Our editorial calendar theme for July is Lifelong Learning and Professional Development, which often brings to mind professional learning networks (PLN) for many educators. Thanks to our ever-expanding global networks, for the first time in history educators are able to “meet” colleagues around the world who share similar thoughts, goals and enthusiasm about education to discuss new and innovative approaches to teaching today’s students.

If you are just getting started building a PLN, or trying to expand what you already have, it can seem like a daunting task. Here are 10 resources that provide opportunities to help grow your professional connections even further.

1. Voxer. This free app was created in response to its founder’s frustration with the walkie-talkies he used serving in the military, where messages were being cut off or garbled as more than one person tried to speak. Now educators everywhere use this app to turn their phone into a walkie-talkie that enables them to carry around conversations and resource sharing from your PLN through both real-time AND recorded voice, text, video and photo messaging.

So if you can’t listen to a Vox from one of your favorite educator friends immediately because you are with your students, no worries. The voice message will be waiting for you when do you have a chance to listen. It’s easy to record and send messages at any time, like on the way to work or if you have a few quiet moments in between classes. Check out this comprehensive list of Voxer education communities you can join compiled by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

2. Google Hangouts. With group text chats, voice calls and video conferencing options (for up to 10 users at a time), educators can use this free messaging tool for both one-on-one and group peer tutorials, or even to just hang out and give moral support to their network of education colleagues. You can sync chats between your devices, keeping in touch via Android, iOS or the web throughout the day.

Maybe it’s the screen share option that syncs seamlessly with Drive or maybe it’s the ability to join education-related communities easily (like this community where educators who use Google Hangouts in the classroom can connect and share best practices and ideas), but Google Hangouts is quickly becoming an essential tool for all connected educators.

3. Doodle. It’s hard to get a group of teachers together, period. When you have physical distance and multiple time zones working against you as well, it can be practically impossible. But there’s an app for that! Google Hangouts has a scheduler for events and planning hangouts, but Doodle is a good first step that allows you to send an invite to all the participants with multiple date and time choices, making it a one-stop shop for first finding what works for everyone and then making a Hangout happen.

4. Lino. Think of it like the cork board you have in your school’s teacher lounge where everyone pins up announcements, articles, invites, etc. Only it’s no longer the ancient version on the wall–it’s the 2.0 virtual version online. Through “stickies” and photo sharing you can start a board around any topic, invite your PLN members and have conversations, share ideas and even post files. You can use it both on your computer and on your smartphone, so sharing thoughts can happen whenever it’s convenient for you.

5. Book Club. Since your PLN is already comprised of people who have similar tastes to yours, why not create a book club to share your favorite professional development selections (or really any books you’ve enjoyed)? Book Club by Book Movement was the first app built specifically for creating book clubs and is used by groups everywhere. The app helps you organize meeting details, book selections, vote anonymously on suggestions and RSVP for your club meetups. You can even see what other clubs are reading and their reviews. The only hard part is deciding what book you all want to read together (and, of course, actually finding the time to read during the school year).

6. Touchcast TeamTime. This is one of the most advanced video conferencing platform you’ll experience and is both mobile and desktop ready. With Smart Video at its core, there are so many options for users to explore: collaborate with your entire team on a digital whiteboard where anyone can write or draw; share files, documents and presentations with participants during each session; bring in videos, photos and web pages; choose to stream live for your PLN or the world, or record and archive any discussion. This is a great tool to use to create and share practices that can really inform and deepen your connection with the members of your PLN.

7. Classroom 2.0. This social network is for those educators interested in discussing Web 2.0, Social Media and Participative Technologies in the classroom. With over 80,000 members from 200 countries, the site offers video presentations from education leaders, events you can participate in online, a plethora of discussions on a variety of topics in the forum from members and specific groups you can join within the community itself. Many opportunities to connect and grow, whether you are a new or veteran educator.

8. EdWeb.net. EdWeb offers educators, associations, legislators, community leaders and education companies (who can join as sponsors) a place to break down traditional communication barriers in order to promote broader collaboration in education. It provides members with opportunities to connect with peers, create communities, share information and best practices, spread innovative ideas and provide professional development. The edWeb platform includes blogs, discussions, file sharing, shared calendars, wikis, live chats, messaging and polling.

9. The Teaching Channel. The Teaching Channel offers free video resources that focus on teachers’ classroom practices so educators can learn from and provide feedback to peers in their profession. The site also gives teachers a place to share lesson ideas and strategies on a fairly broad range of subjects and grade levels, and it’s online Q&A forum allows teachers to communicate with fellow teachers from all over the world.

10. The Educator’s PLN. A ning site featuring some great resources for educators such as downloadable podcasts with EdLeaders, a place to upload and download videos, discussion groups, links to relevant blogs, resource lists and special events.

Have any additional resources you use to build your PLN? Please share in the comments below!

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