Looking for a way to engage in professional learning with others? Find your community with a spectrum of engagement!

As my classroom has changed from one housed in an elementary school to a virtual face-to-face one, and my students have changed from fourth graders in Tampa, Florida, to veteran teachers across the United States, other things have changed. I’m needing to think about andragogy (the study of adult learning) versus pedagogy, and facilitating learning about policy changes versus physical and chemical changes in science. My professional learning needs have morphed as I’ve evolved, leading me to fully take the reigns of my own professional learning.

But I work in a fairly lonely environment: no longer do I have a grade level team down the hall or a gaggle of teachers in my building waiting to take the professional learning plunge with me. So what’s a girl to do? How does one learn when our classrooms have changed and we crave colleagues to learn with, but they no longer are right down the hall?

I find my community virtually. There is so much value in the collective power of teacher brains, and these partnerships can be found even when we don’t work in a brick and mortar traditional space.  Try these steps below to find your tribe and fully engage with them in professional learning.

There is so much value in the collective power of teacher brains, and these partnerships can be found even when we don’t work in a brick and mortar traditional space.

Pick your passion. What do you want to focus our professional learning on? What are your needs? Your passions? And if you don’t know off the top of your head…no worries. Try this: The amazing Dorina Sackman (2014 Florida Teacher of the Year) shared a great tip with our teacher leadership grad students. Just do a quick write! Get a timer. Begin writing about education for about 5 minutes. This doesn’t have to be perfection: Just get your thoughts onto paper. When the timer goes off, reread your writing. Circle any words that appear more often…what do you notice? Any themes. These are clues leading you to an idea of where you’d like to spend your time. Use these to help you focus on your passion.

Connect! Begin your journey to engagement, starting with connecting to your community. I think of a spectrum of engagement, starting with connect. This is where you reach out, this is your toe in the water. Where might there be others who share the same passion? Who have the same needs with their professional learning? What already exists in your school, district, or state? Who could you ask to find out? I think about all the learning opportunities on social media now. On Twitter. There is an education Twitter chat for almost everything! Professional organizations? Facebook groups? Online platforms? Try out virtual PLCs or Meet-ups.

Reach out. Leave a comment on a blog. Respond to a question or article on Twitter. See what happens when you interact and start a virtual conversation! This is like going to a dinner party (a wonderfully geeky education one!) and asking: “Hey…is anyone sitting here?” Responding to another teacher’s thinking virtually can spark beautiful friendships. I have so many colleagues I have learned with virtually, and the first face-to-face meeting is like seeing an old friend. It’s a beautiful thing.

And don’t feel bad if you are just reading the work and thoughts of others! Lurking is learning, and it is a toe in the water. You’ll jump in when you’re ready.

Contribute. When you are ready to take the plunge, do it! Contribute and put your thoughts out there as you learn with your virtual peers. Post ideas, lessons, tasks, or articles on Facebook or Twitter. Create a blog or website, or respond to a blog you’ve been following. Join a Twitter chat and be an active learner, contributing to the conversation. Dive in with your peers as you journey along the spectrum.

Collaborate. Something cool happened to me when I put myself out there and began to contribute. I found my people. I was co-blogging with a colleague in Kentucky, writing a white paper with teachers in Maryland and Illinois, and creating a Twitter chat with a educator in New York. The contributions and connections ended up evolving into collaborations. So work with others to start a virtual book group on Facebook. Collaborate with others to host a free webinar for teachers. Write an op ed with colleagues, working virtual or face-to-face. Create a plan with fellow teachers to lead your own in-school professional learning. Work together to strengthen our public schools!

Cultivate. This is a challenge I leave you with: How can we take our professional learning to such a level where we are cultivating and lifting up the ideas of our colleagues? Where we are using our own professional learning to spark the amazing thoughts and ideas of our peers? Send out an all-call for those interested in joining your learning. What could you help others do? What could you create to elevate the ideas of others? Don’t be afraid to run with a cool idea…I bet there is always a teacher or two who would love to jump on board with a cool learning plan!

Revisit, reflect, refine. Professional learning is a recursive process. As we learn and grow, our needs and passions change as well. Start at square one and begin again!

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