Teachers all around the world have one thing in common – a desire to help their students learn. Many note the satisfaction of seeing light bulbs ping above the learners heads as they grasp a difficult concept. There’s also the knowledge that the skills you help your students develop will last a lifetime, staying with them throughout their education and in their careers.
At the same time, teaching can be a lonely profession. This might seem counterintuitive at first. After all, you’re surrounded by students. But what many English language teachers miss is a sense of community and a personal learning network of their own.
Being part of a teaching community is important for many reasons, including personal well being, professional development and career longevity. Let’s take a look at why we think every teacher should be part of a teaching and learning community.
The benefits of a teaching community
There are a number of reasons why we think teachers can benefit from being part of a professional teaching community.
1. Finding support
At the heart of every community is a safe space, where members can talk about the challenges they are facing – and find solutions.
New and experienced English language teachers alike face problems related to classroom management, student motivation, behavioral issues, and syllabus planning (among other things). Asking a peer how they approach these issues as they arise is a great way to find quick answers to difficult questions.
2. Collaborating with peers
Teachers are creative communicators. Many enjoy designing their own lesson plans, finding new ways to work with published materials, and have a real focus on personalizing the learning experience for their students.
A teaching community, whether it’s online or face to face, can be an excellent place to share resources, ideas and tips for the classroom. It helps keep classes fresh and interesting for both students and teachers.
3. Feeling accountable
Like all professionals, English language learners want to achieve professional goals. These goals can relate to teaching a particular class, taking a specific course or certification, or simply improving an aspect of their teaching practice.
When you’re working alone, it can sometimes be easy to let things slide, or lose motivation. With an engaged peer group behind you, you’ll feel accountable for your progress. You’ll also be involved in encouraging others to develop professionally themselves.
4. Finding mentors (and mentees)
The importance of coaching and mentoring in teaching can’t be overstated. New teachers in their first or second year of teaching often feel lost at sea. When you’re faced with new questions and learning challenges, it’s important to have someone to turn to when you’re struggling.
Experienced mentors who have been through it all themselves are brilliant to have onside. Regardless of whether this relationship is encouraged by a school or teaching academy or is arranged personally, it can be beneficial for both parties.
Mentees benefit from the support, wisdom and advice of the mentors. As for the mentors themselves, they also develop professionally, as they too have the chance to reflect on their personal experiences. Many mentors find it deeply rewarding to help colleages learn from their hard-won experience.
5. Taking a break
Like all professions, there is a certain amount of stress tied to teaching, so the importance of relaxation shouldn’t be underestimated! A teaching community can provide educators with a place to socialise or have a coffee (or virtual coffee) with peers. Not only does this build rapport and friendships, but it makes going to work more enjoyable.
6. Making the workplace a better place to be
Finally, teaching communities simply make the workplace a better place to be. From an institutional perspective, this has an impact on teacher retention. When teachers feel more supported and valued, they’ll feel happy in their roles.
How to build a teaching community of your own
There are lots of ways to build an engaged community of teachers at your school or academy. Here are some ideas to help you get things started:
At your school or academy
The best place to start is by asking people in the staffroom if they would be interested in any community building activities. Get a feel for what people would like to do and send out a simple (two or three question) form to get people feedback and ideas.
An easy and free way to do this would be through Google forms or Typeform. If you do not have access to email addresses for data protection reasons, you can ask your school admin team to send this out.
Then it’s a simple matter of going through the ideas and arranging a date to kick things off. It’s good to start small, with a simple social event – and then go from there.
Some popular ideas include:
- Social events (coffee mornings, quiz nights, day trips)
- Lesson planning “jams”
- Mentorship days, where new and experienced teachers come together to talk out classroom challenges and solutions.
Offering and asking for peer observation
If you’ve taken a CELTA qualification or other official teaching course, you will have experienced peer observation. Having another teacher sit in on your classes to give you constructive criticism and encouragement can be extremely valuable in your first year or two of teaching.
Offering a critical eye to other teachers can be useful for the observer too. After all, there will be lots of new ideas and activities to see in action.
If you’re part of a teaching community, these observations can be arranged easily – even more so now that a lot of teaching is done online.
The best communities are organic
Of course, the administration team at any English language academy can facilitate spaces, team building days and social events. But communities are stronger when they are teacher-led. It often just takes one motivated teacher to get the ball rolling. By asking in the staff room and looking for peer support, you’ll soon have an exciting, motivated teaching community that you can be proud of.
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