Building a Professional Learning Network
K12 District Technology Coach - Council Bluffs Community Schools
Being a life long learner is essential for educators who take their craft seriously, especially
considering how quickly things change in the world of education. And while many teachers
realize this task is vitally important, too many still work in isolation, or just work with the teacher
in the very next room.
A 21st Century educator realizes that the opportunities to collaborate and communicate with an
almost endless number of educators from around the globe can improve teaching. These
interactions can make us better educators and better learners. But building that network of
professionals, a Professional (or Personal) Learning Network if you may, can be intimidating,
Here is a look at PLN’s and why they really are important and powerful for educators.
What is a PLN?
Many educators are engaged in a professional learning community within their school or district
with colleagues they work with directly. These PLC’s are very beneficial for educators when
planning lessons, reviewing student work and creating meaningful tasks for their students.
Teachers work together in PLC’s to improve their instruction, bounce ideas off one another and
to develop good assessments.
While PLC’s are very important, a PLN (Professional Learning Network) extends that group of
colleagues well beyond the walls of your school building or the boundaries of your district. A
professional learning network is the compilation of many different types of interaction - they can
be at your school, face-to-face, through book studies, at conferences and online. Key
components are the ability to share, reflect, gather information and resources and learn from
Why is building a PLN important?
There is no better resource for teachers than other teachers. If I want to know how something is
going to work in my classroom, I can seek out another teacher who has tried the same thing.
Information from that teacher is going to be much more useful to me than reading about it in a
book. A PLN is an amazing resource with a wealth of information in a profession that can be
A PLN is a reciprocal endeavor that expects those involved not only to consume and learn from
the other members, but to contribute to the greater good, and share what works and what
doesn’t. The collective knowledge that a PLN offers is incredible.
How do you get started?
Getting your Professional Learning Network started can be daunting. There are phases to
getting yourself comfortable with this process.
Dip your toes in the water!
Start poking around online and join a professional social network. Social networking sites can
be extremely powerful tools for teachers. Begin with something like Classroom 2.0
(http://www.classroom20.com/) which is great network for educators. Once you join, start
reading - see what others saying. Join Twitter. See what others are saying.
Wade into the shallow water.
Blogs are great tools that you can access online that hit on many of the issues that teachers
deal with every day. Start finding blogs that interest you and cover topics that are important to
you. (http://supportblogging.com/Links+to+School+Bloggers - a huge number of blogs;
www.novemberlearning.com; to name a few) As you are reading blogs, remember that the
writers are typically sharing their opinion. But, if you find the right blogs you will start to generate
ideas about how you can use the tools and ideas they are sharing.
And remember to always read the comments section.
Start splashing around in the deep end.
Once you have joined some professional social networking sites, and you have a number of
blogs that you read on a regular basis, it’s time to start interacting. When you read an interesting
blog or article, or maybe one that is controversial or that you don’t necessarily agree with, or
maybe you want some clarification, make a comment. The comments section on almost any
blog is where the good stuff can be found. While the message the writer is trying to convey can
be intriguing, the comments are often times fascinating and very revealing.
What making a comment allows you to do is to become part of the conversation. The process of
actually internalizing what the blog/article was about and crafting an intelligent response is a
great way to reflect on your own thoughts and your own teaching. You will no longer just be a
consumer of what others are saying, but you will be a producer of content and ideas that will
advance the discourse on the topic.
Take the plunge off the high dive.
Here is where it gets really interesting. When you finally decide to take the plunge, you have
decided that you are ready to share your knowledge and experience with others. In this stage
you may decide to start your own blog and disseminate your thoughts through writing. You will
start to use Twitter and join the microblogging phenomena. You will find folks in education to
follow and, low and behold, people will start following you.
Tools to build your PLN
There are many tools that you can use to build your Professional Learning Network. Below is a
list of great ones to start with:
Twitter - www.twitter.com - Maybe the most useful PLN tool. You will be amazed at the number
of good ideas you can get and share via Twitter.
● Here are 25 EdTech leaders to start following on Twitter.
● Click here for an article titled - “The Ultimate Twitter Guidebook for Teachers”
Classroom 2.0 - www.classroom20.com - This is a great place to get ideas from other teachers.
Classroom 2.0 is a Professional Social Network that offers lots of great stuff.
Facebook - www.facebook.com - Not only is Facebook a great place to network, but there are
many pages that have been created for educators.
Blogs - Here are five blogs to start reading:
1. weblogg-ed: learning with the read/write web
2. A Principal's Reflections
3. The Thinking Stick
4. The Innovative Educator
5. Cool Cat Teacher
Build your own blog - www.blogger.com or www.wordpress.com or www.edublogs.com. There
are also many more options.
Social Bookmarking - www.diigo.com or www.delicious.com. These are great ways to collect
and share bookmarks and links. You can also follow people who may have similar interests and
see what they are reading/bookmarking.
More - There are many more tools out there, but this is a great place to start.
Building a PLN can be the best thing you do as a teacher with regards to your pursuit to become
a lifelong learner. Gone are the days when the only professionals you could really connect with
were those in your building or your district. Gone are the days when if you wanted to have a
discussion about a topic you had to write a letter to the editor. And gone are the days when, if
you wanted share great things you are doing, or, thoughts you have about certain topics, that
you had to get yourself published.
The fact is, you can connect with literally thousands of educational professionals who are
working hard to perfect the craft of teaching. You can become part of a global conversation all
revolving around ideas with direct impact on education. By using many of the tools readily
available on the web (which will coincide with and not eliminate face-to-face meetings, working
in the same room with colleagues, etc.) you can extend your learning much further than you
ever could before.