Many posts and articles online refer to ‘global classrooms’ and breaking down the walls between the little silos we’ve established to group kids under our control. That’s part tradition, part architecture, part comfort zone. I know myself that despite being quite happy for colleagues and visitors to come into ‘my’ classroom, there’s still a moment of panic when I hyper-analyse every aspect of what I’m doing in a split second of insecurity. (Of course, this is usually followed by an extended period of a mild form of panic for the rest of the visit, but I’m good at hiding that)
So amongst those of the educational Twitterati, the bloggers and writers of articles, the ISTE-goers and the flippers, there’s some consensus that one’s classroom is no longer limited to a brick box with windows and a door. We can go beyond – when we can – to include our colleagues and their classes, whether they are at the same school or beyond the gates. We can include experts in person or via Skype, to bring in other kinds of knowledge. We can draw in information and virtual experiences that help our students explore the depths or space, or ancient worlds, or distant cities.
But what about when we leave the classroom (physical or digital) and go back to our desk with its stacks of books or marking, its half-dry whiteboard markers and post-it notes? When we sit at our desks and look around at our hard working colleagues, do we see the walls or can we see through them? With all the administration, the planning, the marking and the permanent ‘to-do’ list, it’s incredibly easy for teachers with a full load of classes to feel siloed by their own environment.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about potential. We often speak about and comment on students reaching their potential (or not). Whether you think it is positive or negative to discuss achieving one’s potential, I’d like to make the argument that perhaps it’s time to start leveraging the potential well of experience, knowledge, skill and creativity that we have in the teaching profession. Despite professional associations, unions, networks and informal groups existing only slightly less than forever, never before has it been easier for teachers to connect, share and grow in an exponential, dynamic and high-impact form using simple technologies that are often provided for free.
Twitter is, for me, the obvious stand out. I consider it both a place to start conversations and a place to share quickly and easily with others. I do not consider it a place where one can take a stream of tweets as an accurate portrayal of a person, but it does help make ‘water cooler’ conversations of the past become widespread and ongoing regardless of time and geography. Facebook is similar, and I have begun to use it increasingly as a way to stay in touch with colleagues from other schools. Combined with a blog or wiki or website, these tools can provide a teacher with an almost instantaneous network of people, places and experiences that they may never have been in touch with before as a professional. That is quite powerful.
Taking the next step and getting back to my point, the potential for (and of) a global staffroom has increased dramatically with the support of various commercial and non-commercial digital entities. Teachers are more than happy to fork out a few dollars (or yen, or pounds..etc) to purchase products and services that are useful to their practice. Increasingly, there are services who require little to no money and are supported by governments, philanthropic bodies or other non-profit organisations which becomes more appealing to teachers like me. Services like Edmodo allow teachers to fairly easily set up a virtual space for their classes and begin sharing information and dialogue with their students. Free, easy and accessible for teachers and students, these are the kinds of services that can tap into our potential.
I’ve always found it amazingly fruitful and professionally beneficial to both gather and share information in professional forums. For example, the History Teachers’ Association (HTA) of New South Wales (http://www.htansw.asn.au/) is a prime example of a well-established professional group who share considerable ideas and experience at their professional development events. However – and this is true of all associations – without tools such as Facebook, Twitter or other truly interactive online technologies, and the effective use of them, those great ideas are chained to a place or a time. Unable to reach the potential audience and have a truly dramatic impact on the lives of learners. Happily the HTA have both a Twitter account and Facebook page, which makes it much easier to reach a connected audience beyond traditional media.
Similarly, the Times Education Supplement has, for a long time now, provided an online environment for teachers who are either calmly trawling for new ideas and resources or who are panicked desperados who have to teach a lesson RIGHT NOW and have no idea what to do. (Note: I’ve been in both categories) TES Connect as it is now called, provides job information, teaching resources and community networks for teachers to share ideas, experiences and professional growth for the benefit of all.
On Monday 22 July, I will be helping to launch the TES Australia website (@TESAustralia on Twitter). This is a site that has the potential to explode (in a good way) the potential of teachers in Australia. With over 9000 schools in Australia at the time of writing, just imagine what might happen when each teacher is invited to provide just a few resources in their specialty area and beyond. There are already over 500 000 resources available to teachers through the TES. Each resource has been developed by educators and in the vast majority of cases, are tried and tested in the classroom. I’m always happy to support and promote good ideas, especially the ones that don’t cost teachers or schools anything and at the same time support our community of practice without attempting to change who are are through corporate or authoritative strategies.
If all teachers in Australia provided just one or two of their ideas to this kind of repository, we could finally start focusing less on content and more on pedagogy. If the materials, ideas, concepts and plans are already there for us to adapt to our own learning environments, we are liberated to spend more time to think on how we do what we do. So I beg you, on metaphorical knees, to encourage your colleagues to join a service like TES Australia and contribute something – it’s the only way we will reach, and surpass, the collective potential of our profession.
If you have been a pre-service teacher who has walked into a school and found the resources in that department wanting (or inaccessible), share something on TES. If you have been a new graduate placed in a school where the environment or ideas seem tired or overworked, share something. If you are a teacher who’s been at it for several years and had some success with the myriad classes we meet, share something. If you are a veteran teacher who can capture a student’s imagination with a story or an activity and it’s worked time and time again, share something. All you need do is go to www.tesaustralia.com, sign up and join the global staffroom.