CIA, FBI, PLN: You’re already a member of one of these.

Teaching used to be (and for some, arguably, still is) an isolated profession. The teacher, after closing the classroom door, is ultimately in charge of deciding what is taught and how it is taught. Teaching is a profession, however, that has gradually increased in its collaborative nature, attempting to leave behind days of severe isolationism.

Within schools, Collaborative Learning Teams (CLTs) have been implemented to bring together similar content area teachers for the purpose of collaborating, creating, reflecting, and planning with one another. This collaborative team setting has been shown to improve both teaching and learning. While this is certainly encouraging, such collaboration is not fully implemented in all schools. As such, individual educators can work to create their own supportive, collaborative online Personal Learning Networks, or PLNs.

What is a Personal Learning Network? Picture courtesy of

Personal Learning Networks are the collection of resources, connections, peers, communities, courses, and tools that an individual uses to support one’s own learning. This can involve various things like TeachersPayTeachers for free resouces, following certain contributors on Twitter or Pinterest, finding free courses to supplement learning on Coursera, or connecting with fellow educators on community sharing sites like English Companion Ning.

English Companion Ning is a site, created by California English teacher Jim Burke, which is a mix of crowdsourcing, a community of common practices, and a collaborative peer-to-peer learning tool. While other sites may exist for other content areas, this site specifically focuses on giving English Language Arts teachers a space to post questions, resources, and comments regarding topics centered on the content area.

A screenshot of the home page of English Companion Ning

Once a member, an individual has the opportunity to join specific groups, add friends to connect with on the site, post discussion topics, and reply to discussion threads. The National Writing Project featured English Companion Ning on its site in September of 2009, citing its main focus as the following:

“The English Companion Ning brings English teachers a professional community that they sometimes lack in their schools. Teachers discuss books, lesson plans, and a panoply of classroom topics via discussion forums, blog posts, and multimedia.”

The site serves as an online support system to either augment or create a community that individual teachers may or may not have in their schools. Jim Burke spoke about the success of English Companion Ning at an National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference, and the title of the video is quite explanatory of Burke’s feelings about the foundation of his site:

“If WE build it, they will come.”

Originally, Burke had intended on creating a community to connect teachers at his school, especially to give new and first-year teachers support. However, on the first night of inviting friends to the site, he received a request from a New Zealand teacher to join the site. “Of course, I wanted her to join,” he said. And the rest is history.

Connecting educators has never been so easy online, and the opportunities are but a search and click away. English Companion Ning, among other websites, social media, news sources, and online contacts can be the start of a collaborative, connected, and comprehensive online Personal Learning Network, which can lead educators toward interconnectedness and away from isolation.

Poll: What sites, contacts, and resources do YOU have in your Personal Learning Network?

Answer in the comments below!



Burke, Jim. (2012). “If WE Build it, They Will Come: Why The English Companion Ning Continues To Thrive.” National Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved from

Faulkner, Grant. (2009). “English Teachers Find an Online Friend: the English Companion Ning.” The National Writing Project. Retrieved from

Mangum, Angela. (2010). “Collaborative Learning Teams Improving Teaching And Learning.” Alabama Leadership Academy. Retrieved from


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