Saturday, 12 January 2013

John Evans: The PLN Mindset

     On Thursday we were lucky enough to have John Evans from Manitoba Education visit our classroom to discuss Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). Teacher's engage in all types of professional development throughout a given school year and all divisions have a set number of days specifically labelled as Professional Development days. These might include:
- In-school meetings that include all the teachers in your school or division
   - In-service days
   - New school tech systems (Maplewood, Edline, etc)
- Out-of-town events that require you to drive to a larger center to meet up with other
   teachers in your subject/interest area
   - Fab 5
   - S.A.G.E
   - L.I.F.T
- Online courses or programs required by your school or division
   - "Respect in Schools"

     When we look at the term development, however, it implies that there is an end point; that we can become "developed" and, in essence, have nothing else left to learn about the subject matter. Professional Learning, on the other hand, is a continuous process that is always evolving based on the teacher's interests, their needs, their student's needs, their available resources, etc. The Professional Learning Network (PLN),
     "is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts 
     with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, 
     a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that 
     some type of learning will occur because of that connection."

     While all teachers at your school can attend the same Professional Development session, every teacher's Professional Learning Network (PLN) is going to be different. There are no rules or guidelines that govern how a PLN functions, what it entails, or how you use it. While my go-to PLN may be Twitter, another teacher may be calling up colleagues they've meet at conferences and another may be blogging and receiving feedback from their readers. The video below shows a brief overview of PLNs and how you may go about "starting" one.

     When discussing PLNs, many people will actually refer to their PLN as if it is a tangible thing; something that you can see or document in a book or filing system. I tend to disagree with this type of explanation. Can I list the tools I use in my PLN? Yes. Can I show a screenshot of the other users I network with in my PLN? Yes. But a PLN is much more than just the tools used to create it, it is about the mindset of the person using it. You can be registered in hundreds of reputable sites that can assist in growing your PLN but if are not approaching them with a learning mindset they can be useless. PLNs are about using those tools to actually connect with other people who can help you learn more about a specific topic. This means participating in conversations, asking questions, sharing resources, offering advice, etc. For example, here are some of the tools I use in my PLN and how I specifically use them to expand my learning:

1 ) Twitter
Twitter is almost always my go-to platform when it comes to my PLN. I use it exclusively for education and only follow other educators and educational resources (National Geographic, TedED, CBC Learning). I regularly participate in Twitter conversations (#edchat, #sschat, #ntchat) and have been able to network with teachers from all over the world. I like Twitter because it is almost always instantaneous as many people have access to Twitter on their devices and use it regularly throughout the day. There have been several times throughout the last year that I tweeted out a question while working on homework or during student teaching and had responses almost immediately. It is so helpful to know that there is a network of educators out there that I can correspond with and get their advice quickly.

2 ) Blog
I blog regularly about a variety of topics related to my education courses,student teaching, educational resources and teaching in general. If it functioned purely as a journal, with no ability for others to comment or share, I would not include it in this list. My posts, however, often begin conversations with other teachers who share their thoughts and ideas with me. I also always share my posts via Twitter which links my posts up with other educators who can share the information, comment back and provide their point of view. I also follow other educator's blogs, read their posts, comment and sometimes share their information through my blog or Twitter.
3 ) EduPLN
I use EduPLN inconsistently but wanted to include it as part of this list to emphasize that you really do need to use these tools with a specific mindset. This ning site has thousands of registered educators and multiple topic-specific groups where you can network with educators in your subject area. I have participated in many group discussions and found them to be valuable but I find that most of the people on this site are also on Twitter; and Twitter gets used much more frequently. While I don't use this site as much as I could, I regularly tune in and participate in their weekly Twitter conversation, #edchat.
4 ) WeTeach Group
WeTeach is another ning site that functions very similar to EduPLN. I use WeTeach way more though! The reason why is because there is a specific group, "We're Bloggers" on the site that has a wonderful sense of community. I have met many supportive and friendly people through this group and that is why I continue to use it regularly. The members of the group share their blog posts, comment and provide feedback for one another and encourage educators to continue blogging when times get busy! While EduPLN is more of a general site for me, WeTeach provides a specific function in regards to my blogging interests and that is why I continue to maintain it as part of my PLN.
5 ) Maple
Maple is the newest addition to my PLN and was introduced to our class by John. It is exclusively for Manitoba Educators and sponsored by Manitoba Education. While I haven't been able to fully explore the site quite yet, one feature that I do like are the "libraries". Individuals and groups can host libraries of resources which can include links to resources, classroom resources they have created, curriculum support documents, etc. I think I will find it really helpful to search through all the material that is available and add it to my personal library for use in the classroom later on.

     These five sites are my main tools for my PLN but you can use any number of resources, online and offline, to create a PLN that works for your needs. When working on lesson plans and unit plans I often think, "How did teacher's do all of this before the internet?!" I am so thankful to have a strong and supportive PLN that works for me. I am comforted by the fact that I can expand my learning quickly and easily by networking with educators who are looking to do exactly the same thing. Even in the past year, my PLN has opened up so many opportunities for me that I know wouldn't have been available if I hadn't been in contact with the people that I had.

     I'd like to thank John again for taking the time to visit our class, introduce us to Maple, and remind us why PLNs are important!

What tools make up your PLN?
Has anything really helpful or exciting come out of your PLN?


  1. I haven't used ning outside of courses, but perhaps I shall check it out.
    I'm also excited about the library we'll get in Maple. I like sharing sites and things I've found, but want to have a way to share things I've made and done too.

    1. I very rarely use the BU ning. I find that, besides for specific courses, there aren't a lot of people who use it regularly.
      I will definitely need to spend some time working through the Maple libraries and begin sharing some of my own as well. I think right now I only added one thing to my library and only got one resource from someone elses. I am sure I will start using it regularly though, I am excited about it.

  2. You definitely seem to have a handle on the PLN idea. It is very true that the idea of a PLN is a mindset. In order to embrace this idea you have to take the time to establish connection and find resources. Somehow you manage to make time to do that and keep up with school. I truly believe you will be an amazing teacher.
    I think you would agree with me that when you start looking into generating PLN's it seems to start small but before you know it you are receiving more support and information then you ever thought possible. It is such a great community in the online education world. I am excited to be a part of it.
    Keep up the great work, I look forward to reading your blog every week (even if I don't always respond I will be reading it)

    1. Thank you so much for the compliments Anna! You are definitely right that it starts out small and it just seems to grow and grow. There are just so many amazing people out there that are willing to help, it is awesome :)

  3. I thank God we have people like you to help us SIFT through resources and other content from online. I truly believe it is essential to develop one's PLN but I find it hard to start somewhere and not get carried away with reading and researching pointless resources and information. It is very nice that many (like yourself) have tested this information and broadcast/share it for all of us to use. THANK YOU!

    1. Thanks Brooke! I find that I can "pin" a million resources on Pinterest, for example, but forget about them quickly. By reviewing them and writing about them I find I actually remember them and can utilize them in the classroom more easily. It is nice to know that other people find this helpful as well :)


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