A Small Window In
In looking at the Community Education Plan put forward by PCAPS, I note that they call for the building of “collective capacity for high-quality teaching and learning.” Linda Darling-Hammond commits a whole chapter to a related topic she calls “Doing What Matters Most: Developing Competent Teaching.” Here she writes that “Ultimately a well designed state and national infrastructure that ensures that schools have access to well-prepared teachers and knowledge about best practices is absolutely essential.” (197)
How then do we start to unpack what we know, protect what we need, while also working together on new visions of what is possible for teaching and learning today? In what ways can we work towards what Linda Darling-Hammond describes as “genuine school reform” and what is the role of learning and leadership in that mix? In my mind, this is key place where I think that teacher networks come in.
In attempt to create even a small window for myself into of the whys and hows of teacher networking in Philadelphia today, I sent out a request via the social networks that I am connected to and then also more generally distributed it via the popular #phillyeducation handle on twitter.
Inspired by the recent Celebration of Writing and Literacy event that brought together three teacher networks — PhilWP itself, Teachers Action Group and Teachers Lead Philly — I am interested in documenting and sharing the ways that teachers are currently networking in Philadelphia and in what ways they feel this networking is building capacity for themselves, for others and/or for equitable change in public schooling and learning.
If you are a local teacher connected to one of these three networks and/or networking in some other way, I’d love to hear from you! Thank you for considering this. Here is a quick link to my survey.
I was interested in hearing about capacity building — ie. why teachers network at all, what were the top three benefits of networking for themselves and others, and then if they had thoughts on how networking could also be a strategy for building capacity for equitable change in public schooling and learning more generally. Sixteen teachers have responded to my survey so far. One teacher wrote:
We only have our power in numbers. We can’t stay isolated in our classrooms. Our strength comes through networking — defending/transforming public education at all levels at all times, throughout the city in a variety of ways.
When asked to rank the top three impacts of teacher networking for themselves or others, teachers responded in these ways (and with more or less this frequency from top to bottom):
- intellectual and professional growth//gain insight & understand complexity
- personal and political development/individual and collective strength
- passion for equity/common cause/shared purpose/service to students
- improve community and contexts; build community; improve the curriculum
- specific learning (skills, practices, knowledge)
- power/activism/flip the script
- bringing together of resources
- solidarity w teachers/not alone
- gain a sense of the bigger picture/staying informed/inform and educate others
- social justice/equity
When asked about capacity building for change in public schooling and learning more generally, here were some of the responses:
- laying the groundwork for teacher-led schools “as a way to address capacity for turning around struggling schools and more actively engaging teachers, students and parents in the transforming schools.”;
- reaching outside of the public school system to garner support and resources/building of coalitions;
- new ideas and resources for in the classroom and beyond, ie. “the idea of using writing to promote social justice, which ultimately had a large impact on my teaching in a public education setting;”
- connect to events and resources;
- opportunities to brainstorm in the context of crisis and then share ideas about what actions we need to take to fix the problem.
Looking then at why individuals say that they themselves network with others, the responses were similar but had a particularly personal tone. Teacher used words like “inspired” “motivated” “sustained” and “validated” “encouraging” “empowering” and helping one to “make sense” of the whole rather than the just the individual situation.
Teaching is very isolating and I can get stuck in a place of self doubt. If I was not part of a teaching network I do not know if I would still be a teacher. They help me make sense of the complexity of teaching and remember what I love about teaching.
When asked about how they were networking, teachers in this survey responded with almost all the choices, including: informal networking, semi-formal, formal/organized, online, face-to-face, “blended”, local, national, event driven, on-going, and at points of need. Additional notes I made include that “International” networking was only chosen by 3 of the respondents, only 2 did not pick the “informal” networking as part of what they did, and one teacher did not choose “online” as a way of networking.
What do I see in all of this? I see Philadelphia teachers networking and self-organizing in a range of ways, some formal and some less so, around their own personal and professional learning. Based on their responses, they seem to indicate that this kind of personal and professional learning has a range of important consequences from the creation of community itself and their shared purposes as well as building coalitions, curriculum and gathering the resources and power they need to support change and action.
“Just as two head are better than one, 20 heads are better than two … Teacher networking can be a catalyst for change at the school, district, and state-wide levels if used the right way.” was the response of one teacher.