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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Six Ways to Avoid Feeling Isolated in the Classroom

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

It's easy to get caught up in the worlds of the tikes, teens, or tweens we teach. I remember after a couple of years of teaching eleventh graders, I would fall into speaking teenspeak to my friends. They would give me a funny look as I said, "And you know, it's like, whatever."

Unlike our friends and family working in the private sector, we teachers spend 98 percent of our time, not with peers, but with children and in our classrooms. So it's easy to forget to reach out and have adult conversations during our workdays. (Taking breaks from the room where you teach is also important.)

Sure, PLNs and other online social networking groups are fantastic and definitely serve a purpose, but we are human -- and we need human contact and connection.

And especially with humans our own age. (There's nothing more disconcerting than making a reference to pop culture you think kids you teach will know. I recently referenced the singer Prince. The students stared at me blankly...FAIL!)

With budget cuts being what they are these days, less and less professional development opportunities are happening for teachers during the workday. So it's even more important to get proactive and create time to collaborate or just connect with your colleagues.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Arrange to eat lunch with a few colleagues at least twice a week. If you are inviting kids to your room, or sitting alone in your classroom with your thoughts and turkey sandwich, fine, but just not everyday.
  2. Create a time once a week or every other week where you merge your class with another teacher's. Meet outside, in the cafeteria, or library to read together, do writer's workshop, or practice speech debate.
  3. If a secondary teacher, co-teach once in awhile during your conference time. The other teacher can do the same, lending you a helping hand. Follow the visit with a reflective conversation sharing how you think the lesson went.
  4. Create a walking club with a group of teachers and office staff. Walk the block or campus during lunch or recess.
  5. How about a lunch time book club?
  6. Host a round robin share once a week with a group of colleagues you admire. Sit in a circle and each share for 3 minutes a strategy, activity, or project that really shined that week in your classroom. Leave 10 minutes after the round robin for one on one time to give specifics for those wanting more information.

If it's just too difficult to do much with other adults during your workday...

  • Visit a museum or gallery with a colleague after work, or see a film related to education or your content and follow it up with a coffee/cocktail and a chat
  • For early risers, have breakfast together or a cup of coffee before the start of the school day
  • Sign up with a colleague for an evening class or weekend conference

The key here is that isolating in your classroom can be a fast road to feeling low efficacy, lonely, even unhappy -- in plain, to burning out. And burn out is the great hazard of our profession. Staying connected, in real time, face-to-face, with your teacher colleagues is essential.

About his research on happiness, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert puts it this way:

"We are by far the most social species on Earth," explains Gilbert. "If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn't want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I'd want to know about your social network -- about your friends and family and the strength of the bonds with them."

How do you stay connected with colleagues on your campus? Please share!




Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
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