Using Digital Tools and Networks to Build and Sustain Your Practice

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By Brian Dean (@FLMathNinja)

In my seven years as a teacher in Pasco County Schools, Florida, my students taught me more about life than I could have imagined. Later, as a district leader in the same school system, I supported hundreds of teachers who were educating more than 72,000 students, and I wanted to help both teachers and students have the most positive, productive experience possible. Here I was in a position to have a direct impact on the educators responsible for developing our children’s minds, yet there was just one of me, and there were many more of them spread out across more than 80 schools.

I realized that if I was going to make change, I would have to get these teachers talking, collaborating, and learning so that, together, they could work toward figuring out the complex profession of teaching. However, there are many barriers to knowledge sharing among teachers, including logistical challenges and a culture that typically does not promote such cross-team interactions.

I helped to launch the #PascoMath initiative on Twitter, making it easier for teachers in my area overcome these barriers and share ideas. After all, many educators are trying to create change in whatever system they are part of. Leveraging existing digital tools and social networks can be a critical part of this effort.

Here are three ways you can go digital to harvest new ideas and improve your practice:

#1 Build a Network

Figure out who you want to collaborate with and how Twitter chats are a great place to start. You can find topics that match your interests, engage at a time that’s convenient for you, and start to collaborate with subgroups of like-minded individuals from across the world. If they’re participating in a chat, chances are they’re willing to bounce around ideas with teachers teaching the same content as you.

#2 Join or Create a PLC

Join a virtual professional learning community (PLC) and establish a routine for checking in. You can find active PLCs through your school district and professional organizations. Or, if you don’t have access to an existing PLC, start your own by asking peers in group forums and online chats to participate. Use conferencing software like Google Hangouts, which is free, or Zoom, which is free for up to 100 participants. As a group, you can openly discuss issues in your class or school, explore what’s working well in practice, and examine any new opportunities to improve your pedagogy and content knowledge for teaching.

#3 Share Your Resources

Create a system through which members of your PLC can share curricula, materials, and resources related to the standards. You can share resources easily with an online tools, such as Google Drive. Shared resources expose you to practices and methods you might not have considered.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the same scope or sequence as other teachers. Eventually you will be responsible for engaging your students in the same material and will greatly benefit from having access to frameworks that you can access and modify for your use. And everyone benefits as teachers modify tools and share them back. Just remember, when developing and openly sharing resources like this, it is important to establish a vetting process to ensure the materials meet the standards and all of your students’ needs.