Find Your Tribe: A conversation with two new teachers
Recently, two ‘Young Millennial’ teachers sat down for an awesome Google Hangout conversation to chat about how we built our Personal Learning Networks. Together, we wanted to share some of our experiences that have helped us find our tribe in these first few years of teaching!
Susan graduated in 2018 with Math and ESL degrees from Illinois State University and is currently a 4th Grade Teacher in a Catholic School in the south suburbs of Chicago. She is by far the expert in our generation of teachers on virtual connections; she has built an incredible PLN on Twitter, is the co-host of the Pondering Education Podcast, and moderates the #newteacherjourney chat on Sundays. Listen to her journey on the Teach Better Talk podcast (Episode 34). She also was recently published for the first time!! Check out her section of Chasing Greatness today!
Erin graduated in 2016 with English and Secondary Education degrees from the University of Rhode Island and is currently a 9th Grade English Teacher in southern Rhode Island. She has been creating a network (YES RI) of beginning teachers in her state to connect through monthly professional development workshops and social opportunities.Listen to her journey on the Teach Better Talk podcast (Episode 36).
Virtual Professional Learning Network
Susan remembers her curiosity about the world of ‘Teacher Twitter’ was piqued when fellow ISU grad and guest speaker to her education class Rae Hughart mentioned it once. “It was in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t going to get into it... but then I started doing chats with her - I think her Mastery Chat - and I started playing around with [Twitter], then was like oh, I’m hooked!!” She then took her new interest to a whole new level, finding different chats and following tons of educators, not only local but also around the country. She also started hosting chats for her fellow education students at ISU, but quickly realized that (like many ‘Young Millennials’) they didn’t know how to use Twitter for professional purposes! She asked a professor to give her the reins of his class for a day, and showed her peers how to set up their Twitter and find other educators or chats. She promoted and hosted a chat during that class time, and everyone was amazed at the conversations that were started! Today, during her first year, she is still connected with all those students and professors (who were so excited to see what all of their former students were doing during the chat) which has been invaluable for her in this first year.
Reflection has been the biggest advantage for Susan’s personal practice that has come from this experience of cultivating a PLN on Twitter. Being exposed to hundreds of new ideas and theories could have been overwhelming, but Susan chose to start conversations with the teachers she was connecting with to learn from their process. That dialogue helped her plan her own practices in a more effective manner, and by sharing her reflections she was able to continue the conversation. One of the most memorable teaching practices that she has implemented after a Twitter Chat has been ‘Mystery Skype’; “My students loved it - they still talk about it to this day, and I really need to plan another one!”
The biggest challenge that Susan has faced in sustaining this huge PLN has been time. She was able to schedule in time for a chat almost every night when she was in school, but as a first year teacher it has been much harder. She took a break from Twitter for a little while, but knew she needed to be a bit more flexible and regain that time in her weekly schedule. “I know that it’s worth it… [after the break] I wanted to get back on, so I started joining some chats and I just felt more excited for the day that was coming … I felt more motivated for the next day because I was going to try something new”.
That is something that every new teacher should take away from Susan’s journey! Be open and honest with students, and don’t be afraid to try new things. That open, honest, and humble dedication to your new teaching journey will help you find your (virtual) tribe!
Local Professional Learning Network
Erin was reflecting on the differences between her first and second years of teaching while on a longer run last spring, when the idea for the Young Educators Society of Rhode Island was formed. She had left a small urban charter school for a huge rural public school, and aside from those obvious differences there was something missing from each school that the other had. “I was surrounded by new teachers at the charter school - I think about 70% of the staff at the high school was hired the same time I was - but I was one of few young teachers at my new school. The community and friendships at the charter school were incredible, and the experienced professionals at my new school were absolutely invaluable. I wondered if those two aspects could be combined in some way?” The answer was found in relationships. A network of new teachers that met regularly outside of their school could form those crucial relationships, and by bringing in guest experts that new community could be constantly accessing new ideas and practices to improve their classrooms.
The biggest challenge was just starting. Erin cold-called and emailed everyone she could think of for feedback on this idea; her current colleagues, friends from college, the state union representative, family friends who were teachers, her old middle and high school teachers, and the RI Commissioner of Education. “That was definitely the scariest part. I was so nervous, but I was also convinced that it could have a really great impact on the future of education in my tiny state, so I pushed those nerves in a corner for a few months”. Now, YES RI has been active for almost six months and has connected teachers in almost every school district in the state, serving pre-service teacher prep candidates through teachers with a decade of experience.
Connecting with other educators has been the biggest advantage for Erin’s personal teaching practice through this process of growing a local PLN. Amazing educational organizations like the Teach Better Team, the Highlander Institute, and Leadership Rhode Island have volunteered their time to share their experiences and practices YES RI. One theory that Erin took away from one of these workshops was the idea of cultivating strengths-based leadership in her students. “[Leadership Rhode Island] hosted the first workshop, and the data to support this mindset is incredible. It takes the growth mindset theory to a whole new level, and if my students can identify their strengths and start to emphasize them as freshmen, imagine how much more prepared they will be for college!”
Those connections are invaluable for beginning teachers. Taking risks, being vulnerable, and actively listening to as much feedback as possible, will help you not only find the best educators in your area but also find the best practices for your students. Take the first step to cultivate those relationships, and soon enough you will find your (local) tribe!