Island Hopping

There’s an old saw in education about teaching being a solitary profession. The notion is that as often as not teachers close the doors of their classrooms and do their own thing, independent of what might be happening on other classroom islands.

When I started as a teacher back in the 1990s this was true. I could go weeks without seeing another adult in my classroom, and the times I watched others teach could be counted on one hand. Things changed a bit when I switched schools and found myself teaching in the same English Department as one of my best friends. Pure fun had us collaborating and combining classes, talking shop, and visiting each other’s rooms.

photo (2)When I moved to California and a new school, boom, back to the island.

Today, while it’s possible to isolate oneself from colleagues, the climate of education has changed. Administration, once relegated to offices and hidden behind serious countenances and striped neckties, is increasingly committed to visiting classrooms and engaging in conversation about teaching and learning. Teachers, still masters of their own islands, are less Robinson Crusoe and more sturdy paddlers of outrigger canoes. Island hopping abounds, both at school and online, some formal and encouraged by district and school leadership, some driven by teachers who hunger to connect with colleagues at their own school and beyond.

Here in my district Professional Learning Communities are de rigueur, teachers meeting with colleagues to discuss best practices, student performance, and all aspects of teaching and learning (and reteaching and understanding). Seeing teachers connecting with each other, supporting each other, and celebrating the good work going on in classes inspires me. Truth be told, it makes me wish I’d been a teacher now, not back when classroom felt as accessible as bank vaults.

Great teachers often take this connectivity beyond the confines of the classroom, going online to learn and share, joining communities on Twitter or other social media as they build a Professional Learning Network of educators without the boundaries of geography. Sometimes these PLNs manifest themselves in collective celebrations of curiosity like EdCamps, and broaden in experiences like Twitter chats.

I’m happy that I’m in education today, when teachers (and even administrators like me) see the work we do as interconnected. I love that I see teachers flocking to Twitter to share strategies and resources, and that I see departments take advantage of the collaborative time built into our bell schedule to connect with each other about how best to help kids learn.

So here’s to accessible archipelagos, where teachers know they have the freedom to bring their own vision to their work with students, and know that they’re not alone in the grand adventure of education.

Another point of view is just a short hop across the narrow water.

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