By Rod Powell

Part 1 of this post was originally published on April 30, 2012.

Reason #3: Address Specific Challenges

Beginning to implement Common Core Standards was energizing, but it wasn’t without snags, sidetracks, and slowdowns. My virtual community helped sort out specific difficulties I had in putting the standards into action in my classroom.

I’d spent two decades focusing my instruction on a narrow curriculum that revolved around a multiple choice exam. Suffice it to say, my skills in writing and teaching writing needed practice. My virtual community helped me figure out how to resurrect and practice those dormant skills. And as I read examples of evaluated student work samples posted on the group wiki by Robin Reid and Steve Stith, I realized that I needed to “play to my strengths” as a social studies teacher, focusing on students’ historical analysis skills.

Reason #4: Prepare to Influence Policy

Virtual learning communities give classroom teachers opportunities to broaden their understanding of educational policy. I’ve never considered myself to be a policy-oriented teacher. I’ve been content to work within the confines of my classroom, making it the best learning environment possible. But I’ve come to realize that I was often frustrated and restricted by a narrow curriculum and assessments.

My work with the ICCS group has forced me out of the comfort zone of my own classroom. My virtual community has convinced me that my ideas are worth sharing — on our virtual platform and beyond it.

I’ve become more outspoken about mentoring student teachers, teacher leadership and its role in student achievement, and curriculum design and implementation. And I’ve begun to volunteer for leadership roles, like heading up a curriculum integration initiative among teachers of social studies, language arts, foreign language, and exceptional students. Similarly, I’ve “crashed” a district-level Common Core planning meeting to speak up about the innovative work my ICCS team has completed. I have offered to help lead district-level professional development.

Responsible policymakers have a need to keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in education. My virtual community has connected me with other teachers who want to influence these policymakers — and given us space and time to plan for how to reach out.

Reason #5: Inspire Virtual Learning in Your Own School

My ICCS colleages are located in communities across North Carolina and Kentucky. But within our own schools, teachers can create and use virtual communities to share great ideas (lessons, classroom management techniques), receive feedback and constructive criticism, and collaborate — even when we do not have common planning time. And virtual platforms even have the potential to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of traditional schoolwide meetings.

A Final View

As my school moves toward the implementation of Common Core standards, our faculty has begun attending professional development sessions. So far they’ve been pretty traditional: after-school sessions led by experts trained during the summer. Meetings are generally one-to-one and a half hour long, including powerpoint presentations and handouts, with limited time for discussion.

The presenters do their best to deliver appropriate material in a coherent fashion, but opportunities for growth stop there. As I write this in January 2012, there is little structure in place for assistance in planning, carrying out, or assessing the effectiveness of the new strategies. Teachers are left to their own devices to implement the training.

Virtual communities can offer these missing components. My ICCS community has given me avenues for feedback and reflection. Even in the planning phase, I can receive feedback from creative NBCTs on the group wiki, and my students benefit from these ideas about materials, strategies, and differentiation.

Contrary to how I felt at the start of the year, I now consider myself an energized, “in the trenches” kind of teacher. Virtual communities offer all of us an opportunity to break down the walls of our classrooms. We can use them to learn more about important issues in our profession, develop and share innovative classroom strategies, tackle challenges, develop our policy chops, and help our local colleagues find better ways to learn and collaborate.

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