There are 3 million teachers in the United States, and they do almost all of their work on their own—teaching students, preparing lessons, solving problems—because their colleagues are down the hall in their own classrooms, doing the same thing.
That’s why I love the education conference we support each year called “Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching.” I attended the gathering this summer, and was blown away: teachers—in their out of class time—had organized it, run it, and were the presenters and panelists. They spent their summer vacations doing this because knew there were other teachers out there they could learn from and compare experiences with, and they suspected something big might happen if they could share their ideas with each other.
I sat in on a round-table discussion with five teachers who focused specifically on how happy they were that social media, technology, and conferences like this one were giving them more and more ways to collaborate with their millions of peers.
Barry, for example, who teaches fifth graders in New Jersey, talked about being nervous a few days before teaching a lesson on Robert Frost. “I stink at teaching Robert Frost,” he said. So he called a ninth-grade honors teacher he’d met online who’d become a mentor, and they talked about Robert Frost, tossing ideas back and forth, until he had a great lesson planned. The day after the lesson, his students got in touch with the other teacher and talked to him about what they’d learned, and by the time they were done, a class of fifth graders in New Jersey was collaborating on a project with a class of ninth graders in Illinois. This kind of thing could never have happened without technology—and without teachers who used it to collaborate in new ways.
Allison, on the other hand, after years of teaching third grade in North Carolina, was suddenly assigned to teach sixth grade. She turned to Twitter for advice and moral support; within a few minutes she had sent out a dozen tweets and started getting replies. And getting replies. And getting replies. She got ideas about project-based learning for earth science, first-week activities, and the best ways to discipline sixth graders.
The stories about teachers connecting through social media kept coming. One teacher got in touch through social media with a well-known principal in a city she was visiting and took a tour of his school. Another had the idea to ask her students to tweet their state legislators, and the legislators ended up in her classroom, discussing state education policy with her.
“Innovative educators often find themselves isolated in their schools,” said Valeria, who teaches in Florida. But more and more, she and the others at the table are finding themselves able to connect with others with the same kinds of ideas. “You don’t feel like you’re the crazy one,” said Cheryl, a junior high teacher in Arizona. “Your ideas and your perceptions resonate.”
Barry, who used to stink at teaching Robert Frost, put it best when he said, “We’re not going to live in a silo.” If this conversation was any indication, once they're outside of their old silos, teachers are going to unleash each other’s powers in very exciting ways.