Saturday, December 1, 2012

building a network

I've spent the last 3 days at the Literacy Research Association Annual Conference, a conference I've attended for the last 7 years or so. I love this conference because it always challenges me to think in new ways, and there are always times that I'm sitting in the audience thinking, "wow, I have a lot to learn.' Another great thing about the conference is that I get to reconnect with my grad school buds and profs. I get to hear about the cool research and teaching that they are doing. And share the cool things I'm doing too. In the years that I've gone, I always leave excited to try out a new teaching idea or incorporate a new reading to my syllabus or reframe some research I'm thinking about. Well worth the stress of being gone at a conference with only 3 weeks left in the semester.

I have found the conferences that I've attended to lead to some of the most exciting, rejuvenating, and powerful learning I've experienced as a teacher. Conferences are limited in that you often hear a lot of things in a short amount of time. And so the set up isn't always conducive to the kind of reflection that's necessary to make real change in thinking. But I take good notes, spend dedicated time throughout the conference finding ways to apply new thinking to my own teaching (yes, that means I slips sessions. Shhhhh....), and make action plans to commit to over the next few months. Sometimes this means that I pick a book I really want to read that someone told me about, or I test out a new strategy in my class. I try to keep these manageable so I'm more likely to actually do it.

There are all kinds of conferences out there - local, state, national, and international. There are workshops and professional development opportunities all the time for all levels and disciplines. Check out the posts I've written for the different content areas (special education, music, language arts, math, science, art, social studies, physical education, foreign language, ELL) and see if there are any conferences you'd be interested in attending. And once you've attended, think about presenting something amazing that you are doing! How cool would that be? And local/state organizations are often looking for teachers that want to get more involved in the organization. I have loved being on the executive council of the Minnesota Reading Association and the Minnesota Academy of Reading, and have met amazing teachers and learned so much through my participation in these groups.

I remember when I started teaching, it was really hard to be in a new place with people I didn't know and be willing to admit that I didn't know everything. But you can't know everything. Even 30 year veterans have things to learn. But I missed my classmates from my preparation program that were all going through the same things. I was hard to keep in touch when we all headed our separate ways, but I needed ways to connect with others.

Being at this conference has made me think about other ways teachers can network. With professional development budgets getting trimmed, teachers might not have the opportunity to travel to their discipline- or level-specific conference of choice. So what are some other ways that teachers can network?

Teacher network for a lot of reasons: to learn from others, to share what they know, to find out about new resources, and to stay engaged in teaching. Teaching is such a demanding job, and finding yard to prevent feeling burned out is important, and network can do that. Some teachers are fortunate to work in buildings where these collaborative networks are commonplace, but some teachers find a need to look outside their building for these resources.

There are many online resources for networking. Sure you can use Facebook and twitter to network with other teachers. And you know to be careful about social networking, though, when your professional and personal lives are blurred. But there are other places to go for professional networking. An increasing number of people are on LinkedIn. Though it is used far more in business settings than education, it is getting more prominent in all professional circles. It's a great place to build an online professional network, especially for those that are looking for jobs. I'll admit that I'm still working on all the ways to use this networking site, but its something to check out.

A lot of teachers are connecting via Pinterest. There are Pinterest boards for just about anything you'd be interested in learning about for your classroom.

And then there are sites like, where teachers post questions on anything they need help with and other folks respond with suggestions. Or is another place to connect with other teachers.

About a billion teachers are blogging, so you can definitely network through blogs. You don't need to be a blogger to network, but it helps if you have a blog to connect to so you can connect with other bloggers. But even if you don't want to network per se and just net to learn, blogs are great resources.

What are some of your favorite ways to or sites for networking??


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