I didn't know the answer up until a few months ago. I learned all about it on Twitter. A PLN is a personal (or professional) learning network.
As an educator, you may not find all the answers or support you need within your department, school, or district. Maybe you are the only teacher at your school who teaches a certain subject. Maybe you are looking to find new and innovative ways to teach your curriculum. You might need help on a lesson or unit. Or you might want to try out new ideas, but you want some feedback or guidance before you tackle something new. Maybe something didn't go well in your class and you want some feedback or guidance from others. Or maybe, something went really well and you want to share your student successes with others. Your PLN is a group of educators that can guide and support you, answer questions, give you advice, share lessons and ideas, and encourage you in your quest to become a better educator.
So how do you build a PLN?
You can go to conferences and workshops to meet other educators. However, many times there is not money available at schools to pay for this. So the best way, I believe is through twitter. I have been on twitter for years. I never really tweeted, but followed a few companies and organizations to learn about sales or upcoming events, but that was about it. I didn't really understand twitter. I didn't want to know what celebrities were up to, or what so and so had for lunch or dinner that day. I had seen people at the ISTE conference a few years ago tweeting, but I still didn't understand why.
Last August, I attended Ed Camp SF Bay, and met many inspiring educators. They were sharing ideas, best practices, and tips during the "un"conference. They also all were talking about twitter and tweeting out things they learned that day. I started to follow these people, and people they followed. It took me a few months of twitter "stalking" - where I just followed what people were doing and I learned a lot from them.
After a few months of just reading other tweets, I mustered up the courage to start participating in some twitter chats. I started to find teachers near and far who had similar views as me and were trying out the same sort of things in their classrooms. When I was trying to create a instruction sheet for my students on how to properly use Creative Commons images in their presentations, I sent out a tweet looking for advice, and got a lot of responses with ideas and resources. When a website was down that I was using in my class, I sent out a tweet, and the company responded and fixed it right away. Using twitter, I have learned about new iPad apps, local conferences, and have interacted with many innovative and inspiring educators. I have built a PLN consisting of many amazing people who help me be a better teacher. And my PLN is still growing.
So how do you get started on twitter?
The first thing to do is set up an account.
- Choose a twitter handle. This is basically your username. I would suggest having it have something to do with your name, and make it short. If it is really long, it will be hard for people to retweet your tweets. Mine is @mdhero, which are my initials and my last name.
- Include a picture and a bio on your profile. If you don't have these, many people won't choose to follow you. They want to know who you are and what you are tweeting about. Be sure to say that you are an educator and list some examples of things that intereset you. My biography from twitter is above.
- Make sure that your twitter account is public. If it is private, people won't be able to add you to their PLN. You want to be able to tweet out questions, and if it is private, most people won't see your tweet. Just make sure that you are professional when you tweet. Don't complain about your school or talk about specific students, etc.
After setting up an account, you need to start following people. The best way to find other educators is to search for hashtags that interest you, then follow people who are posting things that you like. A hashtag is a tag that you add to your tweet. Some common educational hashtags that I use are:
- #caedchat (California Educators)
- #edchat (Education)
- #flipclass (Flip teaching)
- #smartee (SMART Board Education)
- #iPadEd (Using iPads)
- #NGSSchat (Next Generation Science Standards)
There are many more education hashtags. There are subject area specific ones, as well as many general ones for different types of educators (administrators, librarians, counselors, etc.) Here is a list of different educational hashtags. It also includes a list of chat times. Most of these have weekly chat times where there are hour long conversations. I have participated in the ones I have listed above. My favorite is the #caedchat on Sunday nights. It is fast paced, but I always learn a lot. When you participate in these chats (or even just observe them), you will find a lot of educators that you can follow. And, you can find more people to follow by looking at who these people follow.
Here are some Twitter Cheat Sheets that @sjunkins posted on twitter that may help you get started.
So this summer, join twitter. Get reenergized by learning and sharing with some amazing people. And if you join, be sure to follow me at @mdhero.