After talking about if for months, I finally took the first step and started a Ning for Philadelphia Teachers!

A Little Background

In a district as large as Philadelphia (over 270 schools & about 180,000 students), it easy to feel isolated. I know it sounds crazy, but the larger the system, the more out of touch people become with the system. I have been teaching computers for 2 years now, and I have managed to survive thanks to an email listserv called the “PTRN” list (Philadelphia Technology Resource Network). It is a community of teachers that share information and help each other with technology problems on a daily basis. I have, on many occasions, sent out an email and received a response within minutes.

This resource is invaluable, but it is a difficult place to really share resources since you must go through your email to find past conversations or answers to questions that you may have forgotten. I have been asking for months about the possibility for setting up a Ning or some kind of network for us to use that is more permanent and allows for more in-depth conversation. The listserv is also very impersonal-I have discussed resources or emailed back and forth with people for 2 years without knowing anything about them! I’m sure many of these people have a wealth of knowledge to share were we able to connect in a different way.
With no response from above, but a few positive responses from fellow members, I decided to take things into my own hands…..
Starting the Ning

Step 1
Think of a name. It must be:
  • easy to remember
  • easy to recognize (based in Philadelphia, a network for teachers & technology)
  • would not deter non-technology teachers from joining
I chose the name Philly Teacher Techs.

I felt it important to include the technology aspect, but I wanted to put ‘teacher’ first so that people who did not teach technology would feel included. The only thing I regret is how similar the name is to the name of my blog.
Step 2
Decide the purpose.
  • What need will this Ning fill that is different from the listserv?
  • What are my goals (high level of participation? Information dissemination? Social networking?)
I decided that the Ning fulfulled the human element that the listserv was missing. It also allowed for public dialogue without filling up people’s inboxes and providing a kind of archive for these discussions since they can be accessed easily over and over.

My goal was for people to get something out of it. I spent time putting up resources and giving discussion starters to get the conversation started. Kind of like a warm up activity at a meeting or conference.

Step 3
Choose content. What should I put on the Main Page?
  • Are there Nings that I find easy to navigate?–what are they doing right?
  • Are there things I don’t like about other Nings?
  • How do I keep from having an information overload on the first page?
  • How to I use the Main Page to make my Ning inviting?
I am a member of a bunch of Nings, so I took a look at them.

I like the way I Education Apps Review put the Forum at the top so people could easily see the conversations that were going on.

I like the Classroom 2.0 idea of having ‘hosts’ or ‘greeter’ to help new members out. I hope to have a few more people help out soon.
I also like the purpose of One Comment Project that has a focus that fits a particular need/interest in the education community. It also works as a support group as well.

I also like the way both Nings use a text box to add original content.
I do not like when the Forum is below the Latest Activity. I think the Latest Activity is too busy, and that discussion should be easy to find.
To make my Ning more inviting, I explained every aspect of it for people who might not be familiar with this kind of community. I also referred to the Ning as a community as much as possible to reinforce the idea of it belonging to its members, not me!

Here is my Main Page:
Step 4
Invite members. I had to think:
  • Will the Ning be public or private?
  • Will I allow anyone to join, or should I accept people who apply?
  • How will I spread the word?

Since I knew that some people were interested, I contacted them first to let them know the Ning was up and running.

I decided to make it public to allow for people to peruse the site before joining, or use the information there without being a member.

I decided to require authorization of members so I could keep track of who was joining and welcome them individually.

I used the PTRN list (how ironic!) to spread the word about the Ning community. Since I used my district email, I made sure to note that the Ning is not endorsed by the School District of Philadelphia (though I added ‘yet?’ to the statement!)
I also used the tool in the Ning to send out a welcome message to new members and remind them of the Ning’s purpose and how to use it.

Step 5
Keeping the conversation going.

The biggest challenge I think I will face is making sure that people are visiting the Ning, contributing to it and getting something useful out of it. I started a bunch of discussions to get people started, and a few members have already started their own discussion threads.

I hope that I will be able to watch the Ning have its own momentum led by its users. To me, that is a sign of a successful Ning.
Final Thoughts

I need to remember that this community is only a few days old and many teachers are on vacation and don’t check their District email over the summer. I am heartened to hear that people are as excited as I am about the possibilities this community offers!

Feel free to visit:


  1. Chad


    Finding a purpose was really important for, too. It's cool to launch at the same time and read through your reflections on starting an online PLN for teachers. You do a great job identifying the problem to be solved, your audience, and what your audience wants. You've modeled an authentic application of backwards design. I hope others follow your example in creating and sharing.

  2. mshertz


    I'm glad you found my post useful. It is exciting to start a new online dialogue! Good luck with your Classroots site!

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