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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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Comments (12)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Ms.Garcia's picture
Ms.Garcia
High School English Teacher from Navajo Nation

Reading through the article, I started brainstorming on how I could start to apply this at my school. But I was happy to see that morning conversations with coffee count! I know I have a much better first hour after joking in the morning with the other teachers. Maybe it is because I already have a smile on my face so the students are willing to smile back and make it a good day. Love the other great advice too.

David Orphal's picture
David Orphal
Introduction to Education and Cyber-High teacher from Oakland, CA

This year I wanted to get better at using formative assessments to promote learning for my students. I got 9 other teachers at my school on-board to do a book club. i got the club funded, so each of us gets free copies of the books. We're reading:

Ahead of the Curve - ISBN-10: 1934009067 - Reeves (ed.)
ClassroomAssessment that Works - ISBN-10: 1416604227 - Marzano
Introduction to Student Involved Assessment - ISBN-10: 0132563835 - Stiggens
How to Grade for learning - ISBN-10: 1412953820 - O'Connor
Unwrapping the Standards - ISBN-10: 0970945558 - Ainsworth

Holly's picture

Great article! Do you have any suggestions for those of us who teach in one room schools? There are most likely very few of us, but we are out there. This is my second year as head teacher of a one room school. I don't have any colleagues and I don't get any breaks or planning periods (even my lunch "break" is with the kids). I just teach. All day.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014

Hi Holly,

Your situation is definitely a unique one. Might you reach out to parents and family of the students you teach to volunteer to assist with projects, working one-on-one with students, etc.? That way you can have some adult interaction during the day.

Another suggestion: Find another teacher in your community to lesson plan with, "attend" a webinar together, or just meet for coffee.

Best,
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia

Daniel DuFour's picture
Daniel DuFour
Social Science Dept. Chair - Bayside Community Day School

Daniel DuFour Response:

I am currently teaching at Bayside Community Day School in Moreno Valley, CA. I want to first say that I like the ideas that you have listed down to try and create a more 'team' atmosphere amongst your colleagues. I believe that teachers today need to make a conscious effort to change the way that teachers traditionally operate. Traditionally, teachers were independent of one another; they created their own lesson plans, their own assessments and assignments, and sometimes even their own curriculum. I do not believe that we need to all have universal lesson plans. However, I do believe that teachers need to work as an educated team to continuously challenge the current teaching strategies that are being used currently. Within my department, we make an effort to meet both formally and informally a few times a week to discuss what it going on in the school, in the classrooms and even just in our own lives. I believe that this has allowed us to help create a more positive learning environment for the students. It has also allowed for the teachers, I included, to strive to make improvements in our own teaching. With what current teachers know today about Professional Learning Communities, both in human interaction as you said, via the internet, I would think that it be a shame for us to disregard the many ideas and tools out there for teachers to use today. When I first began teaching, I remember that the most overwhelming part of my first year as a teacher was creating lesson plans. Fortunately, I taught, and still do teach, at a school where the teachers use many of the ideas that you listed. In following these ideas that you mentioned, I was able to not only better create lesson plans and classroom management, but just simply air out my concerns or frustrations. For me, lunchtime with the teachers became my "Soup for the Soul." I also found that in creating a bond with the teachers, I was able to also take a larger role in the decisions that were being made in the school. In creating a comradery with the teachers, I was able to gain their trust, which in turn helped me to gain an ability to make decisions in the school. I feel that when you help to make decisions in the school, as far as curriculum being taught, textbooks being used, student behavior standards, etc., you actually have a bigger influence than if you were to just stay inside the classroom all day and avoid your colleagues. When this occurs, you get to help make changes that you feel are necessary and may even cause you to have teacher burnout down the road. Finally, when you create a bond with your colleagues, you create a more harmonious relationship with them as well. In doing so, you will all feel more open and trusting in discussing educational concerns, strategies and needs in a more friendly and open environment, rather than a sheltered and defense environment, which does not allow for positive change.

Daniel DuFour

Jamie Armin's picture
Jamie Armin
Health Science & Life Skills Middle School teacher from MA

Several of us get together and do something fun during the school year and summer. Who else understands us better than ourselves? We plan a movie and dinner night out or lunch & shopping. In our school, we have breakfast for the staff 4-6 times a year. It may be the Exploratory or Science or English Dept. We have had a few breast cancer awareness and fundraiser breakfasts the past few years. It's a nice way to start the day. You get to chat with colleagues who you wouldn't otherwise see due to scheduling and meetings. Our lunches can be fun as well. We keep them light but funny. What happens at the lunch table, stays at the lunch table :-)

Jamie Armin's picture
Jamie Armin
Health Science & Life Skills Middle School teacher from MA

oops...didn't finish...It may be one of the departments that sponsors the breakfast. Each department member brings in a breakfast item. We also do pot luck lunches on PD days.

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Edu Consultant. Blogger & Social Media Marketing at Edutopia
Blogger 2014
Facilitator 2014

[quote]This year I wanted to get better at using formative assessments to promote learning for my students. I got 9 other teachers at my school on-board to do a book club. i got the club funded, so each of us gets free copies of the books. We're reading:

Ahead of the Curve - ISBN-10: 1934009067 - Reeves (ed.)

ClassroomAssessment that Works - ISBN-10: 1416604227 - Marzano

Introduction to Student Involved Assessment - ISBN-10: 0132563835 - Stiggens

How to Grade for learning - ISBN-10: 1412953820 - O'Connor

Unwrapping the Standards - ISBN-10: 0970945558 - Ainsworth[/quote]

David this is AWESOME! Would you be willing to email me your resource for this book club as well as your proposal? I'd love to do a Book Club with "newbies" and experienced teachers this summer.
Cheers!
~L

Daniel DuFour's picture
Daniel DuFour
Social Science Dept. Chair - Bayside Community Day School

In response to Holly,
I think that the best suggestion for you would be to join educational websites, such as Edutopia, where you can speak with fellow educators about a myriad of concerns. When I first began teaching I was overwhelmed with the amount of lesson planning, grading and other teacher duties that I was responsible for. I found sanctity in using the educational websites out there. Using these websites I was able to find lesson plans, activities, strategies and tips for classroom management, working with colleagues and parents, and even just to hear from other teachers having similar problems in their classrooms. It is important that you do work with other teachers to avoid burnout. The amount of work and effort it takes to teach year after year can become overwhelming, especially if you do not have other teachers to work with. On a personal note, I think that you should also try finding time to relax and set time aside for yourself to not be a 'teacher.' Try writing or reading, or even doing a hobby that interests you, so as to reclaim your non work-self. Hopes this helps.

Daniel DuFour

Daniel DuFour's picture
Daniel DuFour
Social Science Dept. Chair - Bayside Community Day School

In response to Lisa,
I love the idea of working on formative assessment. I have begun to really focus on ridding my class of summative assessment. I have found that the summative assessment, though purposeful for state testing, really gives no accurate feedback on student progression. I understand that summative assessment, at this point, is necessary at the state level, but for a teacher, it serves no purpose. I have begun to use formative assessment every one to two weeks, and I have found that it gives me enormous feedback on student growth. It also helps me to more accurately plan my lessons. I also enjoy the formative assessment because I can stray away from just using the multiple choice questions. Using formative assessment, I can have the student perform more hands-on tasks, such as: drawing, journal writing, Document Based Quizzes, short answer and even group or oral project based learning activities. It has helped to create a more positive and fun learning environment for my students. In using formative assessment, I can create more meaningful lesson objectives, goals, power standards and even control my curriculum pacing more accurately. I would love to hear about any books that your group finds informative.

Daniel DuFour

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