Building a Personal Learning Network

Building a Personal Learning Network

In December 2009, I decided to sign up for a Twitter account. Some of my friends were talking about it, and at that time I was noticing more places would share their Twitter handle on advertisements. Like most people, after signing up, I started following people or accounts I was interested in. On that list, I added friends, some favorite athletes, a few news sources, and people from pop culture. In the beginning, I was mostly a “lurker.” I followed conversations, but never posted or replied. I would log in from time to time, but it wasn’t something that I utilized on a regular basis.

About three years later, I was driving to school when I heard an interview that gave me a fresh perspective on the potential uses of social media as an educator. On Morning Edition on NPR, I heard Scott Rocco talking about this weekly Twitter chat called #satchat. Scott and Brad Currie, another superintendent in New Jersey, co-founded #satchat as a chance to have a discussion on important topics in education through social media channels so that more people could be involved. At the time of the interview, there were about 200 people that participated in this weekly chat.

It was the fall of 2012. I was a classroom teacher at the time. In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I was coaching junior high football and basketball and had 2 young children at home. I was busy! I knew that I wanted to continue to grow as an educator, but I didn’t necessarily have the time for book studies and conferences. I needed something that could be a little more on my own schedule. Hearing about #satchat let me know that maybe there was another way for me to learn that could be on my own time. That radio program taught me that an app on my phone could connect me with educators and emerging leaders in education from all over the world.

Soon after I participated in my first ever #satchat. I don’t recall the specific topic, but I did start following several of the other educators that were active in the chat. Since then, I have looked at Twitter as my own Personal Learning Network. While I still use social media for a variety of purposes (I still follow athletes and pop culture icons, and it’s often the first place I look for news on just about any topic), it is also my go-to resource for growing as an educator and leader.

This belief about social media was only reaffirmed as I listened to Matt Miller at Ditch that Convention in 2017. I don’t want to steal his story, and some of you may be aware of who Matt is. During the keynote, he said:

Matt was the lone Spanish teacher at a small rural school in western Indiana. As the only teacher of his subject in his school, he felt that he struggled to create meaningful learning opportunities for his students. Eventually, he found a Professional Learning Network through Twitter and realized there were many more possibilities for his students. His learning through Twitter led him to begin presenting to countless educators, writing multiple books, hosting podcasts, and more. Without those connections created through Twitter, he felt he might have burnt out, and eventually left education.

So, here’s my suggestion to all of you reading this – If you aren’t on social media to learn as an educator, start making use. Twitter is still my go-to source for learning from others and sharing about amazing things happening in my own school and world, although others prefer to use Instagram, Facebook, or even TikTok. If you follow me, you’ll see posts about things happening in my school and district, but I also share pieces of my personal life as well. I like to be able to be my full self.

If you are new to using social media as an educator, seek out people in positions like you. When I moved into my current role, I began following as many elementary principals as I could. Next, learn to use hashtags! Some of the ones I check in on regularly still include #satchat on Saturday mornings, but I also like to look at #echat, #edleadership, #PLCatWork, and #TLAP. As you check out those hashtags, start following anyone that is posting things you are interested in, or would like to learn more from.

As an educator, I believe strongly in the importance of lifelong learning. While there are lots of different ways that we can learn, one of the greatest sources for me in the past 10 years has been through social media. The portability of my phone allows me access to the world no matter where I am or what I’m doing. If you’re new to the world or social media in education, feel free to seek me out. I’m @brian_behrman on both Twitter and Instagram.

Now, go on and build your own Personal Learning Network!

#IMMOOC Week 2 – The networked learner/leader

Recently I wrote a post about my takeaways from the book The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. One of the big takeaways that I had from that book was the fact that the innovations that led to a digital revolution did not happen in several giant leaps. Instead, innovation takes place through little steps that are layered on top of each other. In addition, most of those tiny steps did not occur because of one person. When you think of the iPhone, who do you think of? For me the first name to come to mind is Steve Jobs.  And while he was an important part of the process that made the smartphone a marketable thing for consumers, that idea would never have been possible without the work of so many other innovators in the digital revolution. Names like Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Robert Noyce, Grace Hopper, and Bill Gates (along with many other innovators) all made it possible for the iPhone to be the powerful tool that I carry around in my pocket every day.

Not too long ago, I was at #DitchCon2017, put on by Matt Miller. During his keynote, Matt put a picture of the Twitter logo on the screen and said “This little bird saved my teaching career.”  As educators, we all get into our own little silos and forget that there are lots of other people doing the same work as us.  If we forget to lift our heads up and look around, we may miss someone else’s awesome idea that could make learning for our students new AND better.

I have been on Twitter since January of 2010.  Initially I joined in order to follow athletes, pop-culture icons, politicians, and people of that nature.  One day while I was driving to school, I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR and I heard a story about #Satchat, and I saw a totally new purpose for Twitter (in fact, the first 3 educators that I followed were Brad Currie, Scott Rocco, and Billy Krakower, the co-founders of #Satchat).  Suddenly I realized that Twitter wasn’t just a way to absorb information from pop-culture, instead it was a way for me to learn and grow.

Twitter became my new go to for learning.  I began seeking out ways to leverage hashtags to find ideas that could impact the learning in my classroom.  I participated in Twitter chats and learned from educators who were just as passionate as me.  Sometimes I just lurked and listened, other times I dove in and shared my ideas.

Today, I talk to everyone I know about how we can use Twitter (or Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Voxer, etc.) to learn and grow in our own ways.  Once I started to participate more in Twitter chats, I began to grow followers.  The more followers I had, the more I had to think about what was really valuable information to share with them.  I became very intentional in the types of things I post (not that I’d never post a silly gif or my thoughts on the Cubs or Colts).  This has led me to seek out high quality information to share, and causes me to be constantly reading, learning, and getting better at what I do.

We all would agree that collaboration helps us all grow.  Sometimes it’s great to collaborate with that colleague down the hall, but sometimes it’s awesome to be able to collaborate with someone on the other side of the world.  As Couros says in The Innovator’s Mindset, “Isolation is often the enemy of innovation.”

Going back to my lessons from Isaacson’s The Innovators, the best innovations that we will make as educators are not going to happen in giant leaps and bounds.  They’re going to happen when we continue to layer our own ideas on top of the other innovators that we are learning from, and we can create truly mind-blowing, amazing, awesome learning experiences from our students!  Networking is one of the best ways that I know of that we can do that!

A cool new app (for me)


I recently came across a hashtag on Twitter that I found pretty interesting: #PersonalizedPD.  As I was going through some of the tweets with this hashtag, I saw this tweet:

It caught my attention for a couple of different reasons – first there was the #PersonalizedPD idea that I was interested in.  Second, there was some gamification to the learning that was happening which sounds cool and potentially highly motivating.  I decided to send Jeff Mann a reply to the tweet saying that I had a few questions.  Later in the afternoon I got a response from him asking if I was on Voxer.  I had heard of it, but never set up an account, but I really wanted to learn more about the Superheroes of AMCMS.

Twitter is great for learning in a lot of ways, but if you want to be able to have a real conversation with someone, it’s not ideal.  Just like a text chat, you can only type so fast, and you lack the tone of voice that goes with a true conversation.  Plus you’re limited to 140 characters in a tweet.  So, I downloaded Voxer, set up an account, and told Jeff I was in business.

VoxerBasically, Voxer works like a walkie talkie, but also has the ability to send text, photos, and videos within the app.  After setting up my account, I was sitting on my deck while Jeff was driving home from school in Texas, and we had a conversation about the Superheroes of AMCMS.  At the end of the conversation, he asked me to send him my email address, and he was going to email me some additional resources for continued learning.

While this chance encounter was cool, I could see Voxer being used within a school building for a group chat with members of a PLC team, or having the account of your teammate to be able to chat.  I know we’re all comfortable and used to texting, but I noticed that the back and forth that Jeff and I were able to have happened much faster than trying to text back and forth with one another.

Do you have any ideas for additional ways that you could use Voxer within your classroom?  What about with your colleagues?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Making Connections

In last week’s post we were talking about the HSE Best Practice Model.  There are many ways we can help our students be successful in the 21st century.  Our digital world, while not the only solution, is one of the keys that can help unlock the door to that success.  As an example, I’d like to share something that happened to me last spring.  I was reading a book and the author made reference to a spreadsheet that she used to track data on students.  While in theory I could guess what it probably looked like, I was having a hard time visualizing it.  I flipped to the appendix hoping to find a version, but no luck.  After rereading the passage I still had questions.  I decided to look on Twitter to see if the author had an account.  Sure enough, she did.  I sent a tweet to her, and in a couple minutes she responded.  Through a direct message I sent her my email address, and 10 minutes later I had a screen shot of the exact spreadsheet.

Matt Miller -
Matt Miller –

Who are the people you’d like to ask questions?  In a less connected world, you might have been able to track down a mailing address, send a letter, and hope for a response in a couple of weeks.  Today through the use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other digital services, we can connect immediately.  As teachers, we can leverage those connections into ways to help our students interact with the larger world.  Your class is learning about space science?  Have them compose a tweet to NASA or an astronaut (think about Scott Kelly on who is currently involved in the Year in Space Mission).  Did your students have a question about a book?  Try tweeting the author, or have your students share their reactions via your twitter account.
Sylvia Duckworth:

Personally, I look at Twitter as less of a social media site, and more at a Personal Learning Network.  I have connections to resources who share their ideas, and I can communicate back and forth with them.  And the best part of all of it?  I can do this anytime that works for me!  I don’t have to rely on anyone else’s timeframe to guide my learning.

Sylvia Duckworth:
Sylvia Duckworth:

How many of you use social media for the purpose of learning?  What sites have you found successful?  If you’re on Twitter, share your username so that we can follow you.