Back to school means collaboration

End of July means it’s time to start getting ready for the new school year. In Texas, there are laws that keep schools from starting too early in August, but we still have to start attending professional development, get our rooms ready, and start planning out the first weeks of school.

For me, since I’m returning to the classroom after being away for almost two years, this is a really exciting time. My mind is churning through possibilities – what will I cover the first week? how should my class wiki look? how do I want to do assessments? Can I really maintain a paperless classroom?

Tomaz Lasic, author of a blog called “Human”, has written a great post entitled “Sanity Kit” which has some really good advice for teachers. After reading it, I started thinking about the most important part of that kit for me — collaboration. Whether you are a new teacher, a veteran teacher, or one like me who is returning to the classroom after an extended departure, the key to solving all of the questions I posed above is collaboration!

No teacher is an island.

Well, I’ve taken a bit of liberty with that one, but basically, we all have to share ideas, ask questions of each other, learn from each other, and develop a strong network. Drawing from the experience of multiple teachers is invaluable to every teacher.

As you get ready to get back in there with the kids, think about your personal/professional learning network. If you haven’t developed one, now is a good time to dip your toe in the waters!

Developing a personal/professional learning network requires several components:

Communication: there has to be an effective, easy-to-use, method of communication. For me, the main connection to my network is Twitter. I recently wrote an article on another blog that may be helpful if you are just starting out. It is called “Twitter 101 for teachers“. Whatever method you choose, it needs to be something that a lot of other teachers have chosen, as well. If you are out there posting questions on a discussion board nobody reads, you’ve wasted your time.

Sharing: Sharing goes both ways. Even if you are a new teacher, you will have valuable information to share. Don’t sell yourself short or assume that something you just found must have been found and shared by someone else. Even if it has been shared before, we sometimes need to hear it again, or we may have just missed it the first time. I have been in several workshops and mentioned the name of various Web 2.0 tools that I assume everyone has heard about and been astonished at the number of people for whom these tools are brand new. Teachers in your network will be at different levels of technology usage, for example, so what is old hat to you might be exciting and new to others. A note about sharing new sites: if you haven’t had a chance to actually play with the site, make sure people know that so you won’t lose credibility if people try it and it doesn’t deliver the impact you may have thought it would.

Reflection: I add this as an item separate from sharing because I think it gets forgotten by many teachers. When we come up with new ideas as a result of our collaboration with other teachers, we often do not report back. How did that lesson go? What would you change? Where did you modify it? Were you able to go into more depth? Did your students come up with something nobody had thought of when planning the lesson? We want to hear it!

Learn: Sometimes I’ve found myself so intent on throwing resources onto Twitter that I think might be helpful to others that I don’t take the time to read what others are posting and visit the sites they are directing me to. Take time to check out the new tools and make determinations on whether they will be useful in your classroom.

Good luck in the new year!

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