A professional learning network (PLN) is a community of learners committed to their growth by adopting a digital platform. In today’s age of being connected, those platforms are limitless. Many take to Twitter to find their PLN. However, there is a growing number of educators who have embraced LinkedIn, Instagram, Voxer, Facebook, and even Snapchat to harness the power of personal professional growth. 

As a building principal, I invited my teachers to be a resource in my growth as a leader. As I began my own journey in identifying my PLN, I was quick to learn that many of my own staff were already one step ahead of me. 

I discovered that one of the most impressive back channels for teachers was that they shared their passion for teaching and learning by connecting through Pinterest. Thousands of educators have created “boards” where they share best instructional practices and applicable ideas in creating, teaching, and delivering content. Educators have found this to be a great resource for sharing ideas, and they recognize that it provides meaningful feedback to their work. The collaboration alone is a testament to a teacher’s passion for growth.

Finding Your Tribe 

Starting a professional learning network goes hand in hand with your commitment to professional growth through a digital platform. To get started with PLN, sometimes referred to as your “tribe,” you simply have to get connected. 

My journey in finding my tribe began with Twitter. In using that platform, I found that the goal as you get started is to identify educators who share the same passion for growth, but they do not necessarily have to carry the same viewpoint. As with your staff of teachers in your school, your goal is to expand your thinking, not remain in a vacuum. So, whether you start by following five, 50, or 500 others in the field of education, you will soon realize that you can personalize your network based on your own path and what you do in education. 

Many secondary educators begin their PLN journey by following their state and national associations. From there, look for authors of books you have read, colleagues in your district from whom you have learned and may be in leadership roles, or other educators in your region. 

Probably the most notable starting point for those new to using social media such as Twitter is to follow presenters from conferences you have attended or people you’ve heard about. Nationally known speakers and presenters like Dave Burgess, Rick Wormeli, and Todd Whitaker are just a few educators who have transformed my way of leading and learning.

The next time you attend a conference, notice how presenters are connected. Their passion for growth speaks for itself, and in most cases presenters are not limited to just one location. Part of their learning is through the power of being connected.

Growing Through PLNs 

As principals, we appreciate the importance of having a clear message, expectations for our students, and guidelines for our teaching staff. There is something to be said for clarity in our roles. 

PLNs can oftentimes align themselves in a similar light. Even though you are working alongside people you may have never met in person, there is an unspoken sense of professional courtesy that exists. Being open to varying perspectives, sharing ideas across roles and responsibilities, and offering insights into others’ journeys is powerful. As for the rules of a PLN, they are rather straightforward: Be committed to growth. 

We must always be growing ourselves as leaders. That growth can come from district-level conversations and/or professional development provided by local entities. Monthly meetings, conversations from building to building and other resources can offer various opportunities for growth. The reality is, however, that many of you as building principals may not have these types of opportunities, or you may be looking for additional perspectives in what you do. Regardless of the type of professional learning that takes place within your school district, each of us can control and own our own learning. 

Remember, feedback is at the core of what we do. As building principals, we are charged with providing ongoing, intentional feedback in an effort to grow our teachers. Just the same, we are fortunate to have a variety of resources to grow ourselves. 

Craig Vroom is principal at Weaver Middle School in Hilliard, OH.

PLN Testimonials

Bobby Dodd, principal of Gahanna Lincoln High School in Gahanna, OH, and 2016 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year: 

My PLN has enabled me to become the administrator I am today. I would not have been able to grow as an educator and leader without networking with others, typically through social media, to get better at what I do each day. Having a PLN has helped me collaborate more with others, gain confidence in my ability to teach and lead, and become more creative to work with staff and students to help both respective groups continue to grow.

Neil Gupta, director of secondary schools at Worthington City Schools, Worthington, OH:

My PLN has inspired me and encouraged me to pursue my passion and elevate my voice and learning with others. Even though I have only connected with many of them through social media tools like Voxer and Twitter, they push me to think beyond what I think is possible. Because of them, I am challenged to be an even more effective leader in my community.

Jennifer Hogan, assistant principal of curriculum and technology at Hoover High School, Hoover, AL:

Becoming a connected educator has helped me grow exponentially as a leader. My PLN has pushed me to think outside the box, has been a terrific resource for new ideas, and has given me courage to try innovative ideas. The support, encouragement, and enthusiasm from a PLN is like nothing leaders have ever had before in their roles, and having a PLN models for others the power of collaboration.