Kriti Nigam has taught different curricula over a journey of fourteen years. She has been facilitating PYP Grade Five for four years, currently working at Pathways School, Noida (India). Kriti loves collaborating, exploring new ideas and implementing innovative, interactive and constructivist teaching methods. Connect with her on Twitter @NigamKriti.
Kriti and I are both passionate advocates of online connecting and learning through professional learning networks (PLNs). In keeping with the global and collaborative themes, we decided to write this article together. Through sharing our experiences and advice, we hope to encourage more educators to develop their PLNs.
What does PLN mean to you?
Kriti: PLN by definition means an informal mode of learning with others through sharing. For me, it has been much more. My PLNs have been able to help me focus on two aspects: the ‘professional’ and the ‘learning’. They have helped me to make some good relationships. I personally love this part because I love connecting with new people and getting to know and learn from them. In such relationships, where we don’t know each other personally, there is still a respect for each other’s views. In regard to learning, I used to depend on myself, but in a PLN, we share ideas and good practices every day! In my definition, I am part of several PLNs both online and offline.
Adam: My definition of PLN is slightly different to Kriti’s. For me, PLN is a collective term for all of my online professional connections across all platforms. Though this part of our definitions is different, this is the important part that we both agree on: a PLN is a professional community of teacher learners who rely on one another for inspiration, support, advice, and even debates. The key word in PLN is the ‘L’; we collaborate to learn. If our online activity does not help us to learn and grow, then it isn’t a PLN. In a blog post, PYP teacher Taryn Bond Clegg shared her taxonomy of professional learning resources. Some platforms typically offer an opportunity to share teacher tips (what Taryn calls the ‘what’) while others offer an opportunity for deeper conversations and reflections about the ‘why’ and ‘how’. This is where the true value of a PLN lies.
What first prompted you to connect with others online?
Kriti: At first, I was very reluctant to join Twitter. The different hashtags and mentions were features that I wasn’t accustomed to and they overwhelmed me. Then I had my first break: a post inviting educators to participate in a book study (see below). Being an avid reader, I was intrigued. I connected with the group in a book study discussion on Twitter. This discussion was an eye-opener. It really helped me to think more expansively and to make new connections with many other educators (or ‘tweeps’). As my comfort level grew, I became bold and connected with a few other groups on Twitter. As I interacted with the different group members, we became support beams and encouraged each other to be risk-takers.
Adam: My PLN started in 2015 along with my interest in educational technology. It was not previously a passion of mine but, as the IT rep for my year band, I was asked to go along to the EdTechTeam Global Summit Conference. My teaching hasn’t been the same since! I was blown away and utterly inspired by the way that the presenters, and many of the participants, used technology in their teaching. I was also interested to find out that these teachers, and countless others, use social media to connect on a professional basis. I had no idea what I was missing! The presenter persuaded me to join Twitter. I’m so pleased that I did, and so annoyed that I didn’t sooner. I have said this before and I stick by it: joining Twitter was like pushing my foot down on my professional growth accelerator. Thanks to my global connections. I am inspired, motivated and challenged every day. Through engaging with my PLN, I have found that I have become more aware and more opinionated about educational topics and debates.
Since it started in the summer of 2016, I have facilitated the PYP Book Study group on Facebook and the bi-weekly Twitter chats (#pypbookstudy). This has proven to be a fantastic way to connect with others, share ideas and learn from one another. It also encourages me to continually engage in professional texts. This has been extremely beneficial.
Every one of my PLN connections is valued. Some have taken it further though, and I truly consider them to be friends. Kriti, for example, was an online colleague as part of #pypbookstudy and, just like many other connections, we grew as friends through our regular interactions. It was amazing to meet her in person when I visited India, and here we are collaborating on this article despite being thousands of miles apart!
Why should we develop a PLN?
Adam: Robert John Meehan refers to fellow teachers as “our most valuable resource”. The collaboration and learning help us all to grow. The perspectives of others, especially ones that disagree, stretch our thinking, consolidate our ideas and often make us rethink. I truly believe that unconnected educators are missing out. I can no longer imagine being a teacher without the daily support and inspiration of my PLN. As Lynn Erickson and Lois Lanning perfectly state, “Teacher isolation is the enemy of progress”. We must appreciate and open our minds to perspectives beyond our own settings. Furthermore, the IB encourages teachers to connect online. In the document Good ICT Practice, it is stated that teachers should use their PLN to model lifelong learning, an enthusiasm for technology and positive usage of social media.
Kriti: Adam has succinctly stated why we should all develop a PLN. For me, the Twitter and Facebook groups have been virtual platforms to learn from others and reflect on our own practices. Along with this, there is value in face-to-face interactions which help us to connect on a more personal level. I am a firm believer that, wherever our paths cross, we are influenced and absorb something that adds value to our own self and skillset. For me, online connections and face-to-face interactions are equally important to grow and hone our craft.
How do you connect with other educators?
Adam: I am mainly connected to educators worldwide through my blogging, on Twitter and using education Facebook groups such as PYP Teachers – let’s share some ideas. Blogging is a wonderful hobby for me. I enjoy it and it is hugely beneficial as a reflective process. I understand that writing is time-consuming and it would be difficult for many teachers to keep it up. I do, however, recommend that every teacher at least gives Twitter a try. It isn’t as complicated as it looks! Connecting with other educators is easier than ever!
Kriti: I am connected to teachers through Twitter and Facebook groups (PYP Online Collaboration is another example). Twitter is the one where I have the most fun connecting with educators. We also have NINNS Job Alike sessions (North India & Nepal Network of PYP schools) and PLCs at school level. NINNS has helped me to learn and share some wonderful practices regarding different aspects of teaching, such as assessment and differentiation. At school level, we have PLCs where we pair up, often across grade levels to share what we have explored and implemented in our learning engagements.
How has your PLN impacted your classroom practice?
Kriti: I benefit from the different perspectives within my PLN. We all bring something different to meetings, discussions and chats. My connections inspire me! They help me to reflect on my daily practice and implement new initiatives. My PLN has helped me to maintain a growth mindset both inside and outside the classroom.
Adam: My PLN is one of my main sources of inspiration. I am connected with some truly outstanding educators who I aspire to be like. I see what they’re doing and it makes me want to reach higher. In addition, it’s good that my PLN keeps me accountable. I usually share snaps and stories of my daily teaching. If I finish a school day without having anything worth sharing, I have to ask myself why and reach higher the next day. Also, I share my long-term and short-term goals online. By sharing these, I am accountable for implementing them and taking the action. My PLN also makes me more reflective and open-minded.
How can we expand our PLNs?
Adam: A PLN should be about quality, not quantity. Especially on Twitter, great ideas can get lost in the feed if you follow too many people. This is ok, as long as the other ideas are also worthwhile and you have a way of accessing the tweets from your favourite people (I suggest Tweetdeck or turning on notifications for such people). Your PLN will start small and probably take a while to grow. That’s fine, as long as the connections that you do have are fruitful. As long as you are an active user, helping others as much as they help you, more connections will inevitably be made over time. Keep your sharing relevant to the profession. When people start sharing about sport, music or anything else unrelated, I think twice about that professional connection. For me anyway, it doesn’t work to mix personal and professional. It is also important to clearly state who you are online. I am not going to follow a faceless Twitter account with no biography. Why should I? I don’t know who that person is or what they stand for. I want to build my PLN with real teachers with whom I have a personal connection.
Kriti: I suggest finding connections who share content that is relevant to you. Also, try joining some Twitter chats that relate to your role. For Twitter chats, I prefer being very active with the ones that have a convenient timeslot for me (in order to maintain routine). It is very important to connect with people from different schools and across different grades as this helps me to stay connected with multiple levels and step out of my own zone to extend my learning.
How do you use synchronous and asynchronous techniques to manage interactions with a PLN that spans the globe?
Kriti: It is not necessary to be chatting or interacting at the same time. Shared documents or archived chats help to get ideas across. At times, time zones do pose a challenge but the idea is not only to have synchronous interactions but ongoing exchanges of ideas and practices.
Adam: I enjoy being online at the same time as my connections in order to undertake more natural discussions. That’s why I enjoy scheduled Twitter chats so much. G Suite apps are also excellent tools for synchronous collaboration. However, it’s more common to interact asynchronously. Online educators are understanding about time differences and unavailability. We are patient for responses.
How do you manage to take time out of your daily routine for PLN interactions?
Kriti: The choice to engage with PLNs has been a conscious one. Even though there are often time difference and commitment issues, I rearrange my schedule as per the priority. When other commitments take priority (like work or family), members of my PLN are very understanding and supportive. Of course, the chat history and archives are always available. With Adam and #pypbookstudy, I can always go to his blog to see the synopsis and reflections.
Adam: Though educators are famously busy, I believe that we can make time for our priorities. For me, sharing and learning online is a priority. Most social media interactions are easy. I simply scroll through my devices whenever it’s a convenient time (on my commute, for example). Other interactions, like live Twitter chats, need to be scheduled. For #pypbookstudy, we hold the live chats at the same time every two weeks (every other Monday at 9.30pm HK time), so this regular timeslot is already part of my calendar and routine. Similarly, I usually use part of Sundays as my blogging time. We have also started a staff blogging club at school. These appointments are all built into my weekly routine and they work for me. Don’t allow it to feel like an addition to your workload. Interact online because you love to!
What are some possible issues?
Adam: I’m a great believer in the power of disagreements and debates. These stretch all of our thinking and lead to more informed decisions. However, these must be professional, respectful and friendly. It’s a sad truth that not all educators are friendly. Some are clearly not modelling positive online behaviour or digital citizenship. If you come across any unsavoury comments, my advice would be to unfollow/block that person. Our PLNs should be positive, supportive and a source of inspiration. It should be a positive showcase of who we are as people and educators. Don’t allow negativity or nastiness to poison yours. I would be happy for any parent or student to scroll through my online interactions. I am proud of my online presence and have nothing to hide.
Kriti: I agree with Adam on his advice towards maintaining a public digital profile and of course modelling digital citizenship. For Twitter and Facebook PLNs, at times I feel the connections and sharing are somewhat on a surface level. For greater depth and understanding, more time is needed. Also, interacting with a PLN can affect the time management between professional and personal life. There are times when one does need to take time out for rest and rejuvenation. It is important to manage your time wisely and ‘switch off’ regularly.
Through these questions and answers, we hope that our passion and enthusiasm for PLNs are clear. Whatever platforms you choose (there are many others not mentioned here), we hope that you will take the time to develop your own PLN. The fact that you are reading this article proves that you are a committed teacher who is dedicated to personal growth, so we believe that you would be a valuable member of our PLNs. Start yours today. We look forward to connecting and learning with you.