I don’t know about all of you, but when I was little, my parents, grandparents, and every adult I came in contact with would tell me that eating vegetables would help me grow. “You’d better eat your broccoli if you want to grow up big and strong!” was a mantra that was said with repetition in our household. Putting the “good” stuff in would allow me to get the best results even if they were far off down the road. By eating vegetables, I was putting myself in a position to grow up big and strong.
(Photo CC: flickr.com)
This analogy can also be true for cultivating and feeding a growing PLN. In order to truly have a functioning PLN, we have to feed it the “good” stuff. We have to put forth effort to make it function in the way that we need it to. Just like broccoli is fuel to a growing child’s body, time and effort fuel a person’s PLN. If well cared for, a PLN can act as a wonderful tool for an educator.
If you read my previous post, you now understand what a PLN is and (hopefully!) have one that you’ve started. Here comes the big question: what now? What can you do to fully utilize and take advantage of your PLN? These questions are all normal and completely relevant; just because you follow people on Twitter does not mean that your task is done. Your PLN isn’t functioning until you truly use it to gain knowledge and understanding. But how is this done?
Chuck Frey’s post on cultivating a personal learning network was really helpful to me in my journey. Frey lists 8 steps that are crucial to creating a useful network of professionals and co-learners right at your fingertips. A few thoughts of his really stood out to me. In order to get the most out of your PLN, you must continue fine tuning, feeding, engaging, and inquiring.
- You must fine tune your PLN to make it exactly what you need. Does someone you follow not share the resources that you thought they would? Do they not contribute to your learning? Consider dropping them. The entire point of a PLN is to be able to gain resources, feedback, and motivation from the people within it. If they aren’t contributing to your learning, maybe they aren’t worth reading.
- The second step is feeding. Just like I was fed broccoli, you must feed your PLN. Sometimes, this means tweeting out a quote or thought that you have that might pique the interest of another. Other times this might mean tweeting out an awesome article that really resonated with you. This, Frey says, creates the back scratch movement. You know, the “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” thought? Be bold. Be open with your resources. You never know what information you’ll get back.
- Engaging is crucial. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love reading comments on my blog and on my Twitter. Knowing that people read my thoughts and find them useful is one of the best feelings out there. Thank people for what they have given you. Did you just read an awesome article shared by someone? Tell them that you loved it! They will be just as excited to hear from you as you were to absorb the information that they shared.
- Be sure to always inquire the people in your numerous feeds. Asking questions allows you to get answers to things on your mind. Be sure that they are engaging questions, because Frey states that if we “give value” we will “receive value” in return. Questions make the other person involved feel engaged and valued. Also, always remember to be polite and kind; the internet has a bad reputation for being a place full of bullying and teasing. Let’s prove that that is not always the case.
These tasks require effort and time from an individual, but they will be so worth it. PLNs are so incredibly valuable to educators and professionals all over the globe. Focus on creating your best possible PLN and your students will thank you someday. Start showing your PLN some TLC and effort; has it had its broccoli today?