…And Why You Should Build One
I’ve heard a lot of different explanations for what a PLN is and even what it stands for. When I first learned about PLN’s they were referred to as Professional Learning Networks. Many individuals also set up learning networks for personal reasons and refer to them as Personal Learning Networks. The best translation that I have heard and that I feel is most relevant would be, Personalized Learning Network. You will find out why below. A PLN is a network of resources that meet your specific learning needs and help you improve. It is how you are intentionally pursuing professional growth.
You probably already have some form of PLN in place whether you know it or not. These are the people or things you rely on for quality information, feedback, and understanding. However, with the technology we have now allows us to connect with people all over the world. Why would you want to do that? Well for one, you are serious about your career as an educator and you want the best experiences for your learners. Collaboration with other passionate educators will help you provide those experiences. Secondly, connected educators are able to open up rich, valuable opportunities for their learners. One study on PLN’s and connected educators found that these connections reduced the feeling of overload and isolation that many educators experience as well.
The key to an effective PLN is having a plan and a purpose for creating and using it. Most of you are familiar with using technology and social media, but your motivations, your purpose, to this point may be entirely personal. For that reason, I suggest having a separate network, possibly separate accounts, for your professional learning. Below you will find some suggestions to help you identify your purpose and create a plan.
A well built PLN can provide you with continuous personalized learning. Many of the learning opportunities that educators are provided are not customized to fit their needs at that specific time. It’s understandable. No two educators are completely alike, so professional development is often designed to provide information that is usable and relevant for multiple applications. A PLN can be created, and customized at any time, so that you are engaging in actionable content that you really want and need no matter where you are in your professional journey.
Building School Culture
Positive school culture is vital to the success of a school. School culture has been linked not only with the retention of quality teachers, but also has a positive correlation to student achievement.  Building collaborative relationships between educators, administration, and community is a key factor in the culture of an organization. School culture is also shown to be an important factor in disciplinary issues and suspension rates of a school. Making connections with educators inside of your organization, sharing resources and successes, and connecting with your community are all benefits of building a quality PLN. Imagine the potential impact of all the educators in your building, your school, or even your district being connected through a PLN and using it for a purpose.
PLN’s are all about sharing. By connecting with the right educators, you will get updates and have access to tremendous resources for education. While writing this, my mind is immediately taken to a place filled with technology integration resources, but that is just one category of resources available. As a science teacher, I connect with other leaders and organizations in science education. I have gained multiple instructional strategies and valuable insights into science education through my PLN. It all depends on your purpose and how you design your PLN, but the resources are out there. When you find them, share and empower others.
There’s More, Much More
These reasons are not any less important or less noble purposes for creating a PLN, they just needed less explanation. A PLN is a great way to gain support for a cause…like building school culture! You could connect your classroom to your community. You might connect with service providers and get product updates for GAFE or your LMS. You will also have access to current events that can immediately be used in your classroom to make learning real-world relevant. And so many more that I haven’t even discovered yet. Drop a comment below or share through a PLN when you find a purpose that is important to you.
So where do you start. I recommend starting with Twitter to build your PLN. Justification for this, as well as other suggestions will have to follow in a separate post. For now explore on your own, ask other connected educators, and learn about some options that might work best for you. The methods you choose for your PLN must be right for you. This goal is to personalize your learning, so start with the methods you are familiar with and branch out. Be open to new ideas and search with a purpose.
A PLN does not have to be time consuming. In a study asking educators to create a PLN that did not currently have one, the educators were surprised to learn how quickly they could become connected. Several PLN options make it fast and easy to browse, share, and locate valuable and relevant information.