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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.

320 Comments

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  1. The biggest barrier to me in creating my PLN has been inexperience. I am currently in the second year of my college career. So I have some connections into the world of PLN but not many. With time I know that I will gain more within my PLN but it starts small and takes time to grow big. This barrier is really only holding my back because I am so fresh into the education scene.

  2. I have found that I use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to stay connected with educators. I have found so many new ideas that I will be able to use and just the creativity that you can do to make each lesson your own. There are also many different websites that you can use some are free and others not.

    • cassidylipelt
  3. I prefer to connect with other educators on Instagram. I cannot even begin to list the number of lesson ideas, classroom set-up ideas, and student relationship ideas that I have collected over the years. Instagram has provided me with so many connections to other educators around the world. The support I find on this site is surreal.
    I also love Facebook to build a sense of connectedness. There are so many groups for educators available. These groups remind me that I am not the only educator out there struggling with various issues. They also have so many free resources that are making me a better future educator for my students.

  4. I plan to connect mostly through social media and Youtube. Learning is easier for me through videos. The only social media I have used so far is Facebook but I only use it for personal interests and friendships. Since it is, to me, a well known tool that is easy to use, it will be beneficial to start using it for professional reasons as well. I used the suggestions on this page and started following Edublogs and Facebook for Education. I had not planned joining another social media platform before taking this course. To be honest, sometimes I feel that I spend too much time on Facebook that I could use more wisely. However, using social media to improve my teaching skills and practices falls into the category of “wisely.” I will be joining Twitter, as it is so popular with educators. The best thing about social media is its availability anytime and anywhere and the wide reach of these social interactions. All of the social media platforms are global and enable communication with teachers from around the world. That is very beneficial to me as an EL teacher. Another positive characteristic of social media is that I can chose my preferences and interests. Learning in this environment is so much different than PD with pre-determined topics. As far as the barriers are concerned, for me it will definitely be time. I am looking forward to the last chapter with tips how to find and manage time to build and maintain my PLN. As I mentioned in my response in chapter 1 of this course, the isolation I feel daily as an EL teacher is relevant, but it is becoming the main inspiration for building my own PLN. I appreciated the quote of George Couros used in this chapter: “Isolation is now a choice that teachers make.”

  5. I plan to connect with educators by focusing on using social media and webinars. I think that social media is one of the easiest, most accessible options for teachers. It is a resource that is always available no matter the place or time of day. As a result, I have found that apps including Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram have thousands of pages that are dedicated to helping teachers. It is especially easy with social media to connect with others- all a person has to do is leave a comment or message that person directly through the app. I will also want to participate in webinars whenever I can. Though they are not readily available all the time, they can be especially helpful for teachers. I like webinars because they let teachers hear from and talk with other educators in a live setting. It is easier for me to focus in webinars and to hear from others than to read advice in a blog. Additionally, webinars allow listeners to ask questions and receive instant answers, another perk I value. Though I think these are two of the greatest resources I will use, I will also try to listen to podcasts in the car or when I am cleaning. Though I won’t be able to communicate with anyone through podcasts, I plan on listening to them and gaining advice from others.

  6. With the way the world is now and how technologically advanced it has become, social media and online platforms have become a huge part of our lives and I believe it can be utilized in our favor to connect with other educators. There are so many sites, blogs and podcasts that are run by educators in an effort to connect with others so that is how I plan to connect with other educators.

  7. I feel that most of these interlock with each other, asking for help, while making sure you are taking diversity into consideration, while trying different tools and seeing which works better for you which involves investing time. These are super important to ensure that you are being your best you for your students, colleagues, and yourself. I would add to be open to feedback or criticism (of course if it is educational and informative.) In order to grow and see things that you may not see, I find it important to receive some sort of feedback or criticism.

  8. In connecting with other educators, my preferred method would certainly be utilizing social network. We live in a world of great technological resources. For example, beginning a conversation with an educator who posts a tweet that you agree with, or sharing an interesting idea for a classroom layout on Pinterest. Both open the doorway to communication with others that you can learn from and grow as an educator with.

  9. The tip that resonated the most with me is following up with people. A lot of times that I’ve come in contact with other educators, they have always been forthcoming in keeping up with our connection and keeping an avenue open for asking for help. This has come in handy for me multiple times, and I like the concept of keeping up a community with familiarity.

  10. Preferences: I actually have already created a PLN on Instagram and I have learned so much from other professionals. The way the Instagram algorithm works is that it picks up on the interest I show on my account. Showing more interest and time on educational posts and accounts made by other teachers, it automatically suggests that I follow them to connect in the PLN format. I enjoy seeing the pictures to go with what other people are talking about. Being a visual learner, I think it’s the most optimal way for me to connect with using a PLN.

  11. I think that my preferences include Instagram as I do follow many educators and educator networks. I have been able to connect to various resources by following organizations such as Abolitionist Teacher Network, which facilitated several weeks of webinars on Black Lives Matter At School. Other preferences include Pinterest for teaching materials and templates. I would like to be better about how I utilize Pinterest so as to be more intentional and efficient with my time. I would love to involve my students in curating this digital space together, so I will be using that tip. I think it’s helpful to find educators that have aligned pedagogies. A forum that has helped me with that has been Abolitionist Teacher Network and Cult of Pedagogy.

  12. I think I would use things like microsoft teams and groupme to connect with other educators. Groupme is great because it is a texting app that allows you to have groupchats with people regardless of what kind of phone they have. It is nice because it does not use your phone number if you are reluctant to give out personal information. It also allows for the sharing of photos, videos, documents and more. I love microsoft teams for doing group video calls. It allows for people to present things and has a chat box. It is a little smoother to me than zoom. I also would use email. Email is a great tool to keep in contact with people and with new features like read receipts and scheduled emails, it can make for effective communication between people.

    • Jennifer Carranza
  13. I plan to connect with other educators using Zoom and Twitter. I believe connecting with a group of educators who are a part of your PLN through Zoom is a great way to facilitate meaningful and deep conversations. Zoom allows educators to video chat at a structured time to reflect and engage on numerous topics. I personally think Zoom is a great tool because I would be able to connect with members of my PLN face-to-face in a virtual manner no matter where we are located. Twitter is also a great platform to use to connect with other educators. Twitter allows educators to easily create posts through tweets, where they can also attach images, videos, or hashtags. I would prefer Twitter because it is accessible at any time of day and educators can spread great content that could benefit a teacher in your PLN through retweeting and commenting.

  14. Addressing prompt 2, the app of Pinterest. Pinterest is a well known resource used widely among teachers. I know that it gives me and other educators resources, ideas and also connections that we can use inside of our classroom. Although Pinterest is just one way that an educator and or teacher will use in order to connect with a Personal Learning Network. As for Pinterest it is more of a blog social media as for others including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc or more of a way to communicate.

  15. I would like to address the question on preferences. As it comes to connecting with others I have a few preferred social media platforms, but all of them are not conducive to this kind of working together. I like to use Facebook groups and GroupMe. These two platforms allow an easy way to ask questions and have them answered quickly.

    • Kathryn Hopping
  16. Preferences: I think that I would like to use Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to make connections online in my PLN. I can use Twitter to talk to other educators, look up hashtags that I am interested in learning more about, and follow a wide variety of people that have different interests, specialties, and perspectives. I like the idea of joining Facebook groups for educators because it is a good place to have conversations with people that are in the group to do the same thing. I think a lot of valuable information could be shared and discussed in Facebook groups like these. I would also love to use Youtube to connect with other educators because it is already a site that I love and use daily. There are so many different channels and people that you can subscribe to and learn from on the platform and I think I could learn a lot from using it to connect with others in my PLN.

  17. Preferences: I think social media is an incredible way to form a connection with other educators. Each app and site offers a different assortment of tools and allows a different level of connection. For example, Instagram and Pinterest allows for educators to share visual images of everything from class setup to assignments, which is perfect for visual thinkers. As well, blog spaces allow for longer communication of practices, questions, and advice. Other social media sites like YouTube and TikTok allow for further connection with educators in an audio and visual format.

    • Summer Shomette
  18. My preference for PLN is Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and TikTok. I love these platforms because I am able to share all of my ideas that I want to use in my classroom, but also I can learn so much from so many other educators. I follow so many different educators on these social media platforms and am gaining many ideas and tricks to use in mine.

  19. In creating my own personalized learning network, I would like to draw from these online resources: Newsletters, Twitter, Pinterest, Blog Posts, Instagram, and videos. From these, I believe newsletters and Twitter are the most important. Newsletters would provide professional papers for referencing, whereas Twitter provides everybodys’ ideas. From scholars to teachers to students, Twitter allows one to look into the world from all different perspectives which is important for a profession that teaches to many different people. Other than online resources, I would also draw on my colleagues, previous teachers of my own, and my students. Anything that will help me grow as a teacher is wholeheartedly accepted.

  20. From my experience, the greatest barrier I have faced as I become a young teacher is the lack of in-person networking due to the pandemic. All of my interaction with other teachers and education professionals has been virtual. While the Internet and the ability to connect online are valuable, I feel as though I am missing out on making deeper connections. With that being said, it is essential that I make the connections that I can virtually, and use more time and thought to deepen that connection regardless.

  21. Preferences: I love to connect via LinkedIn but also YouTube. There is a great channel I like to watch called “Pocketful of Primary”. She has been a great person for me to watch as I navigate virtual teaching as a student. LinkedIn has connected me to some educational resources that I find useful, and it keeps me updated on educational news.

  22. The ways that I enjoy connecting with other educators is through instagram and YouTube. I find that these two platforms serve as great resources for many different ideas about how to teach students or present different forms of content, but also as a way to personally support each other. I have really loved discovering this network and connecting with other teachers at different stages in their career.

  23. I think my biggest barrier was not knowing anything about PLN’s before this assignment. There are teachers out there everyday collaborating, creating new ideas and learning together & I knew nothing about it. So, that is a major setback if you don’t know where to begin looking.

    • Alexis Mitchell
  24. Being a person who is not on many social media, I started to look more into educators on Instagram and on Pinterest. I was surprised to see so many educators sharing their ideas and other classroom activities on their Instagram pages. There were a few of them who took their time to message me and thank me for liking their post and asked questions about their post.

  25. I plan on joining possibly Twitter, but also researching online teacher forums and blogs to collaborate with teachers there. I currently do not have any form of social media so jumping into Twitter or Facebook will be a big challenge but I am sure with the help of others I will be able to figure it out and build my PLN. Of course, I will always also connect and collaborate with all of my in-person colleagues but that is a lot easier than on the internet.

  26. I prefer to use Instagram and facebook as I am not interested in Twitter and Instagram and Facebook are the only few social media platforms I use. I have two teacher friends who live in Ohio and Kentucky. I communicate with them on a daily basis (but not always about education) but from what I have seen from them and what they have helped me with, I have learned a lot from them. I communicate with my Ohio friend through instagram and text messaging and I actually met her on a video game and she teaches a Montessori class. My Kentucky friend teaches 6th grade science and being connected with them, as educators, has taught me so much and helps me feel extremely connected. I am also connected with my teachers from high school on facebook I got close with, along with my former first grade teacher who I tutored for junior and senior year of high school. We talked a lot about education and the education system when she was in the process of writing my letter of recommendation for grad school.

  27. First and foremost, I plan on staying connected with my educators from both my past and present through email and Facebook. I am still in contact with many of my previous teachers and professors and I hope to continue reaching out for their advice and support. The reason am opting for sites and tools like email and Facebook is because while there are more professional orientated mediums, like Linked-In, messages can get lost in the pomp and frill of professional decorum.

    • Roberto Chavez
  28. I will responding to the first prompt.

    I think that I would prefer to use Twitter and Pinterest to connect with educators because I am already rather familiar with those sites and because I know how to connect with others and share my own thoughts already. I would use Twitter to ask questions, voice my thoughts on certain topics, and to build a community of educators that I could learn from and also help out. On Pinterest, I would look for ideas, lessons, and activities while also posting my own so that other educators could access and utilize them. I would use these two platforms as a jumping point into building a deeper, multi-platform PLN for myself.

  29. Personally to find ideas that I may want to use in my classroom I follow a lot of teachers on Tik Tok and Instagram. I love these platforms because they are filled with current “trends” and so many helpful tips/tricks to have a welcoming and effective classroom. Along with Pinterest and TeachersPayTeachers! My feeds on all 4 of these platforms are filled by current teachers favorite things, helpful tricks, and even tools.

  30. One way I plan on connecting with others is through different educational blogs, YouTube, and Pinterest. I plan on connecting with a variety of different educators from all round to best provide my students with the best tools possible. I prefer using Pinterest for links to education blogs and activity ideas. For me Pinterest works for just ideas because I can just scroll through and look at the different activities I would like to try. In order to talk and connect with other educators I plan to use different forms of social media because that is the best tool for actually communicating, in my opinion.

  31. 1st prompt
    I plan to connect with other educators through LinkedIn and YouTube. One of may main reasons for this is I am not a very big fan of Social media and do not really have much on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Honestly, I do not want to build a presence on any of those, so they are out of the question to use unless I absolutely had to. The rest I do not really know what they are except blogs which I might do, but I do not really feel interested in those eithers. I have a LinkedIn account and I like how it works and how easy it is to connect with people on it so I think it would be a great tool to use for this. And YouTube because it is fun and easy to use.