Blog Post by PTAC Member Georgette Hackman
Teaching can be lonely.
This sounds odd because we as teachers spend our day surrounded by other humans, but the actual art of teaching is normally done solo. Many teaching days involve hours of isolation from other adults in a classroom of students, often with the door closed.
Rarely do we as teachers step out of our solitary confines to co-teach or network with the teachers around us. Often, with the demands the system puts on us there isn’t much time for contact and collaboration with other adults.
The first part of my teaching career found me with lots of teacher friends, but very few that with whom I had opportunity for deep professional conversations. Talking about specific lessons, collaboration and brainstorming were things that I tried, but in the end I did most of my planning by myself.
The Teaching and Learning International Study (TALIS) conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has shown that American schools tend to not excel at providing the culture and opportunity for teachers to collaborate with each other. I certainly felt that in the beginning of my career.
Too many of my early attempts at collaboration were negative experiences. Instead of working to find innovative ways to help students, I was told over and over why my ideas wouldn’t work. The discussions ended there.
This caused me to believe that it was best for me not to reach out to others. Looking back I know this wasn’t best for my practice nor my students. I wonder how many current teachers feel this same way.
One year, on a whim, I applied for a week-long residential summer professional development session. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I love to learn and I love to travel, so it seemed like a
What I thought would be a fun week away learning new concepts ended up completely transforming my professional career.
So much so, that when I now reflect on my life as a teacher, I think of BPD (before professional development) and APD (after professional development).
What happened at this life-changing event?
How did it transform a teaching career in 5 short days?
What changed me really had nothing to do with the content. It had EVERYTHING to do with the people.
You see, at that session, I walked into a room and found myself surrounded by 35 other people
who were as enthusiastic as I was to grow as a professional. I found teachers whose passion for teaching matched mine. I found teachers who experienced the same joy that I experienced in lesson planning. I found teachers who wanted to sit and talk for hours about strategies and resources. I found teachers who couldn’t get enough of whatever could be done to help their students succeed.
In short, I found my people.
I was astounded. I went in thinking that I was alone.
I left knowing the true value of an authentic professional learning community.
Nine years later, I have attended at least 20 other PD sessions just like the first one and I have added hundreds of teachers to my Professional Learning Community (PLC). I have used what I’ve learned from these teachers around the world to engage and inspire the teachers in my school, my school district, and beyond.
I have even stepped into leadership roles planning and facilitating learning opportunities for other teachers.
I like to think of it as helping my fellow teachers to find their people.
Professional development isn’t the only place to build a PLC. As part of my professional journey, I have found that social media is a networking teacher’s dream.
Twitter, Facebook groups, and Instagram are all ways to connect with inspirational teachers from around the globe. Memberships in professional organizations like the Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee (PTAC) and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Network of State Teachers of the Year (NSTOY-PA) have helped me to add even more teachers to my PLC.
Finding other people who share your passion and commitment is exponentially transformative. In this act of networking is the recognition of our passion in the faces of others. Finding one another is powerful. Maintaining those connections is transformative.
Amy Poehler was 100% correct when she said, “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”
It changed mine.