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In what ways do teachers lead in public online spaces?

In what ways do teachers lead in public online spaces?

Written by Christina Cantrill
January 22, 2012

To support learning more about the ways that teachers lead in online public spaces in the context of an ethnographic research class I took last semester, I followed five of my colleagues, all writing project teacher-consultants, online for one month between September and October 2011 and then interviewed them about their work in November. I chose these specific teachers as they represented a diversity of teachers I know who do significant work online and because they are also considered teacher leaders by their peers and colleagues, both on and off-line. I mostly followed them via Twitter, using Tweetdeck.

My research question was, In what ways do teachers lead in public online spaces? And in order to define teacher leadership and to help me to make sense of what I learned about leadership by following their work, I used the core principles of teacher leadership described by Lieberman and Friedrich in their book, How Teachers Become Leaders: Learning from Practice and Research (2010, TC Press).

These principles include:

  • Advocating what’s right for students 
  • Opening the classroom door and going public with teaching; 
  • Working alongside teachers and leading collaboratively; 
  • Taking a stand; and 
  • Learning and reflecting on practice as a teacher and leader.

There are two important contexts for my study. The first is the complex of online spaces, forums and networks that these teachers are using and that I was following during the course of my study. I put together a map of my research that walks through the various spaces and gives a little context for how these spaces are used.

The other important context of this research is the National Writing Project (NWP) itself. All of us are members of the writing project network – I am national programs staff and they are teacher consultants, with various leadership roles, at their local writing projects. We all work together on different national initiatives, particularly focused on supporting digital literacy work. And because we all have the writing project in common, we share some common social practices within our work. These practices were documented in Ann Lieberman and Diane Wood’s article The Work of the National Writing Project: Social Practices in a Network Context.

These practices include:

  • Approaching every colleague as a potentially valuable contributor
  • Teachers teaching other teachers 
  • Creating public forums for sharing, dialogue, and critique 
  • Turning ownership of learning over to learners 
  • Situating learning in practice and relationships 
  • Providing multiple entry points into learning communities 
  • Reflecting on teaching through reflection on learning 
  • Sharing leadership 
  • Adopting a stance of inquiry 
  • Rethinking professional identity and linking it to professional community

This resource shares the findings I gathered over the course of the month and seeks to open conversations about what it looks like to lead in online public spaces as a teacher and a learner and what are the implications and key questions raised by this work.

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