June 03, 2017

Using Social Media to Build Your PLN - A guide for teachers

(DISCLAIMER: You may want to refresh that cup of coffee before diving in, because this is one lllooonnnggg post that is chock-full of information!)

Hey, everyone! I am SO glad that you're here, because I am going to be telling you all about something that I am so passionate about and truly love doing - connecting with other professionals! Over the past few years, I have seen huge growth in my PLN from connecting with teachers via social media. If you're interested in learning how you can get connected, too, skip the next paragraph and keep reading!

If you're not interested in building connections with other professionals, I want you to take a minute and think about why. What doesn't sound great about learning from other peoples' experiences? Why not talk with someone who has had a similar problem as the one you're having (and has successfully solved it)? What's the harm in putting yourself out there, even if only for a few months? I promise you that it's worth the risk! Have I convinced you yet? Keep reading!

What is a PLN, anyway?
Well, there's actually a bit of debate regarding what PLN actually stands for. The two different thoughts are - 

Personal Learning Network and Professional Learning Network

While they both have their merits, I tend to think of a PLN as a Professional Learning Network. As a further explanation, a PLN is a network of people that you communicate with on a regular basis. Everyone's PLN is going to be different, or personalized to their own needs, because of the people they choose to communicate with. My PLN isn't going to be the same as someone in another country, state, or even the classroom down the hall from mine! 

Why is it important to have a PLN?
This is a really important question to consider; after all, if you don't buy in to the idea of building a PLN, it's not going to be important to you! I think PLNs are vital to all teachers (and all professionals, for that matter) because they break down barriers and allow you to communicate with others regardless of location, time zones, and even varying levels of busy-ness. 

How many times have you asked or heard - 

"We need more PD days!" 
 "How can we be expected to learn new things when we only meet for PD a couple of times a year?!"

Great news! Having a PLN that is fueled by social media means that PD sessions are no longer confined to long, boring days in your school building (when, let's face it, you'd probably rather be working in your classroom)! With a solid PLN, professional development can happen any time, anywhere, and everywhere.

How does social media help?
Think about it: when you graduated from college, who was in your network? College friends and classmates, your own teachers, the teachers from the school(s) where you student taught... and that's it, right? Don't get me wrong, that's a fabulous place to start! However, with so few connections, there are bound to be some gaps. 

By using social media to grow your PLN, you can be connected to as many people as you choose to connect with: people with more experience than you, people with less experience than you, people from other schools/states/countries, people who teach in different settings (urban, suburban, rural, international schools, Title 1 schools, etc.), people who teach different grade levels, school and district administrators... the list goes on and on! These people all have valuable experiences and information to share, and they're willing to share it! 

On the flip side, you are also a valuable source of experience and information! Your connection with someone can absolutely be mutually beneficial, even if you don't think you have much to offer. 

Let me say it again for the people in the back: YOU ARE A VALUABLE SOURCE OF INFORMATION! Use your experiences to help other people!

For example, I have taught kindergarten for three years at the same school. I don't have much teaching experience yet, which used to make me think that I didn't have anything to contribute, but then I was asked to present a PD session at my school about utilizing Donors Choose and fundraising. BAM! There it was! Little ol' me, with my very limited experience, was suddenly the expert that people came to for classroom fundraising. I began to realize that I really could contribute to other peoples' learning.  

Through the use of Facebook groups and Twitter, I have been able to connect and share my own knowledge and experience on many different topics with educators from around the world. I can't even begin to note how many questions I have asked in my favorite Facebook groups and gotten hundreds of responses! I have participated in Twitter chats and made wonderful, helpful connections, and even gotten an invitation to a teaching conference! I have seen collaborations between teachers such as cross-country pen pals, Skype sessions to different parts of the world, book exchanges exchanges... all things that help broaden our students' minds! It's fantastic!

Take a minute to answer this question: what do you think/know/have that could be of use to someone else? Maybe you have a certain way to set up centers in your classroom that makes them run smoothly in the first week of school (AKA you are a miracle worker- wow!). Maybe you have a tried-and-true method of classroom management. Maybe are great at keeping your classroom organized throughout the school year. Maybe you have a ton of connections that could help get guest speakers into your (or someone else's) school. You have things to say, and social media will help you speak into a much wider audience.

Okay, but... how?
If you're reading this, there's a very good chance that you're already on social media. In fact, I'd say that there's a 100% chance that you already are! If you're new to social media or don't use it often, it's best to choose one platform to begin building your PLN. 

Facebook: If you're on Facebook, consider joining a Facebook group tailored to meet your own needs. For example, three of my favorite groups are Simply Kinder, Kindergarten Teachers Unite!, and Lucky 2nd Grade Teachers. In those groups, I can talk with other teachers, ask and answer questions, share photos, see other teachers' classrooms and projects... there are so many ways that participating in these groups has helped me! Many of my own classroom projects came about because of something that I saw or read about in a Facebook group. 

Twitter: If you're on Twitter (which is my personal favorite platform for building my PLN), there are several different ways you can connect with other teachers. 

1) Sign up for an account: (DUH, BECCA) for some reason that is completely foreign to me*, many people are not interested in using Twitter. If you want to participate, though, you have to dive in! If you're not sure how to sign up, follow this link to get started.

2) Follow influencers: following people who have a lot to say can help you learn the ins and outs of Twitter.  Some of my favorite teaching accounts are:

Ron Clark from Ron Clark Academy
Chris Pombonyo  from Live in the Classroon
- Cara Carroll from The First Grade Parade
- Hope King from Elementary Shenanigans
- Ashley Schroeder from Schroeder's Shenanigans in Second
- Angie Olson from Lucky Little Learners
- Marsha McGuire from Differentiated Kindergarten
- Mr. Greg from Kindergarten Smorgasboard
- Jennifer Kadar from Simply Kinder

And, of course, you can also follow me! 😁

(*Okay, I totally do understand why people don't like Twitter. To be honest, it can be an overwhelming mess of celebrity gossip, political opinions, and downright junk... but only if you allow it to be! Your feed is strictly based on the people that you choose to follow and, unlike Facebook, you're not obligated to follow someone just because you're friends in real life. My own Twitter account never sees celebrity gossip, because I don't follow those accounts. In fact, my feed is composed entirely of: teaching things [of course], inspirational quotes, friends' accounts that I have chosen to follow, authors, cats, and Chris Colfer superfans [hey, guys!]. I do follow some celebrities, but only the ones whose news and thoughts I actually want to see. Like I said - it's totally up to you!)

3) Engage: once you follow someone, you will begin seeing their Tweets. You can respond, "favorite" a tweet, or even Retweet (which means that their tweet will be seen by everyone who follows you). If you click/tap on a tweet and scroll down, you'll also be able to see other people who have engaged with that tweet. You can respond to those people, too, even if you aren't following them.

4) Tweet: you're all signed up, you've followed influencers and engaged with their stuff, so now it's your turn! What are your thoughts and opinions? What do you have to share? Punch them out and hit Send! As a note- tweets can only be 140 characters or less. That makes it tricky to type out your own thoughts, but also easier to read others' thoughts because everything is condensed and quick to read. 

5) Use #hashtags: hashtags are either the best invention ever or the most aggravating, depending on your point of view. Personally, I am in the former category: I love using hashtags! And, whether you love them or hate them, the fact is that hashtags work. Tweets that include hashtags twice as much engagement (favorites, retweets, and responses) as those without. But, don't overdo it! Two hashtags is the perfect amount to use for a tweet. Here is a link to some great teacher hashtags! And here is an example of how I used hashtags just today - 

(Yes, I broke the "two hashtags" rule!)

6) Participate in Twitter chats: this one is my favorite! Because I have just a little bit to say on this topic, I will be making a whole other post about it. But, in the meantime, I'll explain them! Twitter chats are held at specific times on specific days of the week, usually every week. In a chat, you answer questions posed by using a specific hashtag (such as #teacherfriends). Then, others can see your posts and you can see theirs. I love doing Twitter chats (although I don't get to them often during the school year because I'm just too tired)! I did 3 just this past week and came away following several new people, and with 20 new Twitter followers myself; not just random people, but other educators and administrators who I can now bounce ideas off of! 

When are you going to stop talking?
No worries, guys, I'm almost done! 

(And serious kudos to you if you made it this far! *high five*)

I really hope that this blog post has opened your eyes to the opportunities that are available to you when you use social media to grow your PLN! I know it can be scary; if you're not used to it, social media can be incredibly intimidating. 

But, when you think about it, we do tons if intimidating things every day: standing in front of large groups of children/teens, speaking to (sometimes irate) parents, being observed by peers and evaluated by administrators... in comparison, becoming active in a social media network is a piece of cake! Just give it a try. Summer is the perfect time to start! I promise that you won't be disappointed.

If you don't mind, I'd love for you to share your own tips and tricks for using social media to build your PLN! Please leave them in the comments below. Thanks so much for sticking with me, and be sure to come back soon for the post on Twitter chats. I would also love if you shared this post on your favorite social media site, or pin the above image to Pinterest. :)

Have a great weekend!

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