Building a thriving learning community for your students is the fundamental core of this website. The work you are doing to create safe and engaging learning spaces is one of the most important things you do. But, do you take care of yourself and build your community? Finding a community probably saved my teaching career. Adding to my community over the last 18 years helped me to continually develop my practice.
Early in my career and before the age of social media, I felt like I was drowning. The people in the school where I worked were kind and honestly good people, but there were only a few that actually supported my learning. With their help I made it through, but I struggled. Thankfully, I found community within a group of literacy coaches a few years into my career. If it weren’t for these mentors, I might have walked away from teaching before I really got started. Besides being a strong support network this group encouraged me to get involved with the nationwide organizations ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Design and ILA (International Literacy Association). These nationwide groups connected me with people outside my local community of adult learners by attending conferences by sponsored by these groups.
In this age of social media, it is easier than ever to get connected with other educators. If you are reading this post it is most likely due to seeing a link on Twitter or Facebook. However, this post about building your community is not about widening your online network. While I still use Twitter and Facebook and keep up with educational websites, I work hard to not be ‘plugged in’ every single day. I worry about how social media affects my attitude and how too much time online impacts my day-to-day life. I know that I can quickly lose hours of time I could be doing something more productive very quickly. Working on building my real-life community is becoming more and more important to me. This is why I am a member of NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and regularly attend events it sponsors.
Over the past six years, some online connections have turned into real-life connections. When I attend events where these people are, my relationships (and learning) grow stronger. During the recent NCTE Annual Convention in St. Louis, I listened to Brian Wyzlic deliver a passionate speech about ensuring every child you teach feels valued every single day. We also had numerous conversations during various times at the conference. While speech affirmed my thinking, I learned more eating dinner with him and walking through the halls. I have known Brian for about 5 years. We have been around each other for maybe 25 days in those 5 years, but learning with and from Brian in real life has been more profoundly helpful than on Twitter.
I had an incredibly thought-provoking conversation with Kristin McIlhagga on Saturday night. After a long day of learning from some of the best educators on the planet, Kristin pushed my thinking was pushed more than anyone else that day. Like Brian, I have only been around Kristen at events like conferences. And while I do learn from her and am supported by her during online interactions, the face-to-face conversations are what really shift my thinking.
I was honored to present with Justin Stygles, Kara DiBarotolo, Cheryl Mizreny, Michelle Best and Laurie Halse Anderson on Sunday Morning. While I knew what was going to be said when they talked, The subtle nuances of body language and tone of voice made the learning more powerful. Plus, the time we spent together outside the session cemented the fact I am proud to know them. I met Michelle or Laurie at NCTE look forward to connecting with them again in the future. They are both smart and very passionate about their work. Justin, Kara and Cheryl have been go to resources for a while, but we wouldn’t have the relationship we have if it was completely online.
Throughout the entire NCTE convention my actual conversations with other attendees that I have known for years and ones that I just met over the weekend made the cost and the effort to attend worthwhile. I know the VISA bill will suck next month, but I cannot imagine not going next year.
Real-life professional connections, both local and not-so local, support me and challenge me. The online world is a great place to start, but do whatever it takes to get to places where your online connections meet in real life. The echo-chamber of social media is not necessarily bad, but I think you can only find true support to push your thinking in the real world. Think about your classroom. Would you let your students do a completely computerized curriculum with only random comments of a few sentences provided by you? Probably not. So why would you do it to yourself?
I encourage you to consider building your community by joining an association, either local or national and attending their conferences or other conferences near you. I guarantee it will be worth your time. Below are links to various professional organizations that support educators. They are all designed to help you. They want you to engage in a bigger community.
ACEI, Association for Childhood Education International (www.acei.org)
ACTFL, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (www.actfl.org)
AECT, Association for Educational Communications and Technology (www.aect.org)
AERA, American Educational Research Association (www.aera.org)
ALAS, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (www.alasedu.net)
AMLE, Association for Middle Level Education (www.amle.org)
ASCD, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Design (www.ascd.org)
ASCA, American School Counselor Association (www.schoolcounselor.org)
CEC, Council for Exceptional Children (www.cec.sped.org)
ILA, International Reading Association (https://www.literacyworldwide.org/)
ISTE, International Society for Technology in Education (www.iste.org)
NAEA, National Art Education Association (www.arteducators.org)
NAESP, National Association of Elementary School Principals (www.naesp.org)
NAEYC, National Association for the Education of Young Children (www.naeyc.org)
NAfME, National Association for Music Education (www.nafme.org)
NAGC, National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org)
NASSP, National Association of Secondary School Principals (www.nassp.org)
NBEA, National Business Education Association (www.nbea.org)
NCSS, National Council for the Social Studies (www.ncss.org)
NCTE, National Council of Teachers of English (www.ncte.org)
NCTM, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (www.nctm.org)
NSTA, National Science Teachers Association (www.nsta.org)