Why creating a safe space matters in professional learning communities

Hey John,

In the last post, you wrote:

Recently empowered professionals, like NBCTs, need a true community with hearth-like sustenance, easy access to support a network, and a space that is safe to trust each other and to share vulnerabilities. I would like to think I might have found that on NBCTlink if it had that ability. I am afraid though, the passionate network of caring professionals I’ve found may have never happened in a community comprised entirely of NBCTs, focused on being NBCTs, not on being great teachers … Since that time TLN has grown to become a powerful group for teacher voice, without the identification of a particular ideology or understanding of what it means to be accomplished teacher. The strength of the community is in the diverse experiences and perspectives on excellent teaching.

Since you posted that, my colleague Genevieve DeBose responded in kind with a vision for the new NBCT platform. I noticed this:

We are also working to strengthen the voice of NBCTs in their schools and districts and among state and federal policymakers. By working with other professional organizations (like CTQ), unions, local districts, state education departments, our network affiliates, and other stakeholders we’ll ensure that NBCTs and other accomplished teachers are valued for their expertise and are routinely part of the teams making decisions that affect teaching and learning in their schools, districts, states, and nationally.

What often happens in communities of educators is that we do need a bit of re-purposing and yes, culture-building. Any time adults convene, we too need some sort of direction when we come together. Building community does, in fact, take the right people. Having credentials is not often enough, as the creators of the Teacher Leaders Network can attest to. Any group of educators, no matter how well credentialed, needs to understand the rules of the game, whether written or otherwise.

Secondly, teachers also need a community where they can tell the truth unfiltered about their professional situations. Teachers constantly find themselves playing politics about what happens inside and outside their classroom. When I hear things are going “just fine” with the teacher, it tells me nothing except that they know how to dissuade people from coming into their classrooms. I’ve learned that having a community of confidantes can help teachers parse their situations out without feeling like it might get back to their administrators, the end goal being that we turn the so-called “moaning and complaining” to cogent, actionable, and research-based responses when we get back out there.

Until then, even those of us who tell truths all the time need a place to be less “professional.”

Parsing out our ideas matters a whole lot. I’m no NBCT, but I’d wager that the TLN serves as a model for how other teacher leader type groups want to think about their own communities.