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Community Building: Looking Beyond the Classroom

Creating a community is essential work in any classroom.  In order to develop a rapport that engages all students, teachers must spend time focusing on community building with intentional thought and purpose. 

As I reflect on this crucial component of my profession, I wonder why I never applied this idea within my Professional Learning Network (PLN), creating a similar relationship with all of my peers.  Networking and collaboration are of utter importance for teachers, and I admit that I stayed inside my departmental box for my first 10 years of teaching, missing out on a multitude of opportunities. 

Last month, I spent two days at the TALK conference in Louisville, Kentucky, and I witnessed something amazing that I need to share.

Over 400 motivated Teacher Leaders convened at the conference to reflect on the year and share best practices. The energy that exuded from one session to the next couldn’t be denied. 

And it all culminated in a final breakout session with the Center for Teaching Quality’s Kris Kohl, teacherpreneur Ali Wright, and guest speaker Dr. Felicia Cummings Smith, the Associate Commissioner of Education for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

Their presentation focused on a recent CTQ-Global report that compared the teaching conditions and professional learning systems for seven teachers in the United States, Canada, Singapore, and Shanghai.

Because much of the discussion centered on what a teacher’s day should look like, CTQ decided to engage the audience with a quick survey. With the help of the Hope Street Group, a national nonpartisan nonprofit that connects teachers to policy makers through its State Teacher Fellows Program, CTQ polled the crowd to gauge which teachers were interested in stepping into leadership roles while remaining in the classroom. 

The results: an overwhelming portion of the packed ballroom was passionate about taking ownership of their profession by taking on hybrid roles comprised of teaching and leadership responsibilities.  A quick scan of the crowd corroborated my feelings—all eyes were focused on the information shared and the statistics projected.

The presentation peaked when Dr. Smith reflected on some powerful questions from the audience, changing the mood of the conversation with three simple points:

  1. The Commissioner of Education and other members of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) are having conversations with teachers that didn’t exist in 2007/2008. 
  2. Had she known what was going to happen within the teacher profession, Dr. Smith never would have left the classroom. 
  3. If KDE is listening to teacher voice, then Teacher Leaders need to continue these conversations to discuss what changes should be made within the profession to ensure best practices.

This was a pivotal point in the conference. Dr. Smith was saying that the time had arrived for Kentucky teachers—and teachers across the country—to connect the dots and move the Teacher Leadership Movement (TLM) forward.

After reflecting for a moment, I realized that everything I had witnessed in the conference supported her comments.  The Kentucky Education Association (KEA), which sponsored the conference, had invited state organizations that advocate for teacher leaders to participate (including CTQ, HSG, KDE, The Fund, and the Prichard Committee).  These organizations worked together on both days of the conference, collaborating and supporting one another. It was obvious that they had formed a community of stakeholders highly invested in student success in our Commonwealth.

So all this collaboration got me thinking: it’s essential that teachers are as connected to each other as the communities that we spend countless hours creating in our classrooms.  Our state partners have worked relentlessly, forming a community that serves as a wonderful model for Teacher Leaders throughout Kentucky. 

Dr. Smith opened the door with her speech—and it’s now our job as teachers to reach out and bridge any gaps by inspiring others to become involved with the TLM. We must work together to “get things moving.”

Teacher leaders have the momentum. All the stars are aligned in favor of a unified movement. But a few questions remain:

  • Is our community/network established?
  • Are we working together consistently? 
  • If so, where do go from here? And if not, how do we create the necessary community to reach our goals? 

What are your thoughts? Are we ready to move the Teacher Leadership Movement forward in Kentucky and beyond?

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