Tap The Power of Your PLN

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.

Pln cover

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?

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About the Author

Justin Baeder helps school administrators increase their productivity through the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. Learn More ยป

Leave a Reply 3 comments

datruss - April 14, 2014 Reply

Great perspective Justin!
I remember when I was in China and faced an interesting challenge dealing with an email from a parent at my school. I was flabbergasted and had no idea how to respond? I sent an email out to a handful of principals I knew… 3 colleagues and friends from ‘back home’ and 4 from Twitter – none of whom I’d met face-to-face at that point (but have met in the 3 years since).
The advice was equally as good from all of them! My point: I had ‘go to’ people I could both count on and trust the opinions of, and geography didn’t matter. Knowing them f2f didn’t matter either. What mattered was that I valued and trusted them as wise advisors because of a personal connection to them… Through both face to face interactions and friendships as well as online ones.
I think that used well, connections of trust and understanding can develop on Twitter but it takes effort. You have quickly become someone whom I value and pay attention to, with your email updates being one of the few that get pushed to me. But it has been blog comments and a few emails that have helped to build that relationship… Not just tweets.

Donald Gately - April 15, 2014 Reply

Great piece Justin. Thanks. I need to use more “lists” to focus my flow of info.

Mike St. Pierre - April 16, 2014 Reply

Justin, great post. I think you’re on to something here- behaviors change results. When I work with a staffer at school, we try to focus on small things they can actually do to leverage change in their work.

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