Professional Learning Networks for Teachers

Wheel of Friendship

I wanted to address something that has been on my mind for some time now regarding the teacher-networking movement taking place. For those of us who are "longtime" users of Facebook, Twitter, and other networking tools, it has been exciting to see our colleagues begin to dip their toe into the Web 2.0 water. While we are witnessing a clear acceleration of the networking adoption rate, I am hoping to address an important semantics issue before we reach critical mass (something I expect to see within the next 24 months).

The common term being utilized for teacher interaction via the web is Personal Learning Network, or PLN. While I think that label is appropriate for people who share a common personal interest (for example, woodworking), I am concerned about using that term to describe networking within the teaching profession. We must give careful consideration to the connotations associated with the word personal (for example, taking a personal day). There is a clear dichotomy between "personal" and "professional" and I think those of us on the ground floor of the teacher-networking movement need to make sure administrators, board members, parents, and even our colleagues understand that online networking is a critical component of our professional development efforts.

Therefore, just as PLC stands for Professional Learning Community, PLN should stand for Professional Learning Network. Indeed in many ways a PLN can (and does) function as a networked version of a PLC Team. For some of us... particularly music teachers... the PLN is even more essential since most music teachers are a "team of one" in their buildings. In many cases the only way for music teachers to collaborate and share knowledge in a consistent and meaningful way is by networking with other "like content" professionals via the web. So it is imperative that we present this movement in a way that makes it abundantly clear that teacher-networking is professional development, not a "personal" or "social" pastime. Professional Learning Network fits the bill.

Networking is one of the most exciting things that has happened in my twenty-year teaching career. Web 2.0 technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Docs have allowed me to collaborate with nearly 2,000 other music teachers, and the number is rising quickly. Yet we know that there are people who consider "social networking" to be frivolous or something that detracts from "real work." Should we get to a point where administrators tell us that networking be done on personal time (and that day is already upon many of us), we had best redouble our efforts to create a clear understanding that teacher-networking efforts are professional.

Long live the Professional Learning Network.

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2 responses
This is an extremely important distinction that many people lose track of. Thanks for the insight!
This is a valid point. While WE may see the benefit of connecting with one another personally (our interest being education), it is important to clarify that we are professionals and that one of our main goals is to become better teachers. I have been amazed to see how my attitude in certain things (in teaching) has changed since tweeting! This type of online networking is a great thing for our profession!