First in a series, there is no particular order to these – they are simply written about in the order they pop into my head.
In order to stay sane and keep yourself up-to-date and connected, it is important to affiliate yourself with some kind of a collaborative group. There are a lot of them out there. Be careful not to affiliate yourself with too many of them because following them and remaining active in them can be more overwhelming than trying to teach all alone. REALITY CHECK: finding time to be very involved in groups can be a problem. Find groups that will allow you to maintain your membership even through the times you are unable to participate. If you find a group becoming stressful for you, it might be time to consider finding a new group.
Ask around. Find out what group(s) other teachers are affiliated with. Get their opinion on how beneficial being involved with that group has been. Try the group out and see if you really find it helpful and easy to follow. A group that works for one teacher may not be a good fit for another.
My suggestion is to find a group or groups that have a theme you are excited about. You may decide a group of educators who teach the same thing you do is beneficial; if you are excited about technology, maybe an all-inclusive technology group is the answer; if there are particular products you use regularly in your teaching, the company that provides those products or services may have a collaborative group of educators already in place.
Whatever you do, don’t try to do it alone. Even the teachers who seem the most creative and experienced use ideas or pieces of ideas they’ve gotten from other teachers.
The groups I belong to:
Discovery Educator Network (DEN) – if you know me, you knew that was going to be the first group I listed. I’ve found this group to be the most beneficial group I’ve belonged to and the best decision I ever made in my teaching career. Membership in the DEN is free. They have launched leadership councils in several states/areas, and even in Second Life, so your experience in the DEN can involve educators near you or on a national level. The DEN also provides professional development throughout the year in the form of local events, online webinars, and other special events which are usually free to educators who have reached STAR status. The DEN conducts summer institutes which are invaluable for networking and knowledge-building. I have attended two summer institutes, a regional one in Allen, Texas in 2006 and a national one on a cruise ship to the Bahamas in 2007.
International Society for Technology Educators (ISTE) – Just what it says. This group is very large, but you can join small communities within ISTE which can be very helpful. ISTE has resources available that can be very valuable. ISTE has professional development throughout the year and also provides webinars, in addition to having a presence in Second Life. Their professional development opportunities generally have a cost associated with them. ISTE has an annual membership fee, as well.
National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) – Organizations for your content area are valuable in helping you find resources for your lesson plans. I belong to NSTA because of my science certification, but you can find organizations for yours. Most of the national organizations also have smaller local affiliates which can also be helpful. Most organizations of this type have an annual membership fee.
Twitter – not an organization, but a collaborative group. Twitter is a free service that I’ve found to provide valuable resources and ideas simply because of the group of people I’ve got on my list. Twitter enables you to get quick responses to questions you have and to post new ideas or resources you’ve found for others to see. Some educators have even had success in developing classroom collaborations with individuals from all over the world through Twitter. The key in building a successful twittersphere for yourself is to add educators you know, then look at who they are following and start following other educators on their list. If you decide to try this, add me to your list, I’m glad2be.
Second Life – often mistaken for a game, Second Life is a venue for people interested in collaborating on a national and international level. Free of the restrictions placed on us in real life, Second Life opens up a new world of collaboration in education. Registration is free. Come on in . . . I’m Celestia Cazalet.
Veteran teachers – post a comment here to tell us what organizations you’ve found helpful!