Build Your Personal Learning Network #WTI15

I had the privilege of presenting at the Wisconsin Technology Initiative on December 5, 2015. My topic was how to get started in building one’s personal learning network.

Evernote Snapshot 20151205 125716

My concurrent sessions were for secondary teachers as the audience. Teachers in mathematics, science, technology, physical education, art, social studies, and special education were represented. A few university students planning on becoming teachers in the future also joined us.

We started our time together by describing the current professional development activities taking place in our respective schools. Here is a sampling of participants’ responses:


A group of committed professionals interested in what’s best for children


Alliance with other smaller districts to be able to provide better opportunities


Fast, systematic


There are resources within district


Sometimes it can be kind of one sided


Usually great info, but not enough time to practice/explore


Occasionally it feels “forced”


Being with people within your own discipline is sometimes difficult to explore/collaborate


Often other perspectives and ideas are needed to help expand


Need more time to discuss and implement

I thought these observations were fair and accurately described what many educators experience for professional learning offered in their school and district. There were positives, but it seemed like schoolwide professional learning wasn’t enough for the teachers attending.

Identifying this need for something different, I briefly spoke about what a personal learning network (PLN) is, a short history of how we got to now, and why building a PLN can fill this gap for personalized learning.

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 1.47.38 PM

This led into our goals for our brief time together: Get connected, build a network, and be intentional with our online presence. The concept of developing a PLN is overwhelming, possibly a reason why some educators don’t have one in the first place. That is why we started with Twitter. The basics were covered, such as how to create an account, how to create a username and handle, and how to follow others.

Here are some key terms shared with the participants to understand how to use Twitter for professional learning:

  • Handle = visible username
  • Tweet = post on Twitter
  • Retweet = repost someone else’s tweet on your timeline
  • Timeline = your tweets/retweets
  • Mention = include someone else’s handle in your tweet
  • Favorite = “star” button, saves tweet to read later or for affirmation
  • Notifications = alerts you receive when someone retweets, favorites, or replies to one of your tweets
  • Hashtag = key term that serves as a search tool within Twitter
  • Message = private chat within Twitter (no character limit now)
  • Lists = groups created around topics and interests
  • Twitter Chat = conversation on Twitter around a specific topic, using a Q1/A1 Question/Answer format (Use

Hashtags were a topic of specific focus for our work. Most of the participants had not used Twitter before, or were not aware of how this social media tool could be used to connect with other educators. Knowing the audience, I listed a number of disciplinary-specific hashtags for the educators to explore:

#edchat, #mathchat, #sschat (social studies chat), #scichat (science chat), #engchat (English chat), #edtechchat, #satchat (school leadership chat on Saturdays), #educoach (instructional coaching chat), #atplc (Professional Learning Communities chat), #pechat (physical education chat), #artchat#teacheredchat (teacher education chat), #spedchat (special education chat)

It was apparent from the conversations and activity that the teachers wanted time to investigate the possibilities and resources available on Twitter. That’s is why I didn’t get into how to use Evernote for collecting and curating online information, or how to use WordPress to create new content and understandings through blogging.

We ended our time together by reviewing the key descriptors for both models of professional learning (see table below). I also encouraged the participants to follow each other and keep the conversation going. Recognizing the benefits and limitations of each approach helps us as educators be smarter about professional growth opportunities.

School-based Professional Development Personal Learning Networks
  • Schoolwide focus on a goal determined by student needs and district goals
  • Creating coherence across faculty, school community
  • Personalized to our needs
  • Choice and voice in what information to gain and how to go about it, online and off
  • Broadening perspectives


Check out my new book through ASCD!





Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

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