My go-to tools for building and maintaining my PLN

I wrote this reflection on the value of PLNs for my AQ course, but my blog seemed like an ideal place to cross-post it given the content.

I already have a fairly well-established PLN, and I can pretty confidently agree with the sentiment found in one of the articles: “Interestingly, many teachers who are active online have remarked that they’ve learned a great deal more from their PLN than from any professional development session they’ve attended.” (Step 1: What is a PLN? Teacher Challenge) That said, much of my PLN has been established and built thanks to in person professional development experiences as well, and my PD experiences have been enriched thanks to the connection with my PLN. 

I have been on Twitter since 2012, though it was not until about 2015 that I started really exploring the possibilities for taking advantage of it for professional learning. I discovered Tweetdeck, which is a service/website that allows you to manage your Twitter feed more effectively, and that made all the difference. With Tweetdeck, rather than just seeing a single stream of all of the accounts that you follow, you can also follow “lists” (groups of people that you or others can curate) or hashtags. This allows you to choose what you see. While looking at Tweetdeck can be overwhelming, for me, I have found that it is the best way to really curate and find that you’re looking for. Twitter in general can be overwhelming, as well. The best advice I ever received about using Twitter is that while it can be a firehose of information, you are free to dip your cup in to collect a bit of water every once in a while. Like many of the articles mentioned, you can spend as much or as little time as you choose to. For me, it is five to fifteen minutes per day. By following the right people, I am able to discover articles, resources, and news that are up to date and relevant to my interests. Participating in or hosting Twitter chats, as well, can open up discussions and get me reflecting personally about my practice. Follow me here.

Tweetdeck can appear overwhelming at first glance but it is actually a really useful tool for sorting tweets by groups or hashtags.

I have also been blogging since the fall of 2015, when I was prompted to start a blog as part of a full-year professional development experience called Cohort 21. It is an integrated experience that basically allows you to work on a particular area of your teaching practice for the full year, with four face-to-face sessions with facilitators, coaches and other participants, while remaining connected throughout the year by blogging, Tweeting, and using Google Hangouts. For me, the main benefit of blogging is that it forces me to be a reflective practitioner. I don’t blog as much as I’d like to, but I love being able to share successful projects or classroom experiences, and I find so much value in reflecting on those activities that didn’t go so well, and hearing from others who have had similar experiences or suggestions for improvement. Obviously, student privacy is a big concern, so I do not post any photos of students or any details about where I work or particulars of my students. I have in the past posted some student work with the students’ and their parents’ permission. You can follow my blog here. 

I also use Feedly to read and follow a large collection of educational blogs. (I have a personal Feedly account, as well, for following non-educational blogs.) Feedly allows me to see all of the unread blog posts in one place, rather than having to visit each site on its own. My only complaint about following a lot of these educational blogs is that many of them have become monetized, and so there are a lot of sponsored posts and self-promotion that I find I have to wade through. I’ve had to start unfollowing some of them for that reason – not enough substance, too much selling.  A couple of my favourites: Seth Godin (not necessarily education-related but he’s got such good stuff!), EdTechTeam, and Cult of Pedagogy.

Google Hangouts is the third of my secret weapons in my PLN. Hangouts lives in my Gmail, which I always have open on my computer. Often when you think of Hangouts, you think of video chatting, for which it is a wonderful tool. However, I am a part of several group chats through Hangouts, which allow a group of people to communicate asynchronously but without having to navigate to a new page in the browser or check in to a different website. In particular, I am part of a Canada-wide educators chat that is one of the most valuable tools that I have. I have had to turn off notifications or else my devices would be pinging constantly as this particular chat is extremely active. But if I have a question – about what tool would be the best for the job, or a troubleshooting question about a particular app or service – I usually get the answer I need within ten minutes. For example, a teacher at my school might ask me if there is an app out there that does x y or z. I post my question to the chat, and the teacher thinks I’m a superhero when I have an answer for them before the end of the day. I am so lucky to be a part of that chat, and I am included because I made personal, in-real-life connections with some of these educators while attending and presenting at professional development conferences. 

Finally, I know that the next frontier for being a connected educator is podcasts. I simply don’t find that I have the right blocks of time to listen to podcasts regularly. (My drive to work is 30 minutes, but a lot of podcasts are longer than that, and I hate having to stop mid-podcast!) However, the one podcast that I do try to stay on top of as much as possible is Cult of Pedagogy. Jennifer Gonzalez does great work and tackles really pertinent topics. 

All of these above tools are my “go to” ways of fitting in professional development wherever I can. Having a PLN is all about a mindset of lifelong learning, and I don’t have to wait for the budget to allow me to attend a massive national conference in order to learn something new, nearly every day. I can’t say enough about the benefits of developing a PLN like this. 

One last thing that really resonated with me from the readings was this quote: 

“Too often connected educators are the worst advocates of connectedness because of their enthusiasm for what , and how they are learning. They tend to overwhelm the less informed with too much information that would scare off anyone who already views technology as an obstacle to overcome, as opposed to a tool to be learned and used effectively.” (Tom Whitby, The Connected Educator Culture)

I can certainly attest to this, as it seems like many of my colleagues just close their ears when I start talking about using Twitter. Does anyone have any tips or ideas for not coming across as overwhelming or preachy when trying to get colleagues to start exploring some of these PLN tools??

2 Comments

  1. Jennifer, this is a great post. I really enjoyed reading about the different tools you use. In particular, I was interested by the degree to which you use Hangouts. I’m currently in the midst of a course myself, which is focussed on Collaborative Inquiry. Here’s a question for you: how do you promote collaboration within your school amongst colleagues that work in different disciplines? Or, those who work in the same departments? Is there a need for that type of collaboration?
    Thanks again for your awesome post. I just read the Tom Whitby post! Cheers,
    Brent

    1. Hey @bhurley –

      Thanks for the comment! Sorry for the delayed reply – for some reason the notification about your comment went into my Spam folder. You ask some really great questions for which I don’t really have great answers! I certainly believe that there is a need for the kind of collaboration that you mention, though we don’t currently have any technological tools set up to facilitate it. However, the physical workspaces for our faculty can help. While there are a couple of departments that have department-specific offices (science, English, and music), most faculty have workspaces in a large, multi-department setting which is really great for collaboration. Just sharing a space with people from other departments, I’ve found, allows ideas to flow freely between disciplines. However, it is my dream to be able to set up some Google Hangout groups for our faculty, to try to get even more sharing of resources and ideas happening in a digital space.

      Jen

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