work thru this course I do believe I will find the place to start and just get going with it. Also my Principal is willing to help and I will definitely take her up on it.

    • Michalle Keiser
  12. My preference for building my PLN is definitely Twitter. Last year we did some training on this platform for our school and I feel most comfortable with it. I don’t have a Facebook account but am thinking of getting one so I might also use this for PLN’s.

    • Michalle Keiser
    • You must be at a great school if they’re training you in Twitter, Michalle!

      • Kathleen Morris
  13. I plan on using my blog and facebook to get connected to educators.
    I rarely use my twitter account so I guess I’ll have to brush up my skills and get over there.

    • Good luck making new connections!

      • Kathleen Morris