How to make best use of a Professional Learning Network (PLN)

(Image credit: Ritas Mortenson)

As  the Educational Technology Coach and a District Personalized Learning Coach for Verona Area High School, in Verona, Wisconsin, a key part of my role is supporting my colleagues as they learn to integrate technology into the classroom.  In our fourth year as a 1:1 iPad school (K-12), we have made great strides in our digital transformation, and in order to do this I have been actively working with teachers to develop lessons and content for our 1:1 iPad environment to meet the needs of all learners by incorporating universal design for learning principles.  

Personally, I’ve found that Professional Learning Networks (PLN) can be an immense benefit to teachers looking to continue to grow their classroom practice.  I am a Discovery Educator, Apple Distinguished Educator, Google Innovator and ISTE Arts and Technology PLN Leader, and in each of these PLN’s, I’ve learned valuable lessons and made tremendous connections that support my work each day.  

I couldn’t do my job, or be the educator or person I am today without my PLN. If I post something in an area that I know members of my PLN view or visit such as Twitter, Facebook, or various Blogs,  in a matter of 24 hours, I can immediately get answers to questions, have resources shared with me or have people volunteer to support me with a project. 

Here are five ways you can immediately put a PLN to work for you:

Use your PLN to collaborate with others or answer questions about topics and content.
My PLN’s are a tremendous support to me, because if I need a collaborator on a project, or If I am uncertain with a problem or an issue, I can turn to my PLNs for support and answers.  Often, answers to a problem or resources for a challenge I am facing have already been solved or found by one of my PLN colleagues. 

Use your PLN as a source for creative and effective resources.
I love that educators share.  Recently, I needed to learn more about how I could incorporate digital citizenship into various content areas.  Turning to social media and my PLNs, I immediately received responses.  In seeking new instructional strategies for teachers to use in the classroom, I turned to my PLN and learned about a variety of SOS strategies (Spotlight on Strategies) found in the new Discovery Education Experience.  Educators are united by a common desire to see all students succeed, so you’ll find that PLN members will always share their expertise, passions and resources with you. 

Use your PLN to source virtual presenters or guest speakers.
Guest speakers and content experts are a great way for students to learn from others around the world. I’ve found that my PLN is an abundant source of passionate individuals willing to share information via Google Hangouts or other conferencing software.  

Use your PLN for personalized professional learning.  Educators by nature are lifelong professional learners.  In addition to participating in their school system’s formal professional learning programs, many educators are undertaking their own, self-directed professional learning through their PLNs.  Through book clubs, discussion groups, interactive courses and weekly webinars, PLNs can be a great venue for educators seeking to continue their professional learning through non-traditional means.  Furthermore, many organizations such as Google, Apple and Discovery Education offer professional learning.

Use your PLN to support or challenge your perspective.  
Personally, I find my PLN to be a window out onto the larger educational community and a group that can support or challenge my perspective. Through my PLN, I can learn what it is like to teach in rural schools around the United States or in other parts of the world.  When I learn how other educators around the world would approach a problem or find solutions to challenging issues, it is refreshing.  No matter what idea I am looking to explore, I can always count on my PLN to challenge my thinking and provide a way for me to connect with others outside of my organization. 

At our opening day kick off last year, one of the presenters mentioned that we are better together.  I truly believe that and I apply that on my educational journey.  PLN’s are a wealth of information and professional support, and I encourage all my colleagues to find a PLN that will support their needs.