THE BLOG
03/10/2014 04:45 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2014

Teachers Owning Their Learning

Much has and will be written about the number of days, the length of those days, and the total hours worked by teachers, but I think it's time to shift that narrative. It's time for the teaching profession to have a different conversation about our work. The complexity of artfully merging the science of teaching and learning with the societal turmoil that makes up the human condition is daunting and demanding. To support this effort, we as teachers, need structures and priorities to shift in such a way that allow teachers to fully develop, implement, reflect and refine our craft.

Traditionally the time of teachers that has been most valued, and primarily the time that we are compensated, has been the time teachers are directly in front of students. While this time is extremely vital and the efficacy and effectiveness of classroom practice is critically important to the success of students, the time it takes to develop these abilities by teachers must also be valued.

Currently, the vast majority of teachers get very little time, if any, to work at and on their craft. Managing classrooms and planning instruction consume much of the time teachers have in their limited resources. This doesn't even take into account any additional roles or responsibilities that teachers take on to make the whole child school experience a meaningful one.

But, teachers are starting to push-up in order to create space for themselves and each other to reflect and refine on teaching and learning. Primarily this is occurring in two ways:

1. Peer learning teams during/after school

2. Professional learning networks through social media

Peer learning teams

Peer learning teams are manifesting themselves in a variety of forms all over the country. The models are diverse but the common characteristics of the most effective peer learning teams address the specific problems of practice that exist in a teacher's classroom: an entire grade, a specific content, or school-wide. What's essential for these teams to work is a culture of growth and reflection and that teachers drive the work. Teachers are the ones creating the time and space for this by sacrificing planning time, staying late and meeting on weekends. I would warrant a guess that this commitment to constant learning and improvement, collegiality and trust, and openness and honesty are the exception instead of the norm. Forward-thinking administrators, schools and districts are beginning to carve more time during the school day for teachers to work on these essential skills, but oftentimes these top-down initiatives become exercises in compliance. In the classrooms and in schools that are seeing improved learning outcomes for students, teachers are the creators of and owners of their own learning. It reflects the types of classrooms we want our students to function and participate. Peer learning teams help establish a culture of learning that can consume and transform a school.

Professional learning networks

What's a teacher to do when the culture or climate of a school doesn't allow for peer learning teams that nurture reflection and refinement? One solution that isolated teachers are turning to is social media. While that name encompasses many types, brands and technologies, the philosophy driving each is rather uniform. Teachers, like never before, are able to seek out conversations, interactions, ideas and individuals that meet the need(s) of where a teacher is at in the spectrum of his/her craft.

One of the most popular venues for this shift is education blogging. Teachers are creating, writing, sharing and commenting on blogs like never before. The vulnerability that is required to put out into the blogosphere -- the doubts, reservations, successes and triumphs -- helps engage in the profession with teachers all across the country and the world in a way that hasn't really happened before. When individual teachers create and share insights and trials from the classroom, it removes the veil of mystery and secrecy that oftentimes shrouds teaching and learning. Slowly, this shared understanding of what the profession is and can be will work its way into the culture of the profession on a grander scale.

Another powerful tool that is allowing teachers to collaborate is Twitter. Teachers are taking to Twitter in amazing numbers and while it would seem like an inefficient way to share practice and ideas, it works surprisingly well. Organized and moderated "Twitter chats" occur practically around the clock and engage education professionals on an array of topics, interests, geography and courses. Chats like #edbookchat bring together authors from any field and teachers together to discuss big ideas. Also, #sblchat engages teachers on the benefits and struggles of implementing a standards-based grading system. In addition, #edtech allows teachers to discuss successful technology implementations and the barriers that exist in our schools with technology. These are just a few of the many "Twitter chats" that exist. Not sure about Twitter? Check out Charity Stephens's amazing "Introduction to Twitter for Teacher" blogpost for a rundown of the basics.

I encourage you to seek out the chats that appeal to you, fit your schedule, and meet your needs. Not all Twitter chats are created equal, but there is something for everyone. And, if there isn't, just create the chat you want or need.

It's so exciting to be in the profession of education. The limits of what can be accomplished seem to never end. All it takes is the courage and trust to put yourself out there into the space where others can help you reflect and refine the work we do with our students. And, in the end, children everywhere will benefit from the growth of teachers all over the globe.