While we spend our waking hours at schools surrounded by people, as educators we may sometimes feel isolated and lonely in different ways. We may work with exemplary professionals, but we may not always have colleagues who share our personal educational philosophies, specific interests within our profession, or even our faith in Christ. When we attend professional development conferences, this may be an opportunity to connect with other educators outside of our immediate school community regarding philosophy, pedagogy, and faith. Throughout my career, I have found these experiences at conferences to be life-giving and an important opportunity to widen my perspective and professional network.
While conferences can be excellent opportunities for professional growth, they are not always a realistic option for all educators due to limited funding, limited time, or required preparation. If attending conferences is not an option, how can educators embed professional development into their everyday lives?
Early in my career, I decided to weave professional development into my daily routine. I taught at an amazing Christian school with like-minded educators who shared my educational philosophies and faith background. However, as a new teacher, I felt like I constantly needed to know more about the profession. As the novice teacher, my knowledge base paled in comparison to that of my veteran colleagues. While I was able to attend one professional conference annually, I knew I needed frequent opportunities to grow as an educator. To do this, I turned to my computer. I was shocked to find so many informal professional learning communities online. Three resources that have allowed me to grow professionally on a regular basis include Facebook, Instagram, and podcasts. These platforms have been my ongoing sources of professional development. I use these tools to stay current, informed, and connected in the field.
On Facebook, I joined several groups that bustle each day with collaboration, community, and conversation. As an English teacher, I joined groups that focused on content and pedagogical innovations for language arts instruction. I became exposed to new texts and exploratory teaching methods.
I was shocked to find that educators also share free resources in these groups. This year, when the national news story broke that undocumented children were separated from their parents, an educator in one of the Facebook groups put together an entire literary unit on immigration in response to this national crisis. She posted the link to a Google folder in the Facebook group. Many educators downloaded her materials and implemented the curriculum into their classrooms. Others offered supplemental materials to support the curriculum she created. It was a beautiful collaboration and powerful curricular response to an issue that impacted many schools and classrooms across the country.
New educators often post questions in the Facebook groups. Beginning educators commonly post questions about how to handle a situation with a student or how they should respond to a parent email. They will ask questions about how to support a specific struggling student or how to approach administration about various topics. The veteran educators diligently respond and offer sound advice. The collective wisdom in these groups provides rich community and daily opportunities to grow as an educator.
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Elizabeth Yomantas is an assistant professor of teaching and the director of clinical practice at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. Before beginning her work in higher education, she was a middle school English teacher. Elizabeth’s research interests include: teacher education, indigenous Fijian education, and culturally responsive curricula.