Are Personal Learning Networks the Key to Keeping Teachers?
Educator shortages continue to be a top concern for many. And the trend of teachers leaving the classroom is unlikely to reverse course anytime soon.
In a recent National Education Association survey of roughly 3,600 educators, more than half indicated that they were likely to leave or retire from education sooner than planned because of the pandemic. Perhaps more distressing, Black and Hispanic/Latino educators—already underrepresented in the classroom—indicated an early departure at even higher rates than their White counterparts.
In terms of mitigation, raising teacher salaries was, understandably, the option supported most strongly by educators. Other preferred strategies included providing mental health and behavioral support for students, hiring more support staff and reducing paperwork requirements. However, hiring additional teachers ranked second overall on that list.
Yet, if adding new teachers to the roster is to be a lasting solution to this growing problem, schools and districts must be able to effectively support and retain those newcomers once they are hired. How do they ensure that new educators don’t burn out and leave the profession like so many of their predecessors?
A new twist on an old idea may be one way that tomorrow’s educators find and keep their spark in the classroom.
Putting the ‘Person’ in Personal Learning Networks
While educators building communities to learn and share ideas isn’t new, today’s personal learning networks (PLNs) offer educators the chance to hone their focus and build their practice in specific areas of professional development. Educators can access the knowledge and expertise of others and share their own experience in a constructive, solution-oriented setting. These networks are proving valuable to veteran and new educators alike, all seeking to focus and improve their practice.
As part of its Reinvent the Classroom initiative, a collaboration with HP, Microsoft and Intel, Digital Promise hosts the HP Teaching Fellows. The program is designed to support innovative elementary and secondary school teachers across the U.S. and Canada who demonstrate powerful teaching and learning with technology.
The fourth, and newest, cohort consists of six educators from Tulsa. This cohort is unique for its composition of educators—three of the six began teaching during the pandemic, and all teach in North Tulsa, a region historically challenged by economic and racial inequities. This new cohort connects educators from different schools within Tulsa, as well as the other 75 fellows located across the U.S. and Canada. This opportunity will offer them a broader perspective on the powerful use of technology in the classroom. The Fellowship program has proven to be a lifeline for educators facing the tremendous challenges of the pandemic and its impact on their students and practice.
“Now, more than ever, educators need a consistent network of compassionate, creative peers,” says Reinvent the Classroom Project Director Nick Schiner. “Our team is thrilled to have the opportunity and responsibility to meaningfully connect educators while supporting their professional learning and growth.”
Digital Promise tapped Ashley Campbell, a professional development practitioner with Foresight Consulting, to facilitate the district-specific network and focus the fellows in their personal and professional growth. Campbell implements a system she refers to as “continuous empowerment.” The goal of this method is to operate in a way that is continual and not disjointed. The fellows are meant to leverage one another as partners and collaborators to accelerate their personal and professional goals and expand on theory to incorporate innovative teaching practices.
Within this network space, the group will identify their individual and collective needs through surveys and one-on-one conversations. As Campbell explains, these conversations are an opportunity to focus on stretching or adjusting thinking and practice. They may also be an open dialogue to address historic and systemic issues. Additionally, Tulsa fellows will conduct equity-centered check-ins to reflect on their own experiences and how they work within broader goals of the Tulsa school district.
What Motivates Teachers?
New HP Teaching Fellow Australia Brown identified building a PLN as one of her primary motivations for joining the program. “I hope to bring back to my students different ways to present the learning materials. The opportunity to learn from experienced teachers who have learned to innovate to help their students will help me gain the knowledge I need to give my students what they need.”
Brown and the other HP Teaching Fellows in Tulsa join a network with practitioners like veteran educator and HP Teaching Fellow Tara Bova, who joined the program in 2021 for the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other educators. Bova credits the program with shifting her classroom practice, specifically, “changing and reframing my mindset to think about the product and then about the process, which leads to a better product from my students.”
Dean Vendramin, another HP Teaching Fellow, has found value in the support he gets from other fellows, as well as practical advice, which actually lightens his load. “There’s such a support network; it makes your job a little easier when you know there are people we can rely on.”
Such a shift may feel relatively small when compared to the tremendous challenges that educators and students are facing. But perhaps strong PLNs are the right tool to empower teachers to continue their practice and provide the resources and support needed to fight for improvements in the education system.
Learn how to apply for the next round of HP Teaching Fellows.