How to Build Your Teacher Network
by Mike Willard
Teacher turnover rates are high, especially among early-career teachers. In the Southeast U.S., where salaries are relatively low, and turnover is the highest, 16.7 percent of teachers either switch careers or jobs every year.
A robust and supportive teacher network can help educators endure difficult times, setting them up for success and a long career in the profession. We'll show you how to build a strong, supportive professional teacher network through events, social media and within your school system.
Why your teacher network is critical
Teacher turnover is a problem that plagues our school systems. According to the Learning Policy Institute, one of the primary reasons new teachers leave the profession is a lack of support. But when you are new to a profession, it can be tough to know where to look for help and mentorship. Luckily, you are surrounded by people who can make the early years of your career easier.
Professional learning committees, teacher mentors, social media communities and networking events serve as the building blocks of a strong teacher support network. Once you connect with other teachers in meaningful ways, you'll begin to build the support system you need. The challenges you face as a new educator — and the solutions you implement with the help of your network — will be what make you a strong job candidate as you progress in your career. Consider each difficult experience a stepping stone, include them in your cover letters whenever you're ready to move on to a new job.
Here are four ways to build your teacher network:
1. Professional Learning Committees (PLC)
A Professional Learning Committee (PLC) consists of a small group of course-alike or grade-alike educators that meet regularly to discuss teaching strategies as a means of guiding future instruction. These short, collaborative sessions are designed to improve the members' teaching skills and the students' academic performance.
Most schools assign teachers to a PLC. The PLC can be a foundation of a teacher's professional network. A PLC will help new teachers through every aspect of unit planning, from creating daily lessons to developing assessments and rubrics. New teachers have the opportunity to rely on the expertise of the other PLC members as he or she gains experience and builds confidence in the classroom.
An effective PLC will help a new teacher do the following:
- Develop unit planners
New teachers should be able to rely on more experienced team members to help them craft effective lessons within each unit. This collaboration relieves the stress of creating everything from scratch. Also, new teachers can learn how to form effective lesson plans.
- Create authentic assessments
The PLC can assist in the creation of assessments and rubrics. This provides valuable experience and relieves the stress placed on the beginning teacher.
- Develop instructional skills
PLC members can share best instructional practices and offer opportunities to implement these practices in the classroom.
- Foster critical thinking
Effective PLCs examine and question their own instructional practices in their efforts to improve student performance. As you try new instructional strategies, you will be able to evaluate their implementation. This reflection develops your ability to create effective lessons.
2. Teacher mentoring programs
Many school districts connect new teachers with experienced mentor teachers within the school or district. A teacher mentor provides emotional support for a new teacher. The mentor often becomes a one-on-one confidant and serves as a more intimate sounding board than the PLC. Here are some tips on how to build the relationship:
- Meet one-on-one at least once a week
If possible, try to eat lunch together. Spending just 20 minutes together during lunch provides time to build a relationship and share how your day has been. If schedules prevent spending lunch together, try to make it a point to meet once or twice a week after school.
- Be honest and vulnerable
All teachers, regardless of whether they are new or seasoned veterans, are going to make mistakes. There will be times when a teacher realizes the lesson isn't going the way they envisioned it, or there will be times when a teacher just can't seem to reach a student. Sharing these frustrations with the mentor offers an opportunity to vent and reflect upon how to approach the situation differently. More than likely, your mentor has faced the same issues and is happy to offer advice.
- Ask questions
Mentors are often happy to offer guidance based on their years of experience. Use the wisdom your mentor shares to help navigate those tough situations.
- Be a risk-taker
It is important to try new strategies and techniques as you develop your repertoire. Your mentor will probably suggest many instructional practices. Testing those strategies will build your connection and give you new tools in the classroom. Share what worked for you with your mentor as you work together to develop your teaching style.
3. Social media and teacher networking sites
Online communities offer another way of developing a support system. An online network can be especially important in isolated school districts that have fewer opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Several educator networking sites that offer lesson ideas and classroom management strategies. Edmodo, TeacherTube and TeachersConnect are a few networking websites that cater specifically to teachers and provide instructional tools.
New teachers might also find emotional support through online communities. Starting a blog or reading others' blogs provides an avenue for discussing struggles. TeachersConnect, for example, allows users to easily connect with other educators and provide advice and support. If your school district doesn't offer teacher-mentor programs, seek out an online community for professional support.
Broader social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram also offer education-related content. Many teachers subscribe to certain channels or follow specific accounts to stay abreast of what is happening in other schools and classrooms.
4. Teacher networking events
Local, regional and national teacher networking events are fantastic opportunities to expand your contacts and to meet other educators with similar goals. Many school districts offer professional development opportunities during the summer or in-service days. These events provide a chance to meet teachers from other schools that have common professional interests.
The International Baccalaureate Organization and the College Board present a variety of regional workshops and teacher networking events. These organizations offer professional opportunities to become graders or workshop presenters. Non-profit educational groups and government agencies also host other professional development opportunities during the summer. For example, the National Parks Service runs teacher workshops on-site at many national parks. These workshops provide a chance to learn more about the parks' unique art, history and science.
Attending networking events expands the number of teachers and educators in your sphere. As you begin to make connections, you will likely develop confidence in your teaching ability and become a more effective teacher. Before you know it, you'll be the one offering advice to the next crop of beginning teachers.