We all have people like this in our lives: the people we call when we need to make sense of something that just happened. The people who we can turn to when we’re feeling stuck. The people with whom we share the struggles of leadership.
Think for a moment: who are your closest colleagues?
Personally, I think of several people who I know in different ways:
- My mentor principal from when I was an intern
- Half a dozen other principals who started in the district at the same time as I did (some of whom have now moved on)
- Two or three people from my principal prep program
- Several people I know well from Twitter
- A few other people I’ve come to know well through various projects
These people are my PLN—my Personal Learning Network. (You have one too, even if you don’t call it that.)
I’m currently reading Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli’s book Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education, which is the authority on PLNs.
PLNs are essential to work and learning in a connected world. We need to be smart about how we use and grow our PLNs.
But a quick note of caution…
Twitter Isn’t Exactly Your PLN
The popularity of Twitter among educators has paralleled the popularity of the PLN concept, so it’s tempting to equate the two—after all, Twitter makes it incredibly easy to connect with your PLN.
Your PLN is all about relationships, not simply information and communication. Twitter may be how you communicate with some members of your PLN, but it’s also full of noise that doesn’t help you with your work. It’s just a communication medium, and it’s up to each of us to make good use of it by making good connections.
So if you’ve been thinking “Twitter = PLN” that’s a start, because Twitter has more smart people on it more often than just about any other communication platform, but we can’t stop there.
If you’ve been “collecting” people on Twitter instead of building a PLN, take a look at whose tweets are making a difference for you. What if you followed just a handful of people and ignored the other noise?
One way to do this is with mobile push notifications. I’ve benefited greatly from turning on notifications from Matt Wachel (so I see all of his tweets as push notifications on my iPhone). Matt seems to find just about everything worth seeing online, and also models a great PLN with his friend Steven Weber and others.
(You can also do this with Twitter lists—here’s an awesome guide from David Truss.)
More importantly, look beyond Twitter for your PLN. As great as it is, Twitter isn’t for everyone.
And as you think about the network of people you rely on when you’re looking for ideas, solutions, or just some good professional venting, think of the people who aren’t on Twitter. Think of the people who may not have as many online connections, and who may want a phone call instead of one more email.
Scheduling PLN Time
One of the best habits I’ve ever developed is meeting regularly with people who make me better. I can recall many an early morning or late afternoon meeting over a cup of coffee, and having conversations that shaped the course of my professional life.
The relationships we invest the most in are those that have the greatest influence on the course of our lives.
Who’s in your PLN? How can you form stronger, more mutually helpful connections with them?