The Power of Online Communities for Teachers

The Power of Online Communities for Teachers

This may be surprising to some, but teaching can be a lonely profession many days. While teachers are surrounded by people, there’s often little time for collaboration or discussion with peers. My days are filled with exciting moments of discovery with students, of course, but also the challenge of sneaking in a lunch or prep period. It’s easy to get to the end of the day or week and realize I’ve had little interaction with the adults in my building.

When I first considered using technology in my classroom and practice, I didn’t expect connection and community to be among the biggest benefits. I certainly didn’t expect that it would change my life. But it has.

This year, as I started an exciting new role as a technology coach for my district, I’ve found myself reflecting on how I got here. I’ve come to realize that some of my favorite technologies—and the community of fellow users surrounding them—have played an outsized role in my journey to become a better educator.

I want to share how one decision to try something new helped me build new connections in and around my classroom and how that one change has made a world of difference. After all, it’s hard to have a lonely day of teaching when you’re surrounded by friends supporting you and cheering you on!

In with the new

Several years ago, I began using ClassDojo, a communications app for the classroom. I was excited by how it allowed me to create a positive classroom environment for my students. What teacher doesn’t want that?

My students and I shared photos, videos, and messages with their families about what was going on in school, which strengthened our classroom community. Using videos and activities as a jumping-off point allowed me to spark conversations about skills like empathy and teamwork, concepts that are important to learn at a young age. Essentially, it helped make my classroom a positive, encouraging space for everyone.

What I didn’t expect, however, was the amazing community that sprang up around it.

Connecting online

ClassDojo’s online community of tens of thousands of teachers around the world has impacted my life in amazing ways. On Facebook and Twitter, we brainstorm fresh ideas about how to best use technology in the classroom, knowing we’re sure to get helpful feedback.

A few years ago, I welcomed a student to my class who spoke a language other than English and was visually impaired. I turned to the ClassDojo educator community for help, and suggestions on how to use technology to better teach my student came pouring in.

That’s not a rare occurrence. My online colleagues and I constantly create new and helpful resources and share them with each other. We push each other to better ourselves. I met one of my closest friends through the Facebook community. Jen Ellison teaches at an elementary school in California, and we share new ideas and best practices each week when we talk. Without this community, I never would have crossed paths with someone like Jen. I live and teach in a small school in Tennessee where I’m surrounded by great teachers, but opportunities for finding mentors and discovering fresh ideas can be limited by our size. Becoming a part of such a large and passionate online community has led to a world of personal and professional growth that may otherwise have been impossible.

Connecting at conferences

Conferences are another great way to discover smart educators from around the world who share a love for teaching and the ways technology can improve it. I started attending smaller, state-level meetings about a decade ago but never dreamed of presenting at one. Often, I felt that I was hearing very little I did not already know. With everything I learned from the online community, I realized I had some ideas to add to the conversation.

I began presenting at small conferences, teaching educators about a variety of classroom technologies. Soon, I was presenting at larger events, like the Tennessee Educational Technology Conference and the International Society for Technology in Education conference. These conferences have helped establish my expertise in classroom technology and led to my being quoted in publications like USA Today.

I never would have had the courage to present without first finding a community of like-minded teachers. All of this helped lead me to my new role as a technology coach.

Teacher takeaways

I encourage you to consider where you can tap into thriving communities of practice—within your own school or district or online. We are strengthened when we draw upon the passions and insights of each other. For me, being open to new technology and approaches reinvigorated my career and reminded me I wasn’t alone.

You don’t have to dive into the deep end to get started. Just join a group or follow along on a Twitter hashtag and, before you know it, you’ll have an entire ocean of opportunity ahead of you. We encourage our students to be brave and go after their dreams. We should, too.

This piece was originally published in eSchool News on April 4, 2018.

Stephanie Smith is an instructional technology coach at Rutherford County Schools in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She previously taught fourth grade at Roy L. Waldron Elementary School.