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Emily’s PLN choice (and my own network rut)

What teacher doesn’t want to share their most awesome lessons? 

Emily is home for Thanksgiving and I’ve never seen her this charged about her teaching before.

I’ve never seen her this charged about networking before.

What I discovered is that Emily’s PLN journey is very different from mine.

Our conversations revealed that I haven’t questioned my own network choices in quite some time.

For those of us who work with lots of different types of teachers, that’s a lesson we should probably keep in mind, especially if we drank the Twitter kool-aid early.

Of course, it’s not necessarily an either/or thing, but PLNs are not one size fits all.

Emily’s long had a rich online portfolio that hosts her blog, her lesson plans, her resume, her curriculum map, and her presentations.  But she’s been looking for the right professional space–some place to network or share–for five or six years.

Her elementary program has a serious fine arts focus, based in art criticism, history, aesthetics, and art making.  She was looking to build a like-minded network.

I tried Twitter, Edublogs and Pinterest.  They weren’t the right fit.  I wanted to quickly find other people who shared my interests.  For my elementary classroom, I am interested in making and using discoveries  about art and teaching from the middle, high school, college level.  

Librarians and art teachers are similar in that they’re often islands in their schools. They’re doing something a little different from the other teachers in their schools.  And then when you do find a community of art teachers, it’s tricky to find others who are interested in the same things you are. 

My website, though full of information, is fairly static/private/not linked to a network.  Tumblr allows me to take the same information and start a conversation in a way that’s more descriptive, more taggable than Pinterest and Twitter. 

 So, since August, Emily’s been building her network on Tumblr through art ed with emily valenza.

She opened her Tumblr blog with a strong philosophical piece, Why Elementary Students Need a Amazing Art Education and increased her following with the adorable cartoon, Tips for Dressing Like an Art Teacher, inspired by comic artist  Cara Bean.

How exactly is she using Tumblr?

Emily uses Tumblr to share lessons and ideas for lessons, to collect concepts to adapt for her classroom, and to learn about things she is interested in.  She uses it as an archive, sharing tool, and as an RSS reader.

I like that you can see where every post has been, who’s liked it, who’s commented on it, who’s reblogged it.  You can see the swells of activities.

It’s a nice boost when someone likes what you posted, especially when it’s someone whose work you admire. 

And, unlike other networks, Tumblr doesn’t feel like an echo chamber. It feels more alive, like a conversation.

I try to only put my best work up on my tumblr. The more useful your content, the faster your knowledge base grows as more people follow and comment on your work, and you’re more likely to build a powerful network. Sometimes when I post I think, “nocornersuns is going is going to like this.”  You want approval from the people you respect.

Unlike Pinterest, Tumblr allows you to easily add video, sound, and quote to a post, with clear reference to the source. Create a source link to your post and it becomes a sort of watermark. You can also tag to your heart’s content and re-highlight past content.


One of the benefits of Tumblr lies in the ability to get new exposure for your blog that you might not receive elsewhere.  There’s an option to like something (the little heart on the right) and your name is attached to it and therefore this can lead other users to your own Tumblr. If you reblog something and make a comment this gets attached to the original post (via your own post and those reblogging it from YOU) and that means more exposure for you! So, in many ways, this is how you can build a following on Tumblr for your blog.

Emily notes another similarity between the teacher librarian and art ed community is the serious emphasis on crediting colleagues.  Emily likes that when you reblog in Tumblr you automatically see the history  of the content–who originally posted, who commented, who reblogged.

Though she shares a lot of student work and reaction to her instruction, Emily is concerned about how she shares about work with little ones.

It’s important to protect anonymity. I  shoot kids from the back of their heads or focus on their hands making something. I share quotes.  I sometimes use first names. Never a face.

Here are are some of the posts, Em is proudest of:

Her Modigliani Photoset shows how so many personalities might be expressed with the same portrait project.  Emily wanted kids to practice shading, distorting anatomical features and creating an imaginary background to enhance the mood of a piece.  Check out the early sketches as well.

Her Dada and Surrealist Workshop and her Surrealist Unit Slideshow demonstrate process-oriented activities and how the concepts of art movements can be translated for third grade learners through games and group experiments.

Her Still-Life Remix DJ, inspired by Deep Space Sparkle, describes four classroom stations that asked students to render a still-life in four different styles: cubism, pointilism, impressionism and op art using different materials.

Emily’s experience suggests to me that I consider my own PLN habits, that I consider alternate platforms, and that I reconsider the affordances and the lack of affordances of the tools I currently use and recommend to teachers.

In fact, Tumblr seems like right choice for the community I want to establish for my new social media course.


Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. I recently attended the Montgomery Community College Technology Conference and went to a workshop where the professor was using Tumblr in her English course. It was a really effective way to get students to interact, understand citing their sources, helping them to share ideas, and also teaching them to blog publicly. I enjoyed this post, it reminded me of the wealth of information and learning opportunities Tumblr does have to offer!

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