Friday, August 22, 2014

Connecting with Colleagues

We should not only use the brains we have but all that we can borrow.                                                                                             -Woodrow Wilson


Is connecting with colleagues important to teachers?  That question flew into my mind during a Twitter education chat with teachers from around the state. It didn’t take long for me to formulate an answer. A resounding “YES,” I think it is vital for teachers to connect with their colleagues.
Today I spent a good portion of the afternoon being energized by a teacher new to the high school scene. He’s been a terrific teacher at the middle school level but is moving up to a new challenge. Talking with him, positing questions, and discussing scenarios filled me with a vigor I hadn’t had prior to our meeting. I came away enriched because of the two hours I spent with him and my students will benefit in spades because of it.
I am all in favor of professional development when it benefits teachers and offers us the same real-world application of the material we are to give our students. Let’s give freedom to district teachers who are masters in certain domains, allowing them to instruct and challenge others with innovative concepts.
What about giving teachers time to collaborate, talking shop and sharing ideas of what works and what doesn’t? This year my district is setting aside time for teachers to do just that, connect with others in their content areas, by starting late periodically. I predict these times will resonate with teachers and have them clamoring for more such opportunities.
Photo courtesy of Ellis Christopher, CC
Just as students are ever-learning, teachers should be as well. I’d like to see the day of packets and pencils be a distant past as teachers collaborate and bring engaged learning scenarios that are more hands-on or movement involved to students. The tech director of my district recently tweeted that students are waiting for more project-based learning opportunities. I couldn’t agree with him more.
So how valuable is interacting with colleagues? I think it should be given highest priority in our lives as teachers. I say this with a caveat: make sure the time is spent in discussions which are constructive and student-centered rather than teacher-centered.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with seeking help for issues we encounter, however, it is easy to stray off the student-centered path into the realm of “me-isms.”
My colleague and I brainstormed ideas and came up with ways to approach the same class differently, in ways that would work in our classroom settings. Though he lacks experience in the high school classroom, he doesn’t lack awareness of kids. He’s opening up a new realm in instruction, being an innovator and risk-taker, and I applaud him for that. We need more risk takers in education.
Ask yourself the same question my creative colleague will ask his students. What’s a problem you think needs fixing, In the classroom, in departments, and maybe in relation to professional development? What can you do to help fix it?
 Indeed, what can we do? We can be a voice asking for more opportunities to connect with educators rather than speakers, people who are on the front lines and know the issues other teachers encounter. A voice asking for people from our own districts, people who are considered knowledgeable, to share their expertise with others. A voice asking for time to discuss with and learn from other educators in our curricular area.  
But we don’t wait for district-led professional development. We can take advantage of the words of wisdom tweeted weekly by other educators by tuning into Twitter educational chats. One on Wednesday nights at 9 that has broadened my knowledge is @#ndedchat. Last spring our tech team offered their own ed chat and will hopefully do so again this fall, @#gfedchat. Learning opportunities abound. If Twitter isn’t your thing, look for other ways to learn from others.
There are lots of voices in education coming in many forms. Let’s focus our energies on the ones that are student-centered and be open to new ways of instruction. Just as we want students to think outside the box, we, as educators, need to as well.
Connecting with colleagues is vital to us as teachers. We can dream up fresh approaches to take in our classrooms as we bandy around ideas. We can gain a new excitement and vitality for teaching. And we can carry that excitement for learning and our innovative approaches with us into the classroom, thanking our colleagues who inspire us, challenge us, and teach us every step of the journey.

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