Education Opinion

Supporting New Teachers to Build a PLN

By Lisa Dabbs — March 31, 2018 6 min read
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Hi Readers,

Over the last few years, I’ve worked hard to build my Personal Learning Network on Twitter. When I first jumped into the space in January 2009 it was very different. Now as the years have moved forward, I know that it’s a much more robust and engaging community. The value of having a PLN as an educator is priceless. Christine and I thought it might be cool to break from our regular conversations and share a bit about how we’ve built our own PLN’s and give some tips to our readers on how they might want to build theirs.

From Christine:

Why Build a PLN?

Joining Twitter was the best thing I (Christine) have done for myself personally AND professionally. I know that this may be a shocking statement to read. My “why” story speaks volumes, but first I need to share about how I came about learning what a PLN (professional learning network) was. I joined Twitter about three months into my teaching career. I was attending my first technology conference and the presenters kept saying to follow them on Twitter. Twitter? Isn’t that where people post about what they are doing every minute and follow celebrities? I had to check it out for myself, and THAT is when I discovered the EduWorld that exists on Twitter. I learned that there were hashtags that revolved around ideas, subject areas, grade levels, etc. Communities live within hashtags and that is how you connect with people who share a common passion or interest. Educators post to hashtags and if you like their ideas, you follow them! THAT was the start of me building my PLN.

So, why was joining Twitter and building a PLN such a big deal for me?

  • In one of my first tweets, I caught the attention of someone well known in the EduWorld: Alice Keeler. I shared that my transitional kindergartners were going to be trying out #GoogleClassroom, and Keeler found me on the hashtag. I learned that little kids were often underestimated with what they CAN create with technology. I started sharing ideas on the hashtag I founded: #GAfE4Littles. My collaboration with Keeler led to us writing our book: Google Apps for Littles: Believe They Can.

  • My first teaching assignment was temporary and I was left looking for a job. I attended Arcadia Unified’s Innovation Summit. I shook hands with the Chief Technology Officer for the district and he shared with me that he knew who I was and what I was doing with my students because of what I shared on Twitter. My interaction with him, along with some other connections, led me to get an interview when more kindergarten positions opened up... and I ended up getting a teaching job in Arcadia Unified!

  • After my first full year of teaching, I had the drive to try more new things with a new school year. I moderated the first #SlowFlipChat for a #GAfE4Littles chat, and it was there that I deeply connected with another teacher’s ideas: Jessica Twomey. My connection with Jessica’s ideas has evolved to us co-teaching as our students have an ongoing collaboration, us joining forces and moderating the #InnovatingPlay #SlowFlipChat, and us forming a special friendship.

Twitter serves as a platform for making connections with others; offering educators a place to build a professional learning network. You have absolutely no idea what possibilities can open up because you ARE on Twitter and building connections with others. By having a PLN, you are expanding your horizons by acquiring more ideas, collaborating, receiving feedback, pursuing interests, hearing perspectives from a wide audience, sharing with your students and SO MUCH MORE!

From Lisa:

How to Build a PLN with Twitter?

New Teachers, I ran a chat called New Teacher Chat #ntchat for seven years. My hope when I conceived of the chat was to support you to connect with educators worldwide and to grow your PLN. The chat was practitioner focused and I put my heart into it BUT, it didn’t grow as I’d hoped. Why? Sadly as it turned out, new teachers just didn’t show up for the chat! Research shows that for some reason there are very few “new teachers” hanging out on Twitter. As I share this today, my vision is that if you are a new teacher you will consider joining Twitter, staying there and taking advantage of all the resources it has to offer.

Twitter is a 24/7 “teachers lounge” where connections with educators from around the world are available to not only support you but to offer you perspectives on your work as a practitioner in the classroom.

Here are my five tips on how to build and cultivate your PLN:

  1. Start a Twitter account and make time to follow a few educators- As an active Twitter user, I want to guide you to jump on the Twitter web client, create your Twitter bio and add an image to it. Taking the time to develop and create a thoughtful bio with your name, your position, your passions, and interests, makes for an interesting and engaging YOU. You’re also more likely to build a following of like-minded professionals in your same field. Let folks know as soon as you’ve created your account so that others can find and follow you!

  2. Start Following Other Educators- Twitter will automatically suggest people to follow when you first sign up. However, you’ll want to start to follow Twitter accounts more closely matched to your interests. Get suggestions from friends already on Twitter or look for hashtags connected to grade levels or topics that interest you and find people tweeting and using those hashtags. Give them a follow and in time you’ll be on your way to getting connected.

  3. Start tweeting and retweeting- Twitter is a great place to learn and grow your practice and as you get started crafting your tweets don’t forget to reach out for help. You’ve got up to 280 characters to use so that’s plenty of space to share links to blog posts, articles and add images. Early on you’ll make a few mistakes, but don’t worry. You might forget to add a hashtag, or misspell a word—but Twitter followers won’t mind. Come across a tweet that you love? Consider retweeting that post to your followers. Retweets are a way of giving a virtual “high five” to your followers and they are always appreciated.

  4. Follow hashtags-Twitter is a busy place with lots of tweets that create lots of noise. As a new teacher, new to Twitter using a #hashtag is a way to collect tweets that you’re interested in using as a resource or to connect to followers. A hashtag acts as a simple way to curate and find tweets and resources categorized by a topic or phrase. Tweeting with a hashtag such as #teacher, #education or #ntchat, helps your message to become part of a larger conversation. When you add a relevant hashtag to your tweet you’ll automatically reach anyone who is following the same hashtag. It’s a great way to become more closely connected with educators worldwide who can support you.

  5. Join education chats- My early journey on Twitter started with participating in one of the largest chats for educators called #edchat. You can read all about it here. I was new to chats at that time but found that it was SO huge that I felt like I was truly lost. I “lurked” on the chat for a while before I was brave enough to jump on! But what it taught me was that there were thousands of educators like me eager to grow, learn and support their practice. I soon discovered many more chats and joined in when I could. Can’t say enough of how the power of joining a chat can support you and grow your PLN.

There are SO many more wonderful ways to use Twitter to build your PLN and I encourage you to read more about it here. Give yourself permission to explore ways that feel right for you. Before you know it, you’ll see your circle expand and collaborations grow.

Questions? Feel free to leave a comment or tweet me @teachwithsoul!


Image from Unsplash.

The opinions expressed in The New Teacher Chat: Advice, Tips, and Support are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.