Thursday, March 5, 2015

What is a PLN and Why Should YOU Have One?

The past several months have been a whirlwind for me as I have taken an active leap into the world of Twitter.  I have had an account for several years, but I mostly used it to document and share during conferences I attended.  Over Christmas break, I made the decision to step outside of my comfort zone and start being an active participant in the Twitter world on a regular basis.  My husband,  @EricTownsley, has used Twitter as an educational learning and sharing platform for several years.  He continues to shake his head at my new obsession, but he has yet to utter the phrase, "I told you so!"

A PLN is a Professional Learning Network.  My PLN includes people in education from all over the world.  I already work next door to some of the most forward-thinking and progressive teachers I have ever encountered.  The PLN I have via Twitter allows me to connect with teachers in and outside of @BentonCSD.  My most favorite way to connect is through Education chats.  Ed Chat is just that... chatting about everything in education.  It's a form of professional development for teachers; there are even some states who give re-certification credit for Ed Chat participation.  I call it PD in my PJs because I really do feel like I am growing as a professional by actively participating. There are several chats which happen weekly and have a variety of topics.  I have several of these scheduled into my calendar, and if it works out, I can tune into Twitter and follow along and participate.  

I know jumping into Twitter can seem overwhelming, and I will admit when I first took the plunge, I was quite reluctant.  Now, looking back, I know I didn't take enough initiative to make it work for me. With a few hints, I hope to help your plunge be much less overwhelming than mine was, and I hope you find value in the potential of a PLN much quicker than I did.

1.) If you haven't already, sign up for Twitter.  Search your current contacts and follow, follow, follow.  If this is an educational PLN, you may want to consider keeping a separate Twitter account for personal tweets. Find some people who are already in your network of colleagues and search their followers.  This is how you will expand your PLN.  The hardest part about Twitter is the character limit.  You have to get your thought across in 140 characters or less!

2.) Visit tweetdeck.com, sign in with your Twitter credentials, and add it as a favorite or bookmark.  Tweetdeck is a way to organize a hashtag (#) you would like to follow.  It makes following along with an #edchat much easier and more organized.

3.) Pick one Ed Chat to follow along with during one specific evening for the hour.  A comprehensive and updated list can be found at this Education Chat link.  Might I recommend #iaedchat (Iowa Ed Chat) on Sunday nights at 8:00 CST, #arkedchat (Arkansas Ed Chat) on Thursday nights at 8:00 CST, #moedchat (Missouri Ed Chat) on Thurdsay nights at 9:00 CST, #sblchat (Standards Based Learning Chat) on Wednesdays at 8:00 PM CST, or #g2great (Good to Great Teaching) on Thursdays at 7:30 PM CST.  From this Google Site, you can also add the #edchat to your calendar to learn more about the chat and to set reminders.  **One thing to remember when you're participating in an Ed Chat, put the hashtag (#iaedchat, #moedchat) into your tweet so it shows up to all of the other followers of the chat.**

4.) The second week, stop back at the Ed chat from the week before, and choose one additional chat to follow for a night.  You will continue to build your network and find people who you feel are helping contribute to your professional growth.

5.) Don't be afraid to scroll up, skip, or favorite!  I often get caught up and feel overwhelmed when I can't look at all of the tweets I have missed during an Ed Chat.  One way I have found to manage this is to use the "favorite" button.  This is a place where I can go back to tweets I have favorited at a later time.  That way I can breeze over tweets without feeling like I am missing something.  The profound tweets always get a re-tweet (RT) or are modified and then re-tweeted (MT).  It will come back around from someone else, so you will probably see it again if you skipped it!

I am fortunate that several of my core Twitter connections are teachers who keep me going every day. @AnnaUpah@Mrs_KFisher, and @JenBange remind me when there is a great Ed Chat going on, they inspire me with positive support at the exact moment when I'm in need.  They press my thinking and help me continue to recognize not only the great things that are currently happening around me every day, but also help me recognize where we could be as our district continues to move forward.  Good enough is never good enough for these ladies, and I am fortunate to have such a supportive, forward-thinking group of colleagues to help me be a better educator and move me forward every day.

I hope you are able to find value in this type of professional development.  I am constantly seeking out opportunities to learn and grow through powerful PLN connections.  I look forward to connecting with you and adding you to my professional network.  Happy tweeting!  - @TownsleyAJ

Here's a list for our BC Connections so far.  We will continue to add to the list.  Please contact me if you have one to add.

#BCTLT - Teacher Leader Hashtag
#BCSD
#BCPride
#beaboBCat
#BobcatNation

Benton Community School District - Official BCSD Twitter
Gary Zittergruen


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