Teaching well with virtual networks
Maureen Devlin
October 3, 2016

In the past five years, there has been tremendous education sharing via social media threads. Many educators, like me, have joined online conversations and developed our individual and collective teaching/learning craft with strength, thanks to this tremendous exchange of knowledge, information and ideas.

At a turning point in my career about five years ago, I was first drawn to virtual networks for support. At that time, the reading and research I was doing did not match what was happening in the organization where I taught. I felt quite alone and isolated, and I didn’t know where to turn. After attending a number of technology integration seminars and workshops, I decided to turn to the internet for support, feedback and greater growth and challenge.

I started a blog, Teach Children Well, and began to write daily about classroom events, learning/teaching questions, and the reading and research I was doing. I also began a Twitter account with the Twitter handle @lookforsun. I chose that name to remind myself to tweet with positivity and respect. As a Twitter member, I also began to engage in Twitter chats. Through the mostly hour-long chats, I started to follow a number of notable educators because of their inspiring research, writing, questions and ideas. As I started following specific educators, I also started reading their blogs and learning from their experiences and words. I shared my own blog posts via Twitter and received feedback and comments. Eventually I started a professional Facebook and Google+ accounts because those accounts lend themselves to deeper, more targeted share and discussion.

The more I interacted online, the greater my confidence grew for employing and advocating for new ideas. I also began to learn about new books, conferences, edcamps and other vehicles for educators to share and devleop ideas. The growing number of educators I chose to follow began writing books, keynoting education conferences and authoring websites. I continued following their work and then started to sign up for workshops and events where they presented in person. I made a point of getting to know these thought leaders online and in real time as they were proving to be the educational leaders I looked to for mentoring and coaching.

As my virtual network of education leaders grew, so did my ability to teach well. The many new ideas and programs curated through online and real time conversations, questions and presentations served my students well. Challenges related to classroom management, choosing good resources, designing lessons and differentiation that I had experienced as a teacher began to disappear, and as these issues disappeared my enjoyment, expertise, and success at teaching children well began to grow.

While I always had support within my school district with regard to teaching well, opening up my work, sharing, and questions to the broader education community significantly impacted my work. Regular idea sharing with dedicated education leaders and practitioners via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blogs, and online communities such as National Board of Professional Teaching Standards -- NBPTS --, Center for Teaching Quality -- CTQ --, Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers -- ECET2 --, and National Education Association -- NEA -- nurture what I can do with and for children daily. I rarely experience the sense of isolation I once felt prior to my virtual community interactions.

So, to teach well today, it’s in your best interest to become an active participant in one or more virtual networks. Virtual networks provide educators with places to ask questions, share information and learn about new research and ideas. Take the first step by joining Twitter or another online discussion thread. Then participate in a chat or start your own blog. After that, begin following educators who inspire you by signing up to receive their blogs or reading their tweets and conversations each day. Then follow their leads and attend a noteworthy conference, webinar, edcamp or other learning event so you can meet those you follow in person. With a step-by-step approach, you’ll find that virtual communities will add value to your professional repertoire as you reach to teach children well.

Maureen Devlin is a member of the Center for Teaching Quality collaboratory and a National Board Certified Teacher who has been teaching elementary school for 31 years. She also has taught teacher candidates at Framingham State University and Northeastern University as an adjunct professor, and she now serves on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Teacher Advisory Board and the Massachusetts Teachers Association's Professional Learning Committee.

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