A PLN: Friends…with Benefits

PLN visual by Joyce Seitzinger (2008 via Flickr)

Making the decision to defect from a career in law and join the ranks of one of the noblest professions was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my short time on this earth-but also the most rewarding.

From experience in three other fields of work, I can honestly say that no profession is as encouraging, committed to professional development, and devoted to self improvement as the teaching profession. This has been my discovery from building my PLN (Personal Learning Network) over the last year using technological tools such as Twitter, blogging and Edmodo, and also taking time out of the hectic schedule of a uni student to attend and present at conferences, unconferences, and TeachMeets. Building PLNs and supporting pre-service teachers (from both within universities and mentoring from experienced teachers themselves) has now become somewhat of a crusade of mine, with two projects currently under way to ensure these lost little lambs find their way home (read more about PSTN and e is for english).

But what is this elusive PLN? And HOW do I elbow my way in?

Because PLN has become somewhat of a buzzword in the education industry, I prefer to think of the people in my PLN as my friends with whom who share goals, ideas, and often jokes. These are the people I turn to when I have had a terrible day in the classroom, when I have struggled with an assignment, or when I felt frustrated by “the system”. These are the people who have helped and coached me through interviews, who have organised me a job, and who constantly share their time and resources with me without expecting the earth in return. And if that isn’t a friend, I don’t know what is.

Upfront, it isn’t easy to ‘find’ a PLN, and it takes some work to find the right fit. You do have to dust off your networking skills, and venture outside that comfort zone in order to establish connections. My favourite networking tool has been Twitter, which I would recommend to ANY teacher, but this won’t work for everyone. If I am honest, Twitter sucks up a lot of time and energy (my partner banned me using it in his house for a while….), and if you are the type to easily procrastinate, steer clear! Tools like Edmodo and Google + can be just as effective for forming groups and sharing resources, without causing you to feel so overwhelmed.

But you have to go beyond the technology. You have to attend the meet and greets (something which it took me a while to feel comfortable doing), you have to make the time to call or Skype those people you collaborate with. Most of all though, you have to participate. Like any relationship, a PLN is not a one-way street; you must make the time to share your own resources, ideas, and opinions with others. This might put you in a difficult position; what if you don’t have these ‘others’ to share with?

To quote the age old adage: Rome wasn’t built in a day. So don’t try and build your PLN in a day either! My advice is to latch onto one or two people who you make the effort to know well and show them that you are a committed professional. Make sure these people are at least mildly influential in whichever sphere you choose to inhabit, and they will gradually introduce you to others you can follow/connect with. I was lucky-the influence of my practical placement mentor provided me with a certain ‘in’ to the Twittersphere, but I know others who have followed the (informal) guidelines Dean Groom has blogged about, and had success building a sturdy PLN that way. And if you are still really struggling, feel free to join the PSTN project which will be happening all around the country (and with a bit of luck-the world!).

But it isn’t all hard slog!

I find that my workload is reduced by half after people have shared their resources with me, and that much of my professional development and my knowledge of the issues in education have come from my PLN without me having to source it myself. I have said it so many times this year that it has become like a mantra, but some days I honestly thought that without Twitter I would have either failed, or dropped out of university. Not because it was particularly difficult, but because I couldn’t stand the lack of guidance from many of the academics who were teaching us. Not only did the teachers in my PLN chip in, but also other academics, to ensure me that the university bubble was just that.

So now, with my one year of experience in the field of education (laughable isn’t it?), off I trot to my first job as a graduate teacher in a rural school (you guessed it-as a result of my PLN!). I feel confident, prepared, and supported, and ready take risks and push boundaries for these kids; something I owe to the years and years of experience which have been shared so kindly with me.

Lauren is Chat with Rellypop’sfirst guest contributor and we hope to hear more from her as she moves from being a preservice teacher to a graduate teacher. Her interests in community, student centred learning and technology drive much of her passion for education and interactions with fellow learners. Lauren is a part of Rellypop’s PLN and has been blogging about her thoughts a reflections about being a preservice teacher at http://www.lforner.wordpress.com. Lauren also tweets @LaurenForner.

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6 responses to “A PLN: Friends…with Benefits

  1. Interesting piece but it seems to me that “Personal Learning Network” is simply a network, the essence of networking. I agree with the content, just confused why you have used the term PLN and not just network.

  2. Thanks Pravin for your feedback on Lauren’s guest post.

    Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) emerged with the work of George Siemens and Stephen Downes and the theory of connectivisim. PLNs are informal learning networks which consist of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a Personal Learning Environment (PLE).  A PLE is made up of one or more tools and allows an individual to set their own learning goals, manage their learning (managing both content and process), and communicate with others in the process of learning. The visual attached to the post is a great introduction to this visually.

    An individual learner makes a connection with others in their PLN with the specific intent to learn. This may connect to one or more parts of their interests, fields, or inquiry. In a PLN  learners create connections  to develop a network that contributes to their professional development, knowledge and meaning making.   In PLNs often the learner does not have to know these people personally or will ever meet them in person. Twitter is an example of how Lauren connects, creates, and constructs her learning as a preservice teacher moving into a graduate position in a school.

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