Benefits of Connecting with a Faculty-Peer Community Online

This content originally appeared on Online Learning Tips.

This is episode number 27, “Connecting with a faculty peer community online.” This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Connecting with a Community Can Ease Isolation, Frustration and Stress

As you know, we’ve all moved into online education. Whether you were already there 100% of the time, as I was, or maybe you were teaching live face-to-face classes and you had to move to online over the last six or seven months, many of us have been teaching 100% online.

With that comes some isolation, some frustration, stress. That normal routine you might’ve had, getting in the car, driving down to the school and teaching your classes, that disappeared, and that daily rhythm with it. Whatever made you feel that sense of structure and community, it dissolved almost overnight.

In the fall, some people got that back just a little bit, but it might be helpful to connect with a faculty-peer community online if you haven’t done so already.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to connect with faculty communities online, what kinds of communities you might think about and what style might suit you.

Now, why is it such a challenge to find communities when you’re working only online? This can be challenging because there are so many options.

There are, for example, over a billion Facebook groups alone. If you wanted to find a community in there, it might be difficult to do so. It makes it difficult to know where to start or even get involved, and adding something else to your online life can also become a distraction, especially with a high workload or a lot of students you’re teaching.

So in this episode, you’re going to learn how to focus that effort and build the type of community that will suit you best.

3 Ways Online Communities Can Support Teachers

The first thing I’d like to share with you is that there are really three important ways that communities can support you as an educator.

The first kind is a big professional community. This is where you keep growing, become your best as an educator, and keep aiming towards being connected to that larger world beyond your online classroom. This helps you create community with your students because you’re also focused on learning yourself.

And, of course, in the online classroom, we always want to build a learning-focused community atmosphere. Professional communities can help us stay relevant. So we might hear something up to date, something that ties to current events, or the latest practice or idea for teaching something. We’re going to stay up to date in the field; we’re also going to grow professionally.

Some of the things you might get from a larger professional community might be a newsletter, a conference, a blog, a webinar, some of these could be on topics that you’re interested in. For example, if you teach communication, maybe it’ll be about teaching public speaking or interpersonal communications.

It will be also about grade-level appropriate material. So you might have public school-age things, preschool-age things, college-level things, for whatever kind of educator you are, or you might specifically choose one for online educators.

And for that, I highly recommend the Online Learning Consortium. They have a lot of articles, a lot of best practices online, and they also have an online conference coming up in November of this year.

You can start a blog to share your ideas with a larger professional community if you’re into creation. If you have a lot of ideas you really want to get out there and you want to share your own voice, you might also consider starting a podcast. With that, you can have a website where your podcast connects, and you can build your own community that connects with your specific ideas.

You can join social networks geared at your topic, your teaching level, or online generally, or you could look in Ning or Facebook and build a new group.

There are so many ways to get involved in a large professional community. And again, the focus of this kind of activity is typically so that you can become connected beyond the local area, and beyond your individual participation as an educator, and feel a bigger sense of purpose, a sense of connection with a bigger career field, and also connect with the ideas of others, with the potential to share some of your own.

Now, if you’re looking for a large community that you would like to join, I highly recommend looking at your field and seeing what kind of organizations already exist. Many professional areas — music, art, math, writing, languages, mathematics, science, all kinds of areas — have their own professional organizations.

And many of these organizations are also specific. Or, they have divisions within them that are specific to different teaching levels, such as secondary, elementary, higher education, or homeschooling, even.

As you join professional organizations, you’re going to find a lot of material. Over the last six or so months in particular, much has been written, created, put on video, created in a webinar, or just put out there in other formats to help people get online, feel connected to their online teaching, and connect with each other with ideas.

So you’re going to find there are a lot of professional communities out there that can support you in feeling the bigger purpose of what you’re doing and having a field of ideas and tools beyond what you just have within your own toolbox. So think about joining a large community to support yourself, but also to contribute.

A second way that a community can support educators is to get connected on the local level. So your local community might be something like your community college district, the university you teach at, your public school district, the state or city teachers’ organization. Depending on your city, whether it’s large or small, there might be more local groups or more regional and statewide groups.

When you join these organizations, you’re going to connect with people who have similar experiences with the region and the kind of people that live there. And you might also see them face-to-face in the future, when you go to live meetings or when you’re at your school, seeing people in the hallway and so forth.

Believe it or not, it’s very likely that will happen, that we will see each other face-to-face again. Some of you are already doing that now.

Now, when you join a local professional community for educators, you have that opportunity, yet again, to share what you’re experiencing, share strategies and collaborate with others. You might be able to do shared curriculum projects, create research projects, and do other things that take your professional self into that larger realm of professional community by adding to the knowledge that is out there, as well as diving into the strategies and ideas of the now, what you might teach now, what you might share now, and how you might meet the needs of your learners right now.

A third type of community and a third way that you can be supported in your professional communities as an educator is through individual peers. You can be supported by an individual peer who works in the same area as you.

Maybe this person works in the same local area. Maybe they are a colleague or a mentor or someone that you might mentor in your school district, your university or your college district.

You might find colleagues that you know personally, that you’ve already met and worked with. Sometimes you can observe each other in the same online classroom, if you work for the same institution.

You can observe each other, share ideas, give feedback, share curriculum and swap strategy ideas. You can also talk about what experience you’re having and provide emotional support to each other.

If you like to mentor others or if you want a mentor, you can consider how you might become one for someone in your local area or someone in your professional organization. So there’s much that can be done to give and take in situations online right now. You can even do your mentoring through Zoom if you need to or on another online interaction method.

So think about how you might be able to benefit from or get involved in either the larger professional community in your subject area or in online education, in your local community, maybe your school district, your state organization or your community college district, and through individual peers and networks that you might already have established.

Once you’ve thought about how these three different levels of involvement and types of groupings might benefit you, the next step is to decide how do you choose how much to get involved and what involvement would suit you best.

Choose Your Involvement Based on Needs and Preferences

In order to make your choice here, I would suggest considering your personal preferences and your focus. Your personal preferences might just have to do with your personality or the way you manage time. Or maybe you have small children at home, and you have just only a small bit of time to contribute or to use toward professional community. Whatever your situation, think about what works best for you.

There are some people who truly appreciate one-on-one deeper relationships. And maybe in a case like that, you’ll want to build some community with some of your colleagues, some of your peers that work nearby.

If you really prefer feeling connected to that bigger sense of purpose, you might choose the larger organizations, or attending webinars and participating in social groups and blogs online.

The other part is thinking about your focus. Do you want to focus on your teaching or your content? Do you want to consume or create and share?

So here are some questions to help you decide what level of community would you really like to be involved in right now, and what would help you most:

  • Would you prefer social support, or content and teaching strategies?
  • Do you prefer a close connection with only a few people, or affiliation with established larger groups and organizations?
  • Do you want to support others, or do you prefer to have support from others in a mentoring manner?
  • Would you like to lead, create, mentor and contribute to larger-idea places?
  • Do you want live virtual events you can attend and updates on your calendar, or do you prefer to passively engage at your leisure?

Make Time to Engage, and Focus on Positivity

As you think about professional communities and what they can do for you, what connections they can make with you and for you, and how this might help you keep your head in the game of the bigger picture of teaching, bringing your students along, and being part of a bigger community yourself, make time to engage in the community, whether it’s one-to-one live gatherings or online groups, and then ask for help, advice, and ideas at times.

When you ask a question, others will engage with you, and that invites conversation and collaboration.

And then focus on connecting, growing and positivity. Negative community experiences can take away from your energy, which is already in limited supply, and make it difficult to set goals and keep learning and being resilient. So best wishes to you in choosing how you might get connected.

And as you’re thinking about where you would like to start, I would like to suggest three different websites I came across that might offer some value to you:

  • One is trueeducationpartnerships.com. This appears to be a website from the UK, with 20 or more of the best online community sites for teachers, and it’s a great treasure trove of information.
  • The second one is called weareteachers.com, has some great ideas to help you feel connected and also overcome some of the negative aspects of being socially distant.
  • And the third one is educatorinnovator.org. This one is powered by the National Writing Project, and it’s a hub for connected learning. There are a lot of great ideas there, blogs and ways to get connected, as well. Thank you again for listening, and I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

This content originally appeared on Online Learning Tips.