Why Everyone Needs a Great PLN

I'm not going to lie.  

Today was tough.  Really tough.  My kids were, for the most part, great.  Honestly, most of the time it's not the kids that drive me nuts.  Kids will do what they can get away with, after all.

My school has been relocated for this year while a new school is being built.  As such, our kids are being bussed to our new location (about 10 minutes away by car), with 6 buses making 2 trips to move 600 children from our old neighborhood to our new one.  Let's just say, admission took 1 hour (all the kids have to be fed because nearly 100% of them qualify for free/reduced lunch) and dismissal also took 1 hour (imagine Ellis Island after a boat came in without the organization and with everyone speaking English).  It didn't have to be like this, but, alas, I was not surprised.

I often feel powerless at my job.  I feel as if everything is happening to me, not with me or because of me. I crave collaboration and intelligent conversation about education, but I don't get a lot of it at my job. Whenever I feel alone, in steps my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network).

Side note: if you don't know what a PLN is, then check out the links at the bottom of this post.
After a long, frustrating day at work, I sent out a tweet:

Within minutes, I received encouraging words, many from people I have never even met in person, but with whom I have exchanged wonderful resources and conversations.

I felt--no joke--all warm and fuzzy inside.  

These are big-thinkers, lifelong learners and people like me, who seek out knowledge for themselves and have a passion for sharing that knowledge with the world.  Sadly, my face-to-face PLN is lacking such energy and passion.  Or, perhaps, this energy just hasn't been released, or maybe it hasn't been given the opportunity to flourish.  Twitter provides that opportunity for me.

So, my questions are:

  • Have you ever wanted to discuss that new issue of Educational Leadership, only to find you're the only one with a subscription, or you're the only one who read it?

  • Have you ever heard a story on TV or the radio or read a great book and been just dying to talk to someone about it, only to find that people want to talk about Desperate Housewives or The View and have never heard or read the story and/or have no opinion about the topic? (No harm meant to those who enjoy those shows!)

  • Have you ever had a question that no one seems to know the answer to?

  • Have you ever wondered how someone else does something?
  Sounds like you need the support of a good PLN!  

If you have a network of friends/fellow educators already, then you should feel like the luckiest person in the world.  If not, then you need to get one!

A supportive and innovative PLN will help you grow in your career, help you grow as a person and give you a place to bounce new ideas around, ask simple questions or get help when you need it.  It can also be a place of comfort and belonging when you feel isolated or alone.

How can you just up and 'get' a PLN?  

  • Give in to the fad and join Twitter.  (See links to posts below on how to do this.) 

  • Join a Ning (social network) that is related to your area of expertise. 

  • Join Diigo and start sharing links with people or join a Diigo group.

  • Listen to conversations in your workplace and seek out those people who share your interests or whose company you enjoy.  A good PLN does not have to be virtual--it can be right under your nose!

Best wishes to everyone with the new school year and thank you to all of the valuable members of my PLN that keep me going every day!
Helpful links for building a PLN:

'Creating a PLN' Wikispace

What is a PLN, Anyway? from Teaching Village (Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto)

The Innovative Educator: 5 Things You Can Do to Begin Building a Personal Learning Network

How to Build a Personal Learning Network from Free Technology for Teachers (Richard Byrne)

Oh, the Adventures You'll Have if Only... from Teacher Reboot Camp (Shelly Terrell)

How to Become a Twitter Teacher in 23 Steps or less by Kapil Bhatia

Why You Should Start Tweeting by Jason Renshaw

Examples of Online Communities (these are all technology & education related)

Classroom 2.0

Philly Teacher Techs (OK, a plug for my own Ning, but it's the closest I've gotten to starting a local PLN)

ISTE Community Ning

school bus photo courtesy of FreeFoto.com

frustrated face photo courtesy of tuppaware_001 on Flickr


  • Thanks for sharing this story. And, thanks for the great links. I plan on sharing your post with some of the tech-averse staff at our high school. Now, if we could only convince @dobrien917 to get back online!

  • Hey there, Mary Beth.

    So much of what you write is reminiscent of discussions we had with folks at NECC this past June/July — the PLN movement IS gaining some traction, in no small part due to Twitter and the related social media and 2.0 explosion, but the numbers of folks who are diving in and embracing the concept seem to mirror the rush of the general educational population to embrace technology in general – that is to say, rushing very slowly. As we experienced at NECC, many of the presenters there were preaching to the converted. Presenters and attendees alike have a huge challenge in supporting the remaining majority of our colleagues in embracing both technology and the PLN concept.

    continues ... (you inspired me!)
    Response to 'Why Everyone Needs a Great PLN'

  • I know what you're talking about. I felt lost and alone in my school until I found you and a few dozen other like-minded souls on Twitter.

    Don't be too hard on your colleagues. Its taken three years but I'm starting to discover people like us (at least a little bit) in my own school. Keep trying and you'll connect somewhere. Until then, we'll be here for you.

  • When I got home from school last night after our second day with students, I was so frustrated and upset that I avoided all conversation. Perhaps I should've turned to Twitter and talked about it. Honestly, I can still feel my elevated blood pressure right now, as I get ready to teach day #3.

    I definitely agree with your thoughts - I go out of my way to have conversations with co-workers, but my schedule is so full that they either have to happen before or after school. And to find anyone who wants to talk shop after their contractual day is over... is not easy to do. I have the friends and the right technology, just need to learn how to use it to my benefit :)

  • Shea,

    Please share! I'm sure @dobrien917 will be back when she's ready!


    Thanks for a great blog post/response. I really enjoyed reading it. You make a lot of great points.


    Thanks for the support and good luck with your new schedule and keep working on that local PLN at school!


    Isn't it terrible to be so frustrated only 2 days in? We're here for you---VENT!

    Thanks, everyone for taking the time to comment. I look forward to my long-distance support group helping me through the year!

  • Thanks for the great post, you've captured many of my own feelings and experiences. My online PLN are a constant source of information and 'warm fuzzy' feelings.

  • Hi Mary Beth,

    Those of us who are leading the way in our schools could certainly feel it is not worth it sometimes. Thank goodness we have PLNs that share our fire and passion and keep us going.

    There have been a few small steps at my school since we started back on August 17 and it is great to see. I have found some people in my district who twitter and blog and I am getting to know them through our online sharing. Last year I knew of no one else from my district who had an online presence, so it is slowly happening.

    Hang in there. Your PLN is cheering for you.

  • Mary Beth,

    Excellent post. Heartfelt.

    I can very much relate to your questions on wanting to know an Ed-Tech topic, discussing [banal] TV shows [and not NPR stuff:)

    Sometimes do you ever find yourself saying, "Who gets this, c'mon now, anyone?"

    So, thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. We all feel this way at times, I'm sure. I know I do.

    Keep the faith. You can do it!


  • Bookjewel,

    I'm glad you get 'warm and fuzzy' feelings from your PLN, too!


    What great news that you have begun to build a local PLN! Isn't it crazy how even in our local community having an online presence makes a difference!


    Who does 'get this stuff?!' Of course, they're probably thinking the same thing about us :) Glad to know I'm not alone in my NPR enjoyment!

    Thanks everyone for taking the time to comment!

  • This is a wonderful, informative post. As an older teacher just dipping her toes into these waters, I really appreciate your thoughtful explanation of the hows and whys of developing a PLN. And even though Twitter is positively alien to me (140 characters? You're kidding, right?) and I only just learned what a ning is, I am still a teacher who craves a kind of connection and exchange with other teachers that is just not happening where I work and am willing to learn to use the tools that can make it happen.

  • Melisa,

    Welcome to the wonderful world of online collaboration and learning! I'm glad that you've branched out and 'dipped your toes in!' I hope you find it as rewarding as I have.

Save Trees: Don't print me!