I don’t know a teacher who doesn’t want to make a difference in the learning and, yes, even the lives of her students—kind of what we signed up for. But, I also don’t know a one of us that can do that single-handedly. That’s why we gather to learn and collaborate together and that’s where learning communities come in.
Three exemplary learning communities come to my mind.
NCTE’s Pathways Professional Development Program is making a difference for over 1500 participants in 50+ schools and districts across the nation. Pathways participants collaborate in an online platform replete with resources to ask, study, and answer questions about their teaching. These teachers end up learning more about teaching and learning as they use the Pathways resources to reflect on and to change how they work with their students. For example, Michelle Beck, Curriculum Director, Effingham Community Schools, Illinois, notes,
"Pathways ended up being a great tool for us because we were able to tap into resources we would’ve never had access to otherwise. We were able to listen to podcasts and then discuss what we heard and talk about articles that researchers and other teachers had written. These were conversations we had never had before. We had never talked that deeply about our practice and why one thing may work better than another...That generated rich discussion, and that discussion prompted a lot of change within our English Department."
Another teacher community which you’ll see around NCTE is the Assembly for National Board Certified Teachers. Many states have cohorts of NBCTs, both teachers preparing to become board certified and those who already have. Did you know that one-third of this year’s Teachers of the Year are NBCTs?
The National Writing Project has served as a professional community for over 30 years, for thousands of teachers from around the nation (and the world) and in many disciplines. Over 25 years ago, the Capitol Writing Project (the Richmond, Virginia, site of the National Writing Project) changed my teaching life by anchoring me in a community of colleagues who taught me and sustained me in my teaching. I trace back the best of what I know about teaching writing to six weeks during one hot summer in Richmond when I was both a student and a teacher of writing—when I learned with others who encouraged me to keep learning, to try new methods, to reflect upon what I was doing, and to strive even when I didn’t want to. Throughout the summer, these colleagues were there both to support and to nudge me, and to this day I still work with some of them. I continue to be nurtured by that experience because it taught me how to keep on learning and gave me a way to continue to learn how to teach. From that writing project I became involved with my local and state affiliates and that’s how I came to NCTE.
I’m sure that those of us who have participated in learning communities don’t need a report to tell us how influential these communities are both on ourselves and on our students, but two recent reports have done just that:
• The National Staff Development Council’s “Professional Learning in the Learning Profession” points to the importance of learning communities for teachers.
• Met Life’s first in a series of reports from its annual survey of American teachers, Part 1: Effective Teaching and Leadership discusses what collaboration looks like in schools.
These reports can help us convince others of the significance of our learning together to enhance our effectiveness as teachers and in turn to improve our students’ learning. After all, it really does take a community.