A More Intentional Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Whether you realize it or not, you have a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Everyone does. It consists of your colleagues, your classmates, anyone you come into contact with at a conference or meeting, someone you casually meet from another school who also teaches math or English or science. Maybe you make contact with someone while reading a blog or browsing a website, and that person is also a teacher and you get into a conversation with her about teaching. All these people are part of your Personal Learning Network. If you are deliberate about your teaching practice, then you make use of these people when thinking about new activities or new ways of teaching or when looking for new resources to use with your students.

These types of contacts are essential to good teaching. A good teacher regularly rethinks what he's doing and how he's doing it, and reaching out to others in the same field is an invaluable part of that process.

Given the ease of communication and access that the Internet provides, there is another essential piece to any teacher’s PLN. Many websites were created specifically for the purpose of communicating with others. We normally refer to them as social networks. In some cases, teachers have made deliberate use of these networks to grow their Personal Learning Networks. Examples include Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and others. It is not so much a question of whether you should be involved with these networks. They have become such powerful, comprehensive, and flexible resources that few teachers, once they understand them, question the value and necessity of including them in their intentional PLN.

Joining these networks and finding like-minded teachers is easy, so easy that I won't go into how to do it here, but suffice it to say there are plenty of resources online to help you get started (see below). And how involved you become in any of these networks remains entirely up to you. Some people become active participants, posting regularly, sharing resources, asking questions, answering other teachers’ questions. Others post infrequently, but may read other teachers’ posts on a regular basis. And still others rarely or never post, simply using these resources when and how they choose. Regardless of how you decide to use the resources, having access to them and being able to use them when and how you need is essential in today's world.

Twitter allows you to join or follow weekly conversations about any number of topics relevant to your teaching. You can also follow thought leaders in your field and, at your leisure, review their frequent posts. Google+ contains lots of communities centered around a specific field or aspect of teaching. LinkedIn is more of a place for developing contacts, but also includes people’s thoughts and ideas. RSS feeds are a very efficient method of bringing content directly to you to make it that much easier to find and review. Which networks works best for you and how you use them is up to you, and will likely change over time. What's most important, however, is that you include them in your Personal Learning Network and take advantage, to whatever degree is right for you, of all they have to offer.

Indeed, to not take advantage of these networks is to risk falling behind as an educator.

Click here http://goo.gl/gg9MY1 for a free online course that talks about and walks you through getting involved with Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, using RSS feeds, as well as a few other networks that you may or may not be interested in.