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[Professional Development] 5 Ways Educators Can Get Off the Classroom Island to Connect and Grow

[Professional Development] 5 Ways Educators Can Get Off the Classroom Island to Connect and Grow

Humans are social creatures—even the most introverted of us crave interaction and collaboration. There’s good reason for this too. These connections help us grow. They get us out of own heads and allow us to think just a little more deeply, a little more creatively, and most importantly, just a little differently.

Educators spend all day, every day connecting with their students. Those relationships are incredible, and they certainly lead to plenty of personal growth and value. But, they’re not quite the same as connecting with peers, and educators really struggle to find those opportunities all too often. Between the demands of teaching classes, providing extra support for students, planning lessons, grading homework, communicating with parents, and completing other administrative tasks—not to mention living some semblance of a personal life—educators frequently just run out of hours in the day to fit in intentional time with colleagues.

So, what can educators do to combat that isolating feeling of being stuck on your own classroom island? Here are five (realistic) ideas to make those critical peer-to-peer connections and build professional relationships that will help you grow.

  1. Attend an education conference

Yes, this one may sound like a cliché. But, the whole point of conferences is to get a lot of people who are thinking about the same issues, doing the same things, and encountering similar challenges together in order to swap ideas and solve shared problems. There is an energy it’s impossible not to feel when this happens. You may not have a single outstanding aha moment or make a new lifelong best friend (but, then again, you might). And, you almost certainly will leave with a renewed enthusiasm for the difficult, but rewarding, work that is education.

Try a simple Google search for local conferences relevant to your position or larger national conferences that would make sense for you to attend (check out this list from EdSurge for a starting point). Then, pitch the idea to your supervisor—almost every department has at least some dollars devoted to professional development opportunities like these. Many conference websites even provide templates or talking points to help you build your case.

  1. Participate in a Twitter chat

Social media can get plenty of (not undeserved) negative attention, but educators are one group of people undeniably using social platforms for good. Twitter chats (or tweet chat), which make use of simple hashtags to facilitate conversations, have been fully embraced by the education community. There are hundreds of these chats focused on education—some very broad like the original #edchat; others much more specific, like #TLAP (for educators following Dave Burgess’ model of “Teach Like a Pirate”); and still others cover everything in between. No matter what grade, subject, or style of teaching you’re interested in, chances are there’s a chat for you.

Check out this list of 40 education Twitter chats worth your time from ISTE to get started. Or, follow the Edmentum Educator Network on Twitter for an upcoming monthly #EdNetworkChat!

  1. Join a mentoring program

Mentoring relationships can be incredibly valuable—for both mentors and mentees. Having a one-on-one relationship with another educator, with the clear purpose of focusing on professional challenges and growth, can offer so much learning. It’s also a great opportunity to build leadership skills and critically consider career goals. In the process, these relationships can breed great friendships too.

Many schools and districts have formal mentoring programs in place, typically as part of the new teacher onboarding process. Find out if such a program exists in your organization, and volunteer to participate. If there isn’t a program, lobby to start one! Mentoring is free of cost and doesn’t have to take up lots of time. And, chances are that you’ll discover plenty of interested participants.

  1. Schedule a monthly happy hour

Sometimes, the strongest connections are forged in the most casual settings. Simply getting your peers together outside of the school setting can work wonders for building that “team” feeling. Establishing that baseline level of rapport makes collaboration on day-to-day, school-related activities that much more natural. And, getting to know your coworkers on a more personal level can be invaluable to understanding their own challenges and learning how best to support them.

So, take charge and become the designated people wrangler on your team. Send out invites for a monthly happy hour (or a weekend brunch, or a book club, or whatever works best for you and your coworkers). Prepare to be pleasantly surprised by how eager your coworkers are for a little socializing.

  1. Join an online community—like the Edmentum Educator Network!

Twitter chats aren’t the only way for educators to connect online. There are a number of outstanding community forums that help educators share ideas and build relationships, including Edmentum’s very own Educator Network! We’re so excited about this new online community designed to bring together innovative educators through a private Facebook group, office-hours style webinars, in-person events, and more. No matter where you’re located or what your schedule is, you can go online to find other educators who understand the joys, frustrations, and endless possibilities of teaching! 

Ready to start connecting? Sign up for the Edmentum Educator Network here!