5 Tips for Growing your PLN This Year

26 Jan 2023 8 min read
Nicole Zumpano
Nicole Zumpano
Director of Instructional Technology Coaching, Learning Technology Center
Sam Fishel
Sam Fishel
Digital Content Manager, Learning Technology Center

Now that we’re a full step into the new year, it’s time to start making good on our New Year’s resolutions. For many educators, that includes forging new connections and implementing new strategies for making professional learning sustainable all year long.

One way you can do both at once is through a professional learning network or PLN. These personalized networks are often made up of numerous educators working together to build professional relationships, share insights, and enhance their professional capacity through mutual learning.

Put another way, a robust PLN is your ticket to ongoing professional development that’s tailored to your individualized learning goals. Through a PLN, you’ll expand your horizons and foster human connections that you can leverage down the line for some much-needed support and problem-solving.

All of that starts by building out your PLN. Here are five strategies for growing your PLN that I recommend to all K-12 teachers and administrators:

1. Join a Virtual or In-Person Networking Group

This may sound like an obvious first step, but stay with me. Traditional networking groups remain one of the most reliable places to discover new resources, make immediate connections, and collaborate on issues relevant to your job role.

Attendance at these types of networking groups has remained low after the return to full, in-person learning. As a result, some regions have pivoted to offering role-specific networking groups where CS educators or library media specialists can share experiences and navigate shared challenges together.

Unlike when I started my career, you also don’t need to travel far to take part in a networking group, either. Many networking groups have found a comfortable home online, making it easier to reap the benefits of a networking group without taking more time out of your busy schedule.

2. Follow your Favorites

(and then Follow their Favorites)

For a decade or more now, social media has been the focal point of many educator’s PLN. That’s no surprise, given how easy platforms like Twitter and Facebook make it to join a larger conversation and discover new voices from the national and global education community.

That being said, it’s also easy to follow everyone in sight on social media, which can cause you to lose track of the voices that matter most to you. Here’s how you can make the most of that social media  “follow” button when building your PLN:

  • Start by following colleagues in your district and speakers from conferences you’ve attended.
  • Next, take a page from the arts community and follow the people those people follow. This is a great way to discover what inspires the people you already look up to, opening new doors to growth and discovery you didn’t previously know existed.
  • Stay organized from the jump using tools like Lists on Twitter. This can be especially helpful for folks in multiple roles who want a quick, focused view on different segments of their PLN.

All of this wisdom applies to other social media platforms beyond Twitter, too. LinkedIn, for example, has become a popular online networking tool for many K-12 administrators, while Instagram is gaining popularity among library media specialists and elementary educators.

3. Join the Conversation

Following the right people on social media is only the first half of the PLN equation. Once you’ve solidified your following list, it’s time to join the conversation.

There are a couple sure-fire ways to do this. First, you can search up a popular hashtag to see what kinds of conversations are swirling in the wider education community (#edchat, #edtech, and #K12 are some of my favorites).

Alternatively, you can also participate in a Twitter chat. These conversations – facilitated by users via shared hashtags and communal replies to timely questions – are a great way to dig deep and unearth nuanced views on topics that impact your role or a topic close to your heart (such as your content area or grade band).

4. Attend an EdCamp

Attending education conferences has long been a way to make face-to-face connections and start fruitful conversations with like minded peers. EdCamps can do that and more by stripping back some of the rigid conference structure and refocusing educators’ time together on solving problems via conversation.

To make this happen, EdCamps utilize an informal, unstructured format where the audience decides on the spot what the “sessions” will be. Without a clear facilitator or set presentation (and often, no vendors), attendees are free to have impromptu conversations and share resources based on their communal needs.

These conversations are always a breath of fresh air and I highly recommend them to folks who have only ever taken part in “sit-and-get” conference workshops.

5. Quick Tips for Building your PLN

  • Make a Routine – If you don’t check social media regularly, make a point to do so at least once a week by adding it to your calendar or task list. This ensures you can always make time for PLN building, as well as reaping the benefits of your PLN’s insights and resources
  • Don’t be Afraid to Lurk – Joining a conversation or a new networking group can feel intimidating at first. If you’re not ready to contribute immediately, feel free to sit in the back and simply listen. This is a great way to feel out the group and discover prevailing topics that you can add your voice to down the line.
  • Be Kind and Be Open – Especially on social media, it can feel easy to let your hottest take roll without a second thought. But you attract more bees with honey than vinegar, so be thoughtful, be respectful, and be open to new ideas and perspectives. You might just learn a thing or two!

Helping you Make New Connections

The Learning Technology Center also makes it easy to grow your PLN and forge connections that will serve your year-round professional learning goals. We offer free regional and role-specific networking groups that allow peers to share resources and collaborate on projects focused on enhancing educational opportunities using technology.

Another great way to build your PLN is by joining the LTC Community. There, you’ll find hundreds of fellow teachers, admins, and coaches asking questions and sharing their insights on topics that matter most to them. Best of all, membership on the LTC Community is free!

Nicole Zumpano
Nicole Zumpano
Director of Instructional Technology Coaching, Learning Technology Center

Nicole oversees the LTC’s Instructional Technology Coaching Program, supervising a statewide team of instructional technology coaches and supporting participating districts’ program implementation.

Sam Fishel
Sam Fishel
Digital Content Manager, Learning Technology Center

Sam leads and supports the execution and growth of LTC services through the development and creation of innovative, impactful, and timely digital content.