Building a community of teachers for STEM educators
I work with K-12 educators around the world as a STEM innovation specialist – through this work I know how overwhelming it is to be a teacher right now, no matter what. where you are physically.
About 65% of the teachers I work with have never taught online before, and they work hard to learn new technologies to meet the needs of their students. However, a simple Google search can quickly turn into hours in a rabbit hole, sifting through endless information, not knowing where to start.
This is just one example of why teaching communities are more important than ever. Educators need a safe space where they can help each other, learn from each other, and generate creative ideas to keep students engaged during this time.
Why Teacher Communities Are Important
Online Teacher Communities provide a platform for educators to connect and discuss any topic related to education. They can be found on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook – some even exist as stand-alone websites. Educators use these spaces to discuss lesson plans, blended learning tactics, and as a general venue to support each other.
I have seen more and more emphasis on how to actively involve students in their learning and in their social and emotional well-being. The other day a teacher asked how to get students to learn and besides brainstorming different strategies with group members, I also recommended using LEGO bricks for learning through play. When a teacher mentioned that she liked the idea but didn’t have the resources to send disinfected LEGO bricks to each of her students, I quickly shared a collection of grants that I knew she could ask for the funding she needed. A community of teachers allows us not only to share ideas, but also to share resources. Within a week, this teacher’s scholarship was accepted and she was able to use the funding she received to send LEGO bricks to all of her students.
How to find a community of teachers
Here are three ways I was successful in finding online teacher communities:
- Ask your peers “in person”. The best way to find an online community is often as simple as asking your school’s technology coordinator or STEM manager where to look. Other teachers or administrators may also be able to direct you to their favorite online communities.
- Join a well established online network. Here are some of my favorite online teaching communities:
- The LEGO Education Community: This is the perfect community for educators around the world who believe that play and exploration create successful learners who last a lifetime. For teachers who want to engage their students, this community offers active discussions, lesson plan exchanges, community events and is a great place for teachers to connect with each other.
- ISTE: If you are looking for a Professional Learning Network (PLN) that brings together educators from all over the world to provide a global perspective, then this is a great community to join.
- GEG Facebook Community: The Google Suite teacher community shares effective teaching practices and strategies. They also offer helpful tips and tricks for technical troubleshooting, which is extremely useful in today’s virtual classroom.
- TCEA Community: This community is entirely dedicated to EdTech. Connect with like-minded colleagues and share resources, experiences and ideas. The TCEA community includes over 15 content-specific subgroups, a comprehensive archive of EdTech webinars and allows us members to discuss the most important issues.
- SEL Facebook Group: This is a space for anyone interested in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Emotional Intelligence. The group is full of supporters for mainstreaming SEL into education, advocating for research on SEL best practices, and champions of SEL as something that can benefit all teachers.
- Look for hashtags. Use hashtags to find communities and keep participating in conversations related to everything from STEAM and robotics to SEL distance learning tactics. Some of my favorites are:
- #Distance learning
- # CSK8
- # Growth mindset
- #learning is better than chocolate
How to get the most out of a community of teachers
If you are already part of a community of teachers, continue to share photos, videos and resources to extend and enrich your learning from one teacher to another. If you are looking for best practices and problem solving in digital education, these online communities offer immense support from tech educators. These communities thrive when educators share what they know, ask questions, and listen.
Here are two lessons that I have developed thanks to my teaching communities:
- Celebrate Individuality: Teacher communities offer perspectives from teachers across the country that may differ from ours, but understanding all opinions makes us stronger educators. Understanding other perspectives through my digital communities has helped me create lessons that celebrate how individuality brings students together. I call it “The Candy Bar Community Builder”. I like to do this through Google Jamboard and have participants split into subgroups based on their favorite candy bar. After everyone has worked with their subgroup, they come together to discuss the differences and similarities. This exercise translates well in the classroom and stems from the fact that despite the different perspectives of educators, we all share the same goal of becoming better teachers.
- SEL activities: I have noticed that the teaching communities have made me aware of the well-being of the students. If you are looking for social and emotional learning activities for students, these learning communities should be the first place to turn for help. One of my favorite lessons that I took after getting inspired by an online digital community is the LEGO Gratitude Brick Game, where students collect LEGO bricks in different colors that represent signs of gratitude. I then split them into groups to celebrate what they are most grateful for. Online communities provide a way for teachers to share their frustrations and celebrations and have taught me that students need the same wellness checks.
The best way to benefit from a community of teachers is to share your voice, follow discussion threads, and listen to teachers with an open mind. As teachers we are stronger together and digital learning communities are the perfect place to connect.
Naomi Harm is a STEM Innovation Specialist, Global K-12 Education Consultant, Author and LEGO Education Master Educator.
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