Each day, somewhere around the world, a teacher will walk into a classroom and plant a seed in a student. Each interaction a teacher has with a student is an opportunity to plant positive learning seeds. It is a moment to encourage students to explore their curiosities, pursue their passions, and get excited about the learning process. For many teachers this is a stressful and challenging process. Several of them feel like chained elephants bounded by their curriculums, national standards, standardized tests results, and education policy. This reality results in various missed teachable moments and missed opportunities for teachers to instill a desire for learning. This reality means teachers are drilling, teaching to tests, and lecturing. They are too frightened to take risks and capitalize on teachable moments.
Support through a school social network
Schools have the ability to support teacher innovation, risk-taking, and collaboration by setting up a support and mentoring system in their schools. Various free web tools and social networks offer teachers the ability to connect with each other and collaborate. In the We Connect Video, various teachers and students delineate the reasons to collaborate and learn through social networks.
Which tools are the best?
Administrators need to decide on which tools best meet their needs. Various schools have instilled a support network using a combination of tools, such as:
- having a hashtag on Twitter to place announcements or host a chat
- setting up a Facebook group for their teachers
- setting up a group on Edmodo, Wiggio, or a Ning
- creating a collaborative wiki or blog
- setting up virtual meetings on Google Hang Outs on Air
- setting up a Moodle for teachers and students
These platforms help teachers mentor each other online, share lesson ideas, host virtual meetings online, collaborate on lesson ideas, create a database of various lesson resources, post questions, answer questions, share frustrations or barriers they face in classes, share solutions to various problems and so much more. The online collaboration tool is not meant to replace frequent face- to- face collaboration. It is meant to spur and support the collaboration that takes place in these meetings year-round. The benefits include that these platforms are easily accessible anytime and anywhere there is an Internet connection.
When school administrators decide to create an online collaborative platform, they should consider the following:
- What are the platforms’ communication options?
- What archiving options does the platform have?
- What are the storage options?
- How much time is the staff willing to dedicate to participating on the platform?
- How user-friendly is the platform?
- Does the staff have access to the platform in and out of school?
- Does the platform support asynchronous and synchronous learning?
How do we get teachers to contribute their knowledge?
Administrators then need to determine how to best motivate teachers to use the platform to support each other and collaborate. They also need to consider how to motivate teachers to participate by sharing materials and knowledge. Many schools miss this crucial step and feel the platform has failed. Creating a collaborative environment and getting teachers to participate will take time and support. First, the teachers have to be trained on how to use the platform. Various of these collaborative tools have video tutorials and step by step manuals on how to use the platform. These should be some of the first items listed on the platform and shared at a hands-on workshop.
School administrators can also jumpstart the process by pulling aside teachers who exhibit great leadership skills in various subject areas and departments and give them specific roles on the platform. School administrators should discuss with these teacher leaders why the platform is in place and what they hope to accomplish with the online collaboration. They should seek their ideas in getting teachers to participate and collaborate. Some roles they can ask for help in immediately is sharing materials online. They should also ask the teacher leaders to support questions asked in the group or show support through likes or comments when teachers do post items in the group.
School administrators can also show support of their platforms by mentioning resources that were shared at meetings, functions or in the school paper or intercom announcements. More teachers will be encouraged to share their resources and more of the resources will be used. The idea is to get the online support to translate into instructional practice. This means that the sharing cannot just be online. School administrators need to take that extra step to highlighting what takes place online so that teachers see that the online platform is fully supported by the school leadership.
How online collaboration translates into school culture
Online collaboration improves a school’s culture and environment because when teachers improve their practice, students benefit. Online collaboration, when supported and implemented effectively, allows for continuous learning and collaboration. Teachers who are supported and learn continuously are better teachers. They reflect on their instructional practice and make improvements. They get excited by an idea and try it. They tend to have a proactive approach to the problems they face in their classrooms versus shutting down and hoping to get through the year. They tend to communicate better with parents and students. They also tend to have a better attitude and mood, which enhances student learning. Too many schools have policies that currently block social networks instead of taking advantage of their benefits. Our students are already learning on social networks. It is time we began to familiarize ourselves with the process so that we can raise digital learners who use these tools to collaborate and problem solve.