Dear Sarah,

My question is short. I want to know how to learn best from my PLN. Thanks!


Learning from my PLN

Dear Learning from my PLN,

My first favorite thing about your question is what it implies: you are already cultivating your own personalized  learning network (PLN)! Some of you may have heard this acronym, but may not be entirely sure what it’s all about. So before we jump into learning the most from it, let’s all get on the same page about PLNs.

By definition, PLNs are informal networks people create that are generally started by shared professional interests. They’re personalized because we are the ones curating them to meet our needs. Although we’ve been hearing people talk about PLNs for the past 10 years (largely since teachers could connect with each other via all kinds of social media platforms) the concept isn’t new. In fact, it’s natural to seek your tribe, to find your peeps, to create your circle, to connect to others who are struggling and succeeding in the same ways we are. In short, having a PLN means putting yourself in the presence of others who can remind you what you’re striving towards.

What’s unique about our PLNs, and what often differentiates them from more formalized mentoring programs or even PLCs (professional learning communities) is that we choose them. In fact, we usually gravitate to them. Whether it starts with an online follow we’re energized about or the book that feels like it’s speaking directly to us, or the blog that we religiously consume: we are choosing to learning from the people we both trust to support and challenge us.

The key to learning the most from your PLN isn’t much different than what happens when we see our own students immersed in their learning. There’s no way around it: if you want to learn from your PLN, then you must engage with it. As we know, engagement can look differently at different times and for different purposes. Yet, if you want to get the most out of your learning, you have to treat it like you would a meaningful relationship. You have to give it time and trust, you have to listen and contribute, you have to exercised patience and show enthusiasm, you have to forgive and encourage.

In other words, you have to show up and not passively assuming the PLN is going to do more work than you will. We don’t count on our PLNs to have magic answers (although sometimes they can have timing that’s magical) or to do the work for us. Rather, we recognize their role in making sure we never feel alone on this often arduous journey. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, but not quite sure what this means in your day-to-day PLN interactions, here are some quick questions to pose to yourself than can help you get more out of your PLN.

  • Am I reading? Not just scanning my Twitter feed, but following some links and reading the longer pieces?
  • Am I following? Not just the teachers who teach what I do, but the ones who will challenge me to think differently?
  • Am I discussing? Do I pick up a Twitter chat once in awhile? Have I found the one that I don’t want to miss?
  • Am I contributing? Am I liking or sharing? Am I adding comments to a conversation, chat or post?
  • Am I sharing? Am I going beyond learning from the conversations and adding value to them? Am I posting my own ideas or successes from the classroom? Am I sharing my own struggles or questions?
  • Am I contemplating? Am I disrupted enough by what I’m seeking from my PLN that I feel a little unsettled once in awhile? Am I willing to grow out of uncomfortability?
  • Am I leaping? Am I trying something new, maybe even a bit scary, because I’m inspired by my PLN?
  • Am I reciprocating? Am I giving back to my PLN in the ways I can?

As you continue to grow and learn by your personalized learning network, remember that engagement isn’t passive; rather, it’s the willingness to construct our own learning.

Teach openly,

With Teacher2Teacher



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