By Dr. Dr. Malia Hoffmann
Professor, California State University Fullerton
The acronym PLN is often used interchangeably to describe both personal and professional learning networks to improve teaching strategy. However, there is a difference between the two of them. That difference lies in that a personal learning network is individually chosen by the teacher, where he/she makes online connections with a diverse collection of people and resources from around the world. The key is that the connections are individually chosen. Whereas, a professional learning network describes the goals set forth by your school or district administrators (Nussbaum-Beach & Ritter Hall, 2008).
Differentiating the teaching approach can open the door to explore other pedagogies to implement into the classroom to improve teaching strategy.
— Dr. Malia Hoffmann
Educators often get overloaded with the goals of the professional learning network to improve teaching strategy. The professional goals tend to steal the focus and time of the teachers because it is the initiative or directive given to them. For instance, the principal may set a school goal of integrating reading across the curriculum or embedding social justice elements into every class. Just like creating lessons that need to follow new standards or common core, those goals of the school usually take center stage. Professional development trainings and/or supplied resources are usually centered around these directed goals. This often leaves little time for teachers to explore their own individual interests and passions for their own classes. Yet, to fuel the passion for teaching, those interests and passions of the personal learning network needs to be cultivated.
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Teachers and the students may have a wide array of interests to explore and try out in their classes. Differentiating the teaching approach can open the door to explore other pedagogies to implement into the classroom to improve teaching strategy. These new pedagogies or interests can be the foundation to build an educator’s personal learning network (PLN, from here on out PLN will be used to describe the personal learning network). For instance, an educator may have an interest in implementing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) teaching practices into his/her classes; therefore, STEAM would be the topic in which to begin to build the PLN. Search and seek out people and resources to help connect with examples of STEAM. Getting started can be challenging.
Once you learn how to get started, you may find that may be the easiest step. Keeping up can be the most difficult. To get started you need to get connected. That means connect in as many places as you can. Not just virtually, but also physically. Go to conferences outside of your district. Choose a topic that interests you and maintain that path throughout the conference. Look what networks the presenters are using to connect. You may find a theme. In education Twitter is tending to be the most popular tool for building PLNs and connecting; however, Google + (G+) Communities are very popular and are picking up steam. My suggestion is to create accounts and connect in as many social networks you can manage. Some examples are LinkedIn, G+, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr. For a week, lurk in all of them. Find out what is being shared, who is active, and who you have similar interests with. Eventually, you’ll find you have a few networks that prove to be the most valuable to you. Mine happen to be G+ and Twitter. Make those your homebase for building your PLN. Figuring out and deciding who to follow can also be difficult to improve teaching strategy.
You will learn who is adding value to your PLN and who is spewing out junk that you don’t care about.
— Dr. Malia Hoffmann
Start following people you actually know, colleagues, authors, friends, etc. From there look at who they are following; follow them. Again, lurk for a week. You will learn who is adding value to your PLN and who is spewing out junk that you don’t care about. Eliminate the junk, and build upon the value. Look at your valuable people, follow their people and so on. Also, take a look at the way people describe themselves in their profiles. If they are a “self-proclaimed foodie” and that is your thing, then follow them. If they are a “stay-at-home mom with a reading problem” and you dig books, follow them. Don’t be afraid to add a lot of people at first and thin out later, it is part of the process. Now for how to keep up.
Keeping up can be the most difficult, especially if your principal has his/her own agenda. Just commit to five minutes a day to check in and connect with your passions. Do it while in line at the grocery store, while pumping gas, or while eating breakfast. You may find that you want to check in more.
Stay tuned for additional posts on how to archive resources from your PLN and leading a PLN in a later blog posts. As always, if you have comments, suggestions, or testimonials to improve teaching strategy, please leave them below and I am happy to respond. Happy connecting!
Nussbaum-Beach, S., & Ritter Hall, L. (2012). The connected educator: Learning and leading in a digital age. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.