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.

509 thoughts on “Step 2: Making Connections

  1. I plan on connecting with other educators by using platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest. I like these two social media platforms because it also gives me a chance to see different educator’s ideas as well as getting to know them. I am a visual person and I like the overall idea of Pinterest and Instagram as a way of connecting with other educators.

  2. As an educator I plan to use more online PLN resources in the future. I currently learn from professionals on YouTube and blogs. I especially enjoyed learning from other professionals during the pandemic as we were required to create plans that were fully remote. I feel that Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be great resources for me in the future. I already have the accounts and I would only need to reach out to groups in my content area to make connections. Doing this can help me to learn from a variety of educators across the world and across the country. It would also help me to be more creative I would have a variety of ideas to use or modify. On the social platforms I would be able to chat with similar educators about curriculum, struggles, and a variety of other topics. I could also follow individuals or groups that I share similar interests with and who teach in my content area. Finally, I would like to create a class blog for health and physical education and have my students work to be connected students through its use. We could add to the blog and research other blogs to find healthy information throughout the year.

  3. I currently use Twitter and Facebook to connect with other educators. In particular, I follow several Nebraska math teachers and a few national math and technology teachers. I also follow professional development groups such as Mashup Math and NCTM. I tend to treat Twitter as my professional social media focusing on following people and groups that pertain to math and technology. I often get ideas and resources from the people and groups I follow on Twitter. In addition to Twitter, I also use Facebook. Although I use Facebook primarily to keep in touch with friends and family, I have found a few groups that I follow, such as Middle School Math Teachers and DeltaMath Official Group. DeltaMath, in particular, has been very helpful as they are always quick to answer questions and share ideas.

    The list of tips resonated with me as I needed the reminder that communication on social media needs to go both ways. I need to do a better job of commenting and sharing and not just following.

  4. I like the idea of creating a PLN. In order to really learn teachers have to be able to collaborate with others outside of their buildings and district. Twitter will ensure that I collaborate with educators all around the world.

  5. I think that once I create my own PLN I will mainly use social media. This day and age most other people my age are incredibly active across most, if not all, social media platforms, and because of this I think that social media will be the most effective and useful way for me to reach the largest number of people. In a more specific sense, I think that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok would be the most useful because they are the platforms that I am most active on. When creating a PLN it is important to be able to separate your personal life from your professional, so creating separate accounts for educational use, and personal use would be the smartest route. Each of these platforms have an iPhone app where you can switch accounts with a simple press of a button, so you would have access to my PLN very easily!

  6. Social media is definitely a preference of mine when it comes to connecting. I have found super relatable content on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. Each of them have something unique to offer and I think they are a great place for people to start it they aren’t super comfortable with online communication. For example, last year I searched for 6th grade math groups on Facebook, and I found a group of teachers that all used the exact same curriculum that I do. It was so helpful to collaborate with them!

  7. When it comes to interacting with other educators I think websites like Pinterest can be awesome. I have met some teachers who do not care for the website but I have had good experiences with it. When you find a post that you like, you can pin it to your own feed and you can also view the feed of the individual/organization that posted it and see what else they have to offer. When it comes to sharing materials and ideas, this is a great way.

  8. The biggest barrier to first creating, and then participating actively in, a PLN is time constraints. Many teachers, especially those who are new to the profession, work second jobs and haven’t yet fine tuned the essential skill of time management when it comes to a work/life balance.

  9. I plan to connect with other educators through Facebook groups, Pinterest, and blogs. I utilize Facebook groups very often and have found them to be a wonderful resource for like-minded individuals and there are so many different styles that create their own groups. It would be a great and convenient resource.

  10. I plan to connect with other educators through Facebook groups, TikTok, and Pinterest . Facebook groups can be a really great support system for educators, as you are able to communicate within a private group where the information is filtered by the admin. TikTok is a great source to learn from other teachers’ experiences and see what they are doing in their classrooms. Pinterest is a fantastic way for teachers to gather ideas from one another and they even sometimes link resources or worksheets/activities.

  11. I plan to connect with other educators by staying in contact with some of the current and past educators/professors I’ve had the privilege of learning from thus far. I will also use the site teachers pay teachers to find resources from other professionals that I could put to use in my own classroom.

  12. I do plan on connecting with other educators in many different way. The first ways that pop to mind when thinking about tools that I could use to make connections are pintrest, tiktok, youtube, and facebook. Currently, I use pintrest, tiktok, and youtube the most. Pintrest provides you with a wide variety of information and ideas. Youtube is also where I get many ideas because there are teachers that give advice and ideas through their videos. Tiktok is growing and as it grow, I see many teachers posting their ideas, thoughts, and other information as well. I could see myself joining a facebook group in the future as well as other sites and tools that I will contribute to my learning and connections.

  13. My preferences on making connections with other educators and people in the education community is to do so in person. I am not a huge social media person, it’s just a personal choice to benefit my mental health. Plus not to mention, I learn better when things are in person and in my control. One way to connect to people is to just meet everyone, and even going to get food or drinks with other people and just getting to know people personally. Then you can branch out and get more connections and help this way. It has worked already when finding new jobs, and having job opportunities come up often amongst work peers and friends.

  14. The tip for cultivating relationships that resonated with me, was the following up when you make a connection with other teachers. I think it can be easy to create a relatability amongst teachers, especially right now as many teachers are struggling in many ways. I think that the important step comes from continuing on with the relationship to really make an impact.

  15. I think that I would use mainly Twitter and LinkedIn to connect with other educators. I would use Twitter first because that is what I am most familiar with and I think that the layout of the website does well with fostering discussion. I would also used LinkedIn because it is a very professional site with many users.

  16. I have started joining science teacher specific facebook groups. What I have learned thus far in these groups is there are some teachers who seem to be super devoted to helping newer teachers gain their classroom momentum. I plan to continue to use these. The longer I have been in them, the more specific groups I can find (ex: content specific, pedagogy specific, etc.) I also really like the site teachers pay teachers. It doesn’t seem like a great networking place, but most of the larger creators link their email addresses and are more than willing to answer questions, provide more information or advise, etc. I also like that in turn I am helping with their income.

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