Followers, PLN, and Tribe

So, a couple of days ago, I shared this wonderful sketchnote from Sylvia Duckworth.

It had the usual effect – no comments from visitors to the blog but lots of sharing and folks visiting the blog and comments on Twitter.  So, it did strike a chord with others and I always like that.  It’s a confirmation that there are others thinking along the same lines, or differently, but aren’t afraid to come forward.

As far as Tribes go, I was forced at one point to participate because “we are going to do Tribes”.  I’ve seen others who have had to go the same route – forced training certainly can fall off the professional learning track but that’s OK.  You can learn some things from that as well.  As you look through the points in Sylvia’s sketchnote, you’ll notice that it takes a special group of people and their attributes to let you know when “you have found your tribe”.

In my mind, it’s that very special subset of colleagues that make it work and it’s not something that you can do by taking a group of educators and “dividing them up” although that’s often the way that training happens.  The best professional learning happens when it’s authentic and people actually want to participate, grow, and learn.  In my mind, it’s a big difference.

So often, we hear about why it’s important that teachers are on Twitter.  “It’s the best place for learning” is often the phrase you see and it’s tough to argue against that.  But, just as with any quality professional learning, it doesn’t happen immediately in some sort of magical, mystical manner.  It’s actually tough but satisfying work.

As I followed the interactions to the announcement of that particular blog post, it was interesting to see some of the comments.

There was a tangent that started with an innocent observation.

Tribe = PLN

I raised my eyebrow just a bit because it certainly wasn’t what I had expected and not what my takeaway from the concept is.  In my case, it couldn’t be further from the truth.  I follow a lot of people and things on Twitter where this conversation took place.  I follow for a variety of reasons – learning, announcements, updates, and a few just because they’re jerks and I’m entertained by their silliness.  Here’s the link if you want to figure out who’s who.  I also learn a great deal from Ontario Educators but I don’t follow them all; instead I have them as lists.  I think we all have our own ways of managing things.  That’s mine.  So, while I do a great deal of learning, I wouldn’t necessarily consider them to be in “my tribe”.  There are, indeed, a few that I hang on every word and have interactions for all the reasons in Sylvia’s sketch.

It was comforting to know that I’m not alone.  @iamDrWill, a gentleman I’ve never met but regularly has wise advice summarized his thoughts in a couple of messages that mirror my thoughts.

It extended the conversation considerably.

I think that this extension of conversation really puts it into perspective.  I know that, when I’m thinking Computer Science, I have my go-to folks.  When I’m thinking Learning Commons, I have my go-to group there.  When I’m thinking of digital literacy, I have a go-to collection as well.  When I want a laugh, I know where to go as well.

The whole discussion makes so much sense to me.  Maybe it’s the real message that needs to be shared when encouraging all educators to get connected.  There are three levels:

  • Followers – Everyone you care to follow;
  • PLN – A subset of the Followers that contribute to your ongoing learning;
  • Tribe – A subset of the PLN that meets all of the criteria.

10 thoughts on “Followers, PLN, and Tribe

  1. As usual Doug, you have provided some additional food for thought to push my thinking as I continue to expand, not only my use, but my reason for using social media to enhance my practice. As my list of who I follow and my followers continue to grow, the need to categorize them has begun to emerge. I love Sylvia’s graphic and your rationale as to whom falls into the category of Tribe! Thanks for sharing.


  2. Thanks, Sue. I actually see the concept as being very fluid. With connections being online, that fluidity is rather easy to do; not so much with the school based tribe.


  3. Hi Doug
    I believe it who tweeted a reference to PLN ( could be others too ) . I agree with Sylvia’s point above that you can have many tribes and for me , while not all I took from your post by any means , some of my PLN is my tribe . So I agree with your definition here , I just think that within my PLN I have tribes too 🙂 In a week where they were particularly helpful , this idea was what resonated with me. Thanks for your great blog .


    1. Thanks. I was careful not to name names but appreciate you stepping forward. I’m sure that it was the first reaction to the concept. I had a whole day to flesh through my thoughts before blogging about it. I’m glad to hear that your tribe came though for you this week.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I also use lists on Twitter. I could not manage otherwise. I also like your breakdown from Followers to PLN to Tribe. From what I read, the most people can really be close to is around 100 people. We can associate with many more and in these modern times we do. But a “tribe” as me come to think of it today has to be smaller in order to really work.


    1. I’m surprised at the number 100, Alfred. If you had asked me what I would guess, I would have thought considerably smaller. I like your term “associate”. I think it describes the relationship perfectly.


  5. Thanks for this blogpost, Doug. I’m happy that the drawing inspired you to blog twice! It seemed to resonate with quite a few people. @sandeeteach wrote a blogpost about it, too:

    If I am to understand you correctly, you think that a true tribe should be a small, select group of people. I guess it depends on your definition of “tribe”. This is from Google:

    “Tribe: a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect…”

    Since there is no reference to size in this definition, I would not disagree or be surprised with someone who considers all of their PLN to be their tribe. I feel this way, in fact. My PLN is one of my tribes because they believe in the value of social media for learning and making connections, and they meet the criteria 1 – 10 that I outlined in the drawing.

    However, I have other tribes in my life: AIM teachers; my close friends; a small group of teachers at my school… and they all fit my own personal definition of a tribe.

    Cheers, fellow tribesman!


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Doug,
    A great post based on an awesome visual! Truthfully, I’m sure I only skimmed it and retweeted it, without giving it additional consideration until I read this blog post. I’m not sure if that’s atypical; I suspect it isn’t and I wonder if that’s why the PLN, Tribes parallel was made so easily? I really like your point that there isn’t a magical, mystical manner in which learning happens on Twitter and that it takes time and effort. I’ve been thinking about my relationships on Twitter lately. I think of how Twitter has transformed some of my own relationships. People with whom I only have occasional face to face contact because of distance or circumstance, have become people with whom I have regular conversations and with whom I share accomplishments. In particular, Twitter helps to reconcile “The Lone Wolf” idea David Truss speaks of in one of his blog posts. I think of the first time I meet someone whom I have known on Twitter for a while (so my PLN) and how I immediately feel a comfort with them; a camaraderie of sorts and how many of them truly do meet the criteria of Tribe more than some of my colleagues at work. The distinction you make between Followers, PLN, and Tribe makes lots of sense to me. Thanks for allowing me to pause and think.


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