How to grow a professional learning network

By Samantha Fecich and Hannah Sansom. Posted

Whether you are newly qualified or an established educator, there are numerous benefits to growing your connections through an online professional learning network

Newly qualified teachers may have heard the term ‘professional learning network’ (PLN) being thrown around during their training. A professor or a peer may have spoken of the benefits of getting connected on social media. Likewise, it is a term that established teachers may have heard, but may not be familiar with. These teachers are probably asking themselves, “What is a PLN?”

In short, an individual’s PLN is a group of people in their professional field whom they follow online, particularly on social media. For teachers, these are peers with whom they can share resources and interact in order to grow as an individual and educator. Teachers can think of this network as their professional friend group that they can go to specifically for advice, resources, and development.

Why do I need a PLN?

Teachers who are new to the idea of a PLN may wonder why they need one. They may feel daunted by setting up more than one social media account, not having enough time, or the fear that nobody will follow them. 

We go to college or university to learn and grow, and learning from our peers is a big part of this. In a way, an individual’s PLN could be considered to be their peers in the virtual learning realm, particularly with the instant connectivity of social media at their fingertips. These peers will all share similar passions, interests, goals, and endeavours. A teacher’s PLN can become a source of inspiration and a place to fuel their passion for the profession. You can use your PLN to: ask questions; share ideas and resources; participate in discussion; participate in book studies; and support and encourage others.

Growing a PLN

Most educators will probably have a professional home team already — those colleagues and work friends who they can bounce ideas off and share resources with. But, as the old saying goes, the more, the merrier! So, how to expand and grow a PLN? Social media is the key! I recommend creating separate professional and personal social media accounts. For an educator, this will help to promote them as a professional and to highlight those key teaching reflections. While this may seem daunting, most platforms make it easy to switch between accounts. 

Some examples of platforms to get started with include: Twitter, Voxer, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogging platforms such as WordPress. Following relevant hashtags can be a great way of staying up to date with what’s going on in a particular field. Many platforms also facilitate ‘chats’, which are online discussions at a specific day and time using certain hashtags. There are chats specifically for education, and a schedule of these chats on Twitter can be found at helloworld.cc/edu-chats. I recommend following other educators and hashtags in order to get inspired and gather resources from #eduawesome educators. Happy growing!

Advice for student teachers

Firstly, we all need people to support, encourage, challenge, and push us to become an educator of excellence. A student teacher who is at college or university can often get that support from classmates, professors, or their friend down the hall. While this support is great, there may be times after graduation when these contacts can’t be reached — they will be busy with their own lives, or at a different stage in life — and that’s OK too. That’s why having a PLN is so important. A PLN can provide help and support to teachers, as well as providing a platform to bounce ideas off. Student teachers can get one step ahead by creating their PLN now, thereby having that support system available to them immediately after graduation.

Secondly, a PLN can help students and newly qualified teachers with their job search. Hiring managers will often do a quick search on potential job candidates and applicants — and it is usually a person’s social media accounts that come up first in the search results. Student teachers can make their online presence appear as positive and professional as possible by harnessing the power of their PLN. A hiring manager wants to see what a candidate is learning about and how they are applying that knowledge to help kids. A student teacher could demonstrate their imagination and competency by tweeting out a great bulletin board they made, or by sharing an image on Instagram from a hands-on activity they did with their third-grade (Year 4) class. It’s important for teachers to share their areas for improvement too — employers are interested in seeing how candidates cope with challenges. Teachers might share their reflections on a biology lesson that didn’t go so well and ask for suggestions, or pin a meaningful takeaway from a class to document their learning. Sharing learning far and wide is key!

Finally, having a PLN is like having access to a teaching mentor around the clock. For student teachers, this is particularly useful for getting ideas, resources, tools, and tips, anytime and anywhere. By posting a question, joining a Twitter chat, or engaging in a conversation, a student teacher will probably find someone there to guide them. Current educators and administrators are excited to help new teachers along the path of becoming educators of excellence. They want to share their knowledge and train up the next generation of educators!  

So there we have it — three reasons for student teachers to start a PLN today. Of course, many of the above points can also be applied to established teachers. It is never too late to connect with others and learn something new.

Whats in a name?

Creating a professional social media account needn’t be a chore. Follow these tips to make your account stands out.

Your account name:

  • Choose a name as close to your real name as possible

  • Make it professional, clear, and fun

Choosing a bio image: 

  • It should just be you in the photo! 

  • It doesn’t need to be glamorous; just make it fun and professional

Bio info:

  • This should be clear and concise, and show who you are as an educator

  • Add some personality, such as your hobbies

  • Add a header image

  • Glitter! OK, so you can’t literally put glitter on your page, but you can jazz it up with your header image

  • Jazz up your bio with hashtags 

  • Consider adding emojis

You can find a free PDF guide on how to create a professional Twitter account, here.

Samantha Fecich and Hannah Sansom

Samantha Fecich and Hannah Sansom

Samantha has been a professor of education for over seven years. She is a podcast host, author, and co-author of several guidebooks for educators, including EduMagic: A Guide for Preservice Teachers and EduMagic Shine On: A Guide for New Teachers. Most days, you can find Samantha in her office at Grove City College, Pennsylvania, working with students or teaching preservice teachers about educational technology or special education.

Hannah teaches the third grade (Year 4). She is a certified elementary and special education teacher with a Master of Education in Reading and Math. Hannah is also co-author of EduMagic Shine On: A Guide for New Teachers, and co-creator of the EduMagic Future Teacher Planner. She loves the outdoors, donuts, and a good cup of coffee.


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