Phenomenally Lovely, Naturally – An Alternative PLN

Posted on November 17, 2012


The first thing I’m going to do in this post is risk the wrath of many people I respect and like on Twitter. Apologies in advance if this is you, but I really can not stand the phrase Personal Learning Network and, as a result, the acronym PLN. There. I said it. And I’m going to defend it too.

But first of all, don’t get me completely wrong in this one. It’s not the concept of a PLN that I dislike. Quite the opposite. I think it is a beautiful idea and one that effectively encapsulates the reality of Twitter at its very best (point 10 in @syded06’s fabulous blog). It’s the actual form of words I don’t like because they sound so…well…smug really.

I know. I know. The idea of a man stood waiting for a tube blogging his random thoughts about PLNs really oughtn’t to be going anywhere near a word like smug, but hear me out on this one.

It’s the noun I can’t stand and the sense of ownership it suggests: this is MY ‘network’ and I am the most important thing about it. The word network, particularly when the word personal is attached to it, makes it sound like you’ve rounded up a group of people to serve you. It’s almost feudal in nature, think Arthur and his round table (prima inter alles it may be, but there’s still a prima and maybe, to my mind, a prima donna too).

The irony of all this is that these thoughts couldn’t be any further from the truth. In reality the reason anyone would go the their PLN (and I’m gritting my teeth just writing that) would be to ask for help, to put oneself as the least among equals rather than the first. It is an act of humility at its finest and I love seeing it done. I love the fact that incredibly competent professionals are happy to tweet their entire followership (and let’s not even go there!) and say “I don’t know what to say” or “you’ll have better ideas than me” or “I need help”. It’s an act of courage and I respect that as much as I do any other quality.

And so how to resolve this cognitive dissonance, this disconnect between the concept and its linguistic expression? Simple. I propose that when we see the acronym PLN we all shelve the words Personal Learning Network and replace them with the more adjectival Phenomenally Lovely, Naturally to describe both the actions of the people who help is out and, more often than not, the people themselves.

Let me give three reasons why, based upon my experience of being reliant upon Phenomenally Lovely, Naturally tweeps this week.

On Thursday I had an interview for the post of Specialist Leader of Education (SLE), a new role all about supporting teachers and leaders in other schools. I had a significant problem in that the post was for SLE English and they wanted me to present how I supported Leaders of English in other schools. My problem was that I have old examples of doing so from the time I was Head of English but no evidence of impact surviving, examples of supporting my own English department becoming outstanding and evidence of supporting non-English leaders in other schools. In other words none of my evidence perfectly met the demands of the brief. I spent many days thinking how to resolve the situation, and more than a few moments in complete panic about it.

And then the idea struck, why not ask Twitter? Why not find out if all these tweets and blogs from this account and my work account have had any impact whatsoever on anybody’s thinking or even, heaven forbid, actions. Resolved, hopeful and a little bit scared (humbly confident or confidently humble?) I asked the rather meek question “can anyone help?” And waited.

I didn’t have to wait long. Answers along the lines of “what are you after?” came through within minutes and after explanation further tweets along the lines of “yeah, I can do something if you DM your email address” came along. I thought I was stunned at this point about how Phrnomenally Lovely, Naturally people were being. I even had requests from non-English teachers and non-Leader English teachers asking if they could help too.

I say “thought I was stunned” because then the emails themselves started rolling in. You’ll forgive me if I name them individually.

Alex – @huntingenglish
Ann – @ann_litchfield
Gwen – @gwenelope
Jenny – @missjlud
James – @dunfordjames
Jamie – @deadshelley
Bennie – @benniekara
Samantha – @smanfarr
Claire – @myersclaire

If I thought I knew anything about humility before these emails, I was wrong. So many beautifully written words from so many highly respected colleagues about me. Suddenly what what going to be a small part of my presentation had to become a massive part of it. The comments linked perfectly with theory of what knowledge, skills and beliefs SLEs need to have but, far more importantly, validated my decision before the summer to unlock my personal Twitter account and my decision during the summer to start blogging. I won’t betray confidences by quoting what they said but suffice it to say that if you ever want proper 360 degree feedback, ask your PLN because I can guarantee that even if they are being constructively critical they will be Phenomenally Lovely, Naturally.

The second reason why I think we should label our PLNs in the way I have suggested is related to the SLE interview itself. Again I put out the humble request “help me” and again I had a response from two tweeps that was Phenomenally Lovely, Naturally. Both of these, @murphiegirl and @joanne_rich were new followers and Joanne’s only mistake was to compliment my day’s #bartlesocks when I pounced on the fact that she had put SLE in her bio (that’s how shameless I am!) and asked if she’d email me about the process. Both produced hundreds of words of detailed information about the nature of the interview that were utterly invaluable. Whether I get the post or not is actually irrelevant, I did better on this interview than I have done in pretty much any interview I have ever had and all because these tweeps, and the many many more who checked I was okay and sent me their fond wishes, were Phenomenally Lovely, Naturally.

Which brings me to my third and final reason why I think the PLN should be so renamed. On Friday I was presenting about the power of Twitter as a CPD mechanism in schools and wanted a chorus of voices to make the song I wanted to sing much richer and more resonant. With that in mind I put out a request that people tweet their thoughts about it and use the hashtag #kevprez and that they retweet it. BOOM. Dozens of RTs and 24 hours later I was able to storify 155 responses to the request (and this didn’t include those from tweeps with locked accounts as I’ve discovered that storify can’t archive these) which filled 4 sides of A3 to give out to the people at the conference – and put on our staff notice board. The array of tweets is amazing and there was stuff in there to persuade members of SLT, middle leaders, classroom heroes, the optimistic, the cynical, the good, the bad and the ugly (apparently its like speed-dating for tweachers). I was also able to take along @syded06’s “10 stages of twitter” and, of course, @pekabelo’s tube map and if there is a better definition of PLN standing for Phenomenally Lovely, Naturally than Pete’s map then I’ve yet to see it.

Here ( is the link to the Storify for if you ever want to persuade someone of the value of twitter as a professional learning tool.

So there you have it. In a massively busy week for me that has left me a little unhinged and that ends on a high note at the London Festival of Education where I’m hoping to hook up with many members of my PLN, I propose to you that we banish the notion of a Personal Learning Network (with its horribly prosaic qualities) and instead replace it with the shamelessly and joyously unabashed poetry of a Phenomenally Lovely, Naturally group of people that populate our timelines. What do you say? Try it. Think of a few people from twitter and what they have done for you, formally or informally, knowing or unknowingly. I’m sure you’ll find more than a little resonance in my new codification of the PLN concept.

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