Ibuprofen, Advil, Tylenol, Asprin, Excedrin… Mainstays of a first-year teacher you ask? Before the semester started, I was predicting scores of headaches from lack of sleep, staring at papers and computer screens, and stress in general (I still hadn’t been paid yet when I started writing this). However, with the exception of copious amounts of coffee–limited only by the fact that I am very very far from the closest bathroom–I have been very short on needing relief. I have popped a few ‘profen, but I’m happy with saying it’s been fewer than 10 for the first six weeks.
Once again, I want to give credit to my Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter. There is no end to the benefits I have experienced from the many teachers participating in conversations. Through the web I’ve been able to connect with administrators, researchers, and authors directly in a way that no other medium can offer. I’ve used the metaphor of a coffee shop before; Twitter has provided a place where I can casually mingle with other educators from around the globe and share opinions, stories, and advice. Without the experiences I have had online over the past year or so, I know I would be teaching differently.
Most of all, my attitude and energy have been buffered by the support of other teachers and leaders in education: those here in my building are wonderful, but I have to count those of you from Twitter equally! Whenever I have a doubt, a question, a concern, or a joy to share I can count on getting at least one response back quickly from a peer. Sometimes, it’s just that one that I need. Other times, I find great comfort in the multiplicity of opinions and experiences that my PLN offers me.
Would I be staring down at the bottom of an empty bottle of Excedrin right now without my PLN? It’s possible, but not entirely certain. Twitter made it so easy to access other teachers, I can’t help but wonder what my classroom, my lesson plans, my grading, and my teaching would look like if that part of me were missing. I don’t want to discount those here in my building either though. I think without real human contact, teaching can’t develop fully. The men and women in my building have shared so much with me, and I owe them all many thanks.
PLN and PLC (Personal Learning Community) are buzzwords first I think–and I hate the use of such words simply for their own sake. I’ve used the term “alphabet soup” before to refer to the murky waters of scholastic semantics, because I truly feel like meaning can be lost whilst fishing for the right acronym with one’s spoon. That being said, these two concepts are very important to me; they stress something that is central to cultivating learning amongst students: community.
If knowledge is truly socially constructed, rather than drawn from within a person or placed into a person by an authority, than actively participating in a community should be at the center of every educator’s philosophy. To answer the question my superintendents always ask, sharing our successes– as teachers–is always what’s best for kids.
What can you find at the bottom of a bottle of Excedrin? The bottom of a pot of coffee? It may be some form of peace, a temporary solution to the sum of your stresses, but compared to the power of a supportive community it is static. Those solutions are one-way fixes. The coffee gives me what I expect from it every time, as does the headache pill. A community gives to me and asks that I share in return as a part of the growth process. Solutions to the complex and emotional task of teaching are not simple switches to be toggled on or off. I have truly found that sharing in a two-way with my peers is as important for me as a teacher as it is for my students.
You don’t need to call me in the morning, but I would challenge you to take these two steps:
1.) Ask yourself how connected you really are to a community.
2.) Find someone new to share with today.