When I was in 4thgrade, I had a pen pal who lived a vast 10 miles away. We wrote about our pets, what we liked to do, our favorite subjects, our favorite food. Perfect for a 4thgrader.
In high school, I exchanged letters with a student from West Germany, intending to learn about another culture (in reality, it was idle chat to get a grade). Fun, but the letters took forever to go back and forth, and it was rather hard to figure out what to talk about.
As I aged and technology began to outpace me tenfold, I moved through a DOS email system to AOL, from high levels of caution and alarm, to sensible guidelines and security measures. In today’s world, it’s hardly an effort for me to chat online regularly with my brother in Singapore if the timing is right. Accessibility, information, and knowledge have reached unfathomable capacity, such that oceans and time zones are no longer factors like 10 miles was to my 4thgrade self.
We know that the Internet is indispensable for anything from cat videos to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). What if you were able to design your own personal Google, related to all things that you care about, using real people to help solve problems, to collaborate on amazing ideas?
This is the essence of a Personal Learning Network, or PLN: it’s your personal pen pal group and interactive symposium- online.
A PLN is a group of folks who can advise, support, educate, and discuss topics relevant to their work. Many teachers use PLNs as a give-and-take space to share resources and tips, ask for (or offer) help on any number of questions or topics, or simply inspiration and idea destination. There’s opportunity for live exchanges of ideas, direct person-to-person messaging, and ample chances for collaboration.
The most exciting part? The people who will be a part of your PLN are a wealth of knowledge all on their own, just as you will be to them.
Personalized Google. Believe it.
To create a PLN, your best bet is to joinTwitter, and begin searching for topics that interest you. When I started, I searched for things like “Educational technology,” “21stCentury Learning,” and “Makerspaces.” Once I found people contributing to those topic areas, I followed them, and their followers, and even some of THEIR followers. It doesn’t take a lot of time to create an impressive list of folks you will be able to learn from. You have now officially started building your PLN!
To the folks who have alarm bells going off in their heads around security and safety: yes, you should absolutely be mindful of this. Definitely, scan the profiles of the peopleyou would like to follow. Those who are truly participating in a professional way will have detailed profiles and a feed that represents their interests and knowledge base. The profiles you come across that have little substance are not worth your time, and, although they are likely benign, they should be avoided as you build your network.
Since I have started my PLN, I have learned:
- Stay positive!
- Contribute where you can. Start with retweeting posts, or engage by responding to tweet with a question.
- Know that people may follow you back, and that’s the goal!
- You don’t have to follow everyone who follows you, but it’s customary to follow someone back who shares similar backgrounds and interests.
- Look for Twitter users who have fewer followers. They (like you!) may be more inclined to follow and engage with you because they also want to develop their network.
- Follow the big names too, but know you may not develop as much of a relationship with them. Look to them for inspiration, info on their work, and scan their feed for more people to follow.
- At first, be sure to offer up more resources than you request help. This is a “good faith” move- it shows that you are both a giver and a taker.
- Celebrate, pump up, and compliment freely.
- Share inspiration- if you find something meaningful, someone else will appreciate it too!
- Finally, and most importantly, be yourself. It’s pretty easy to spot someone who is overdoing it, or who is not invested. Remember- I told you to avoid those folks earlier!
Here’s an example of how I used my PLN- and it made me a believer! On the way home from a conference, I wanted to get more information on the Ed Camp model for teacher in-services. I tweeted, “Does anyone out there use the Ed Camp model for their district’s PD? Do you like it?” In minutes, a teacher from Connecticut tweeted back to me that he had just used it, and it was successful. He then sent me a link to the forms he used, and messaged me directly to give me more specific. Two more teachers chimed in, sharing their experiences with this model.Within an hour, I went from not knowing anything about Ed Camp to having a complete example and description in front of me, because of my PLN.
Personally, I am thrilled that communication has grown from the pen and paper pen pal in 4thgrade to talking live with my brother across the world. Professionally, I feel like I have walked into the world’s largest library designed around me and my interests. Soon, you will learn that your PLN will be your first go-to for ideas and information, and you have a new way to share your gifts with the world!
Looking for more informationonhow to connect with great educators and organizations to establish mutually beneficial professional relationships for sharing ideas, troubleshooting, and inspiration? Enroll in Learners Edge course 5024: The Well-Connected Educator: Building a Personal Learning Network and access new ways to communicate, collaborate, and build community
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