Connect to Grow: Transforming Teaching Through PLN’s

teachersI accepted a  job to be the only Chemistry teacher in the largest district by area, also a  very isolated district, in New York. Truth be told, there are some activities I like to do alone; a long outing in the woods, a car-ride, or sometimes just sitting in a quiet room. But learning how to become an effective teacher, improving my teaching craft, and honing best practices for my classroom? I knew I couldn’t do that alone.
After 2 years in the classroom, my school supported my attendance at an American Chemical Society workshop on Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). The guided inquiry instructional style was exactly what I was looking for to tune up my practice and when I returned to my school I began working with my high school science department to develop class activities. Five months later I applied and was accepted to be a partner (future associate editor) in the POGIL project. At that point, all members of the science department had begun a shift toward inquiry based instruction and were working on activities for their classes. POGIL brought our department together with a focus of bettering the level of instruction we were providing for our students.
collaborationPOGIL was the door that opened my teaching world to the outside. Through POGIL I began to present at local, state and national conferences building a network of educators with whom I could share ideas and activities. My work with the POGIL project introduced me to the impact of National Board Certification (which I obtained in 2012) on how teachers approach student learning and the benefit to working with other invested teachers. My National Board cohort group helped me balance the art of coaching for improvement and being critical to highlight shortcomings. It is those 14 educators who made me aware of how every action impacted student learning.
Since pursuing my National Board Certification I’ve realized how I would like teaching and learning in my classroom to look. My implementation of this vision was facilitated by a fellow Master Teacher during a presentation on flipped classrooms. That presentation brought several math and science teachers together from different schools in our region. Together we improved how we present material to students in class, shifting how the students learn in the classroom. Through our Master Teacher network we email back and forth with questions and comments. Each of our classes has taken a step forward due to the work we do together.image
Now that I had my vision and was beginning to effectively execute it, I found my world swiftly changing. With this change came the need to share my voice and my story about what was actually happening in the classroom rather than what people outside thought was happening in classrooms. After being nominated, I applied and became an America Achieves New York State Educator Voice Fellow. This fellowship brought an increase in understanding to how policy is made and how we as teachers can have more impact. I had the opportunity to hold a focus group with my colleagues about teacher leadership pathways and shared their feedback and opinions with officials at New York’s State Education Department. This network brought me in contact with like-minded, solutions-oriented individuals. My mind and calendar began to flood with activities that I should be doing to strengthen, elevate and connect our profession to key issues. This desire lead me into a national fellowship position with another network, the Hope Street Group. Through the Hope Street Group I’ve been able to learn about how policy at the Federal and State levels is formed. I’ve conducted focus groups and sent surveys to learn the key components of teacher preparation that teachers would like to see. I have also become a member of the teacher advisory board to the National Council for Teacher Quality. There we have monthly discussions on things that impact teaching and techniques for increasing consistency of strong elements across the country. Together these networks bring forth how our ideas as teachers do matter and will have an impact.
Twitter provides another layer of ideas, collaboration, and support. Twitter chats have brought me a flood of ideas on topics ranging from education and policy (#NYEdVoice, #nctq) to student paced learning environments (#NGSS, #Edutopia, #t2t) to writing with the national blogging collaborative (@natblogcollab) to elevating and celebrating successes of teachers (#ECET2). Using Twitter, I am able to share key articles with those who may also use them. Twitter has given me a very large learning network that is always present to answer questions further strengthening my planning and delivery of lessons.
I can honestly say that without these networks I wouldn’t have lasted in the classroom. Not only have they fostered transformative change from where I was to where I am headed, they have been sources of inspiration, activities, support, and constructive  criticism. They elevate me and keep me grounded. Most importantly, they help me do the best job I can with my students each and every day. I encourage all teachers to remember, you are never alone. There are people who support you, who share your ideals and will help you transform yourself beyond where you think you could be. Go find them!


Special thanks to Sheri Rodman and Lisa Hollenbach who contributed to the editing of this entry! 

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