But there is one thing for sure I know I have time for in the summer - and that is Twitter. Twitter is an amazing place to grow as a teacher. It may even be more beneficial than reading 10 PD books this summer. I am relatively new to Twitter. This is really only my third year knowing what a PLN (professional learning network) is and my first year truly trying to build one.
But if there is ONE thing that you can DO TOMORROW to improve yourself as a teacher, it is to build a PLN.
Here are three ways that have helped me build my PLN. And these are things I have time to focus on during the summer, so they are going on right now for me.
1) Build a Purposeful PLN on Twitter
When I say "purposeful," I really mean it. I try to keep my professional and personal lives separate in the social media worlds. I use Twitter for educational professional development and very rarely tweet about anything personal. (Facebook is my personal posting avenue). But because of that, I am specific about who I follow, and I look closely at people's bio before following them. By being a little picky, I am able to create a twitter feed that I know I will always be able to learn from and hopefully link up with people who would also like to learn from me and be interested in the types of education focused material I will be posting.
Find people who you admire or already love to learn from on Twitter and look to see who they follow and who they mention. Odds are, those are the people you also want to have as a part of your PLN.
Always keep an eye on the Follow Friday (#FF) hashtag to see who other people recommend that you follow.
Participate in Twitter chats, even if it is just to find new people to follow. My biggest secret to a Twitter chat is using two devices. It may seem like a bit much, but it helps me follow the stream and respond faster. Hootsuite is a MUST by the way - it helps you to watch a specific hashtag. If you try to view a single hashtag only using Twitter, you may miss some of the feed. I watch the stream on my iPhone using the Hootsuite app. Then, participate in the chat by entering posts and ideas from my iPad or computer either through Hootsuite or Twitter. If I don't have two devices available, I usually particpate from my iPhone since it is what I have with me.
A few Twitter chats you may want to try out: #NTchat, #1to1techat, #TLchat, #EngChat, #EduCoach
Official Educational Twitter Chat Schedule via @cybraryman1
2) Start a Blog Reader
This is my newest element to my PLN, and it has provided amazing insight! All over Twitter, everyone has been talking about the sad departure of Google Reader. Well, maybe they liked it, but I never seemed to jive with Google Reader. But I read many posts about other options, and I looked into Feedly. My heart fell in love.
Feedly is EASY to use, EASY to organize, EASY to sync, and EASY to read! It is also beautiful and visual (for us visual learners out there)!
Using Feedly, I created categories to help organize the types of blogs such as Education: Technology, Education: Writing, Education: Reading etc. Then, I went back back to the bios of all of my closest twitter connections and found their blog sites and added them to each category. Now, anytime I make a new connection, I try to add their blog to my feedly.
Daily I am able to quickly look at my iPhone app and see what people are blogging about. This is an amazing extension of Twitter since it goes beyond the 140 characters and allows for teachers and educators to provide much more detail to the interesting things they are doing in their classrooms and schools.
I realize now that this element is a MUST HAVE to expand and continue to learn from my PLN. If you have a blog, please post the link in the comments section so that I can add your feed.
3) Start a Blog Yourself
This one still intimidates me, but every summer I begin to embrace it again. Here is the most important element of having my own blog space: having a place to expand on my thoughts or share something more in depth.
I often share ideas on Twitter with specific people and wish I could elaborate. But as we know Twitter is much better expressed short and sweet. A blog gives me the opportunity to elaborate on a specific teaching practice I mentioned, or a book I read, or a technology integration idea I came across, or a new professional development opportunity.
When I blog, I don't have a lot of faith that my ideas are particularly new or insightful, but I was reminded that "what may be obvious to you could be amazing to others" from this video (see below) by @sivers shared with me by @nikkidrobertson. This has truly changed my outlook about blogging and helped to motivate me to get writing!
Start your own space and use the blog to have others learn from you, just the same way you learn from them. This way you have the blog ready when you have something longer than 140 characters to share. You will be surprised how quickly you will find yourself using it because of the rich discussions you develop with fellow Tweeps. I've tried several website creators, but I am currently using Weebly and love it more than any other site I've tried. It is incredibly easy to use and quick to set up with elements to personalize your site , and Weebly also has a wide stock of templates to choose from to find the professional look you want.
Find a focus for your blog. Nothing fancy or too elaborate is needed. At first, I set a specific goal because I needed some direction. The idea of "Try This Tomorrow" came from the practical types of information I most often share. This is also the type of information I seek out from others in my PLN. What is something that I can use tomorrow that might actually improve my teaching? I want my ideas to be relevant to a reader who jumps over here from Twitter and might be looking for a new idea to use tomorrow in class or to pair with an upcoming project.
Try this tomorrow. Expand your PLN. See if you grow, change, and develop as an educator. Not only will you evolve, but you will be energized and excited by all the amazing ideas you will find!