Image by Kathleen Donovan - kdonovangaddyMy middle daughter is leaving home. Middle (smartphone and laptop attached to her body) is beginning her freshman year at MSU.  This collegiate move coincides with her big sister’s move to a 4th grade teaching position in Colorado (smartphone and my old car attached to her body).  With Big and Middle happily off finding their futures, their little sister stakes out their trendy, left-behind clothing and empty drawer space.  I look for the up-side too (the peace! the quiet!), but I find myself bewildered by the large amount of food lingering in the refrigerator, and the big stack of clean towels staying on the shelf in the bathroom closet.

“Where is everybody?” I sometimes wonder without thinking.

Then I remember, and think “What just happened here?!”

Family-shift is what happened. Like a 21st century paradigm-shift, the four members of my family have been forced to examine their long-time roles, positions and thinking. We’ve needed to find new ways of doing things, and different means of communicating with each other. Old assumptions are disappearing, and new behaviors are sprouting (sometimes painfully) in their place.

Sound familiar? I’m living the prototype of progressive education reform! Luckily, Big, Middle, Little and I have Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) in place to assist us with new family developments. Access to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram and texting keep the four of us ‘live’ and up-close, and help us map and share the life changes that each of us are separately experiencing.

PLNs are simply a Web 2.0 way of tapping into collective knowledge, and getting feedback from people with similar interests. Used professionally, a PLN provides an enormous source of networking and information. A Twitter newsfeed, for example, offers educators just-published articles and papers, classroom management tips, career opportunities, online professional development, conference dates, TED Talk videos, infographics, political commentary, ed reform activism, teacher blogs, tech ‘how-to’, access to global thinkers AND oh yes, the essential: humor.

No Time & Too Much Info?

The barrage of great internet material can be overwhelming! To create a successful, easy-to-use PLN you will need to learn how to filter the mind-boggling amount of fresh, daily info pouring into your social media accounts.  For instance, an educator on Twitter could select and manage their PLN input by:

  • Oakland SchoolsFollowing only interest-specific tweeters (you may not need to know via @thedailybeast that Grumpy Cat, the internet meme sensation, now has a coffee line, but you may want to follow blog posts from the fabulous ed-innovators at @TeachThought).
  • Setting up Interest Lists on Twitter to deliver streams of current news to you from chosen education thought-leaders or organizations.
  • Browsing the world for resources on a specific topic by entering a hashtagged term in the Twitter search box (e.g. #CommonCore).  Hashtags also allow a group of tweeters to have an online, real-time, subject-designated “chat” (e.g. #EdTechChat).

Big, the teacher, maintains a classroom website, plus uses her professional Twitter account as an informal learning tool.  She curates cutting-edge info to establish best practices in her classroom, shares helpful ideas with her followers, asks questions on New Teacher Chat (#NTchat) and connects with educator colleagues across the USA.

Primary Sources

Connection is the most powerful benefit of maintaining a PLN. There is a person (or people) on the other end of that compelling article or link or post you read on Twitter or Facebook; a social media-based PLN often allows you to interact with the author or presenter, and to add your voice to the common discussion.  Creating relationships that support your work as an educator (or parent, or college student!) is the secret sauce of PLNs.

Last night, Big tweeted about her new teacher orientation and texted me a time she would call home. Middle posted Instagram images on Facebook from the Justin Timberlake performance she was attending so I’d know she made it to the concert safely. Little read a manga novel on her tablet, pausing occasionally to update me on Japanese super hero jokes.  My Personal Learning Network reaches professionals around the world, but even more importantly, its internet magic brings the people closest to me back into my living room…

Oakland Schools******


8 Ideas, 10 Guides, and 17 Tools For A Better Professional Learning Network
by @TeachThought

5 Productivity Tips for Connected Teachers & Administrators  by @FinEdChat

High School Principal Tweets #GRAD2013 by @MDZLeadership @OaklandSchools

10 Simple Ways To Build Your Personal Learning Network by @edudemic

What’s the Point of a Personal Learning Network? by @CreativeEdu

Ready to Grow? 20 Ways To Improve Your Professional Learning Network by @TeachThought

21st-Century PLNs for School Leaders by @gcouros @edutopia

CHART: 22 Effective Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom by @edudemic

Why It’s Time To Build a Powerful Personal Learning Network by @MrPowersCMS

How Teachers Can Stop Being Scared of Twitter by @dscavitto


By Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools


Oakland Schools • 2111 Pontiac Lake Road • Waterford, MI 48328-2736 • 248.209.2000

[*Social Media Heart image courtesy of Kathleen Donovan (kdonovangaddy) under flickr Creative Commons]


  1. I am with you Jean! My youngest heads to Chicago in a few weeks. What would we do without internet magic?

    1. We would worry more…at least with the internet we have the illusion we are parenting long-distance!
      Best wishes on the Chicago send-off 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: