Inquiry Question: How can my engagement with online education communities improve my teaching?

2010-11 Teaching Portfolio Entry #7

I first started blogging toward the end of my first year of teaching, back in 2005.  At the time, there were very few teachers who were doing reflective writing about their practice.  I maintained the blog for a couple of years through grad school and the beginning of my time at Bronx Lab.  However, I stopped blogging as I felt more of a disconnect between the problems I faces in my urban classroom and the issues the other teachers I communicated with engaged with in their suburban ones.

I returned to the “blogosphere” last spring, seeking once again to connect with others beyond the walls of my school, walls that at the time seemed to retard my professional development.  I was very quickly encouraged to join Twitter, which I did just in time for the maiden #sschats last summer, giving me a quickly expanding network of teachers who could support my growth.  My network would grown organically over the year.  Through my experience at the Educator Writers Association seminar, I also became connected to a much larger circle of more activist teachers.

My number one goal when I started writing again was to force myself to be more reflective in my practice.  In the past year, I’ve published 62 posts.  Thirty-three of these were reflective, or otherwise directly connected to my classroom.  Twenty-nine of the posts would fall more into the “advocacy” territory.  I’m proud that I was much more reflective than I was in the past years, but at the same time, I think I often allowed myself to get distracted by the hot educational topics de jour, which allowed me to focus more on larger issues of which I have no control at the expense of thinking deeply about the classroom that I do control.

The most important thing that came out of my online engagement was a frequently needed morale boost.  Especially as I moved into more of a coaching and leadership role this year, having another network of like-minded teachers to engage with kept me going through a lot of difficult periods this year.  I was able to get regular reminders of the value of the work I have been trying to do with my students, as well as hundreds of big and little ideas for improving my practice.  The best thing about being connected is the ability to get resources on demand, be it the right document for a lesson, or a better rubric for discussions.  There are so many things I took from others this year that it’s hard to even differentiate what I came up with and what was inspired directly or indirectly by others.  They all made me a better teacher for my students.

Looking back though, perhaps the most important things that my virtual interactions did was to encourage me to make new physical connections, which in the long run, may be the most important things I did this year.  It was only because I was online that I learned about EdCamp NYC, and on a whim when I woke up that morning early, I decided to put a presentation together.  It went well, and it gave me the confidence to step up to two other opportunities that I otherwise may have allowed to pass by: presenting at NCSS this fall, and much more importantly, taking a job doing professional development around inquiry-based assessments that are being piloted as part of NYC’s new teacher evaluation system.  Not only has it been an incredible experience to be part of this new work as it’s being developed, but working with the three other educators involved has been the best professional development of my life, and has completely transformed my approach to a lot of things I do in the class.

I am also quite proud of the EDUSolidarity initiative I conceived and helped organize.  It was great to see over a hundred bloggers step up in solidarity to share why, as good teachers, they support unions.  I hope that for many it was an experience that encourages them to get more involved with larger educational issues, where teachers’ voices desperately need to be heard.  On a personal note, helping to make that happen was an incredibly empowering experience, greatly increasing my sense of efficacy in the world.  Had that not happened, I never would have believed I could do something like raising money for a scholarship for one of my students who is undocumented.  Last I checked, we had raised somewhere north of $6000, which along with the money already in the scholarship, is enough to cover almost all of her first two years’ tuition.

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