Building your PLN

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In the last few postings, I’ve highlighted quite a few people from Dave Burgess to Tony Vincent to my history of teachers who made an impact on how I teach. So, the question begins on how I found these resources? In the classic days of teaching and I’m talking about when my mother-in-law taught during the late 60s and early 70s the only resources were each other. The classic “steal a lesson” idea, of course today we call it mentoring or coaching but during a good part of education for most of the 20th century resources for teachers and educators came from each other something we still do in the 21st century however the platform has significantly changed. In the late 90s just before I attended college a classmate of mine who was going into teaching had to drive almost an hour to a teacher store, which as we all know is a place for teachers and students to find items or to find a way to generate ideas for lessons and projects in the classrooms. My own mother-in-law opened her own teachers’ store, The Teacher’s Apple in the early 90s and it ran for over a decade before the rise of online shopping lead to its closing in the early 2000s. Its very ironic how the shift from in person shopping transferred to online shopping for many educators not just for my mother-in-law’s store but for so many others to the point the Teacher’s Store became almost a complete online ecosystem that now stands today.

Of course while we have great online resources like Educlipper, Amazon, Teachers Pay Teachers and Etsy to help educators purchase lesson plans, tools and great learning toys for their students many teacher and even students find it hard to work out budgets to afford these types of items, which lead to the main reason why I started my first teacher’s blog, Taking your Classroom to the Next Level. Now, Dice UP the Classroom. The idea hit me during my internship during my Master’s Degree where I was searching online for resources for lessons and projects. I was seeing more and more teachers using online blogs and social networks like Facebook, Twitter and of course Pinterest for inspiration or resources for teaching. I’ll tell you a secret, I started first using Twitter in 2008 as part of a now closed comic book podcast with some great fellow comic book readers. My first Twitter post is: “Hey, I’m here on Twitter.” Not really the post that launched over the 6,000 followers I have today. However, even early on I saw the benefits with using just 140 characters and later links, images and videos on the social platform. Many people see Twitter as just a way for people to share quick words about them mowing the lawn or some celebrity going out and partying in a place we would never go to, let alone afford to. However, it’s more than that.

When I first started my blog I knew I was going to have to put something out there that would not only gather interest but would be a great learning tool that others would want to share. The more people shared the more people would follow and the only way to get more ways to follow was to share and to do that was doing more than just posting the latest tech smash or images of my students doing something incredible in the classroom on a blog. While educators are the number one user of Twitter now, you can’t just rely on sharing or looking for resources on Twitter alone. The reason I focus on using dice so much in my lessons and resources is because it gives you more to work with when you roll. When I first opened my blog I knew I had to get it out there and just focusing on using my Twitter or Facebook feeds wasn’t enough. I had to expand on the other networks out there that also tied in them. I chose the hosting for my blog because I could at the click of a button or a swipe of my finger on my phone could send out one post or picture to several platforms at once and each one of those platforms would reach different users who all have different interests.

I’ll make a confession, I don’t use my direct Facebook profile for my tutorials or teacher resources, I use it for friends and family and what my interests are. I created a Facebook teacher Page to link my blog to and then sent the link to my followers so they would “like” the page and tell their followers and friends about it to gather followers for it. Once that was finished I tied the blog to my twitter since I use Twitter for almost all of my teaching resources, blog posts and tutorials. I reach more educators by sending out 140 or less characters to grab someone’s attention. I don’t need to give a large explaination just a brief few works and a link, much like how my old middle school science teacher grabbed us by just saying the word: “Peanuts”. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and it is but somethings just one word can grab the attention of a thousand people and to really make it fun you can even add a few catchy words to it. One post I did I put in the title of my blog post: “When SAMR hits your Eye like a Big Pizza Pie, that’s an App S’more”. I had over sixty people retweet and favorite that post in less than two minutes and of those sixty people almost twenty people started following and retweeting my lesson plan idea in the less than five minutes. That shows you just how powerful sharing your resources can be.

Its not to say that you have to rely on words to get people’s attention with your blog or resources, my teachers use Pinterest for several of their ideas, but they don’t just repin and share their Pinterest resources with their followers and fellow teachers. Now, they take pictures of it and post right back on Pinterest how they did and what their students loved about it. Soon as that happened, they grabbed over ten new followers themselves and over a dozen repins and the original Pinterest post they took the idea for ended having over a hundred more repins and followers. Something I always encourage to other educators who use my tutorials and ideas, I ask them to write about it or post their pictures, student/teacher reaction to them because it shows how it works. Apps, Social Networks, Mobile Technology just didn’t happen to get popular or widely used or favorited because they were cool. Users showed how they used it and why it was cool and useful. I throw out my favorite App again, Stick Around and its creator, Tony Vincent. I will tell you this, I found Tony Vincent thanks to a suggestion by my principal, I had only just heard about it but no one ever suggested that I should check into his work. When I did, I started using his ideas and sharing them right back with him and in doing so, I had my followers and co-workers checking him out and they started following him and using his resources.

When Stick Around came out, I immediately jumped in learned all I could about the App and shared it on my blog, Youtube Channel and even Instagram (which I use just as much as Twitter) and of course back with Tony himself. The tutorial had over two hundred clicks in less than a half an hour and I introduced it to several of my teachers and posted several on my Pinterest board. In less than a half an hour, I had a few more of my teachers telling me they wanted that App on their students’ iPads ASAP and even today I continue to share not only Tony’s work but what had inspired my resources and Tony has shared mine and others have come back saying: “Hey Ryan, I used your idea and it was fantastic.” In which I replied: “No, that was all Tony” or “that was all Kasey’s idea” or “Thank my wife, it was her idea.” You have to realize that with Rolling Out Resources and growing your Professional Learning Network is much like citing a paper, you have to give credit where credit is due. The more you roll out and use the resources you find the more you have to share, you can’t just live in a bubble. If we did then we would be constantly sitting at our desks, classrooms or homes looking at a wall hoping something will spark our interest. I will tell you this, you can find inspiration and resources as simple as a quick Google Search or just asking a person: “Do you know something that might help me?” Here are some ideas you can use:


  1. Join Twitter, Pinterest, Educlipper, Instagram, Voxer, Periscope or another social network.


While the use of social networks can cause hesitation and you don’t want to read about what someone ate for breakfast its a very powerful resource tool. I have found more resources and created more tutorials and lessons by going to my Twitter feed on a regular basis or looking for subjects that are part of my professional career on Pinterest. I have now even used networks like Voxer and Educlipper to find more classroom resources that I might not find in my more used networks. When you do sign up or start getting inspired don’t just use then lose them, post about your experiences and give feedback on them. The more you do the better the resource becomes and you will create your own in turn.

2. Start a blog.


Why some of us might not have a problem with it, it does become a point of the classic: “Is it safe?” “Is it hurtful?” “Is it right?” “Think before you post.”  You have to remember there are many ways you can talk about your resource by just talking about the main points.

  1. What is it?
  2. How do you create it?
  3. How did you or your students use it?
  4. Why should someone else use it?

Those four main factors are key in a blog post. You highlight the main parts but you don’t fall into the trap of posting something offensive or dangerous. You instead share a great resource. One of my favorite blogs to visit is by Kasey Bell. Kasey has a plethora of resources, especially on Google Apps for Education. She not only shares her ideas but also resources she has encountered and she stays connected with her website through Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Which proves that using Social Network Resources will keep you connected no matter where you look. If you want to expand on that, especially if you are into Google Apps for Education. I highly recommend checking out She has daily resources that will not only make you step out of the box with Google, but also help you cross platform if you are an IOS or Windows school.

3. Don’t limit yourself.


Writing a blog or using an online or book resource is great but that doesn’t mean you should stop there. Some of the best tutorials I have created were recorded and use on my Youtube channel, but not everyone is comfortable with being recorded or shown but that doesn’t mean you can use the resource. Every learner is different, some of us are better with visuals, some of us are better with listening and some of us are just great reading it and someone of us find a resource by going out for pizza. Inspiration is not just online, its in your own backyard. I can’t count the times I was inspired by looking out my kitchen window or was making a quick run to the store. Resources aren’t just at a Teacher’s Store or in a Book, they are every where.


These are only a few examples of building your PLN and as they say: “If you build it, they will come.”


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