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3 Types of Networks Every Educator Must Join

Students require great teaching every day to master the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions needed to graduate ready for careers and college. I believe we can make this a reality when every educator shares the responsibility for the success of more students than are listed on their individual class rosters. This means third-grade teacher Allison Green is committed to the success of all third graders at Hill Elementary. This also means that high school world history teacher Fred Walker is committed to the success of all high school world history students at Washington High School.

This is where learning networks come in. I believe in their power to support individual and collective growth, and I believe there are three types of networks that can support educator learning and promote shared responsibility.

First and foremost, networking begins at the school where educators work. School systems must provide every educator the resources to engage actively in a network that pays attention to the adult and student needs of everyone participating in the network. Identifying learning priorities begins with an analysis of data on student performance and proceeds through the development of a learning agenda. Establishing and executing a learning agenda means that every member of the learning network commits to acquiring and implementing new knowledge and skills, supporting each other in improving practice, assessing the impact of the new practices on their students, and refining the learning and practice agenda when the results are not as intended. When educators learn with colleagues in their schools, new practices move from classroom to classroom and, when principals are involved in a systemwide network, from school to school. These networks promote systemic rather than fragmented change and make it possible for more students to benefit from their teachers' network participation.

Second, every educator benefits from participation in a network of educators who work in different schools or school systems and who are pursuing similar goals. These networks specialize in particular topics and offer opportunities for educators to dig deeper in areas of individual interest or need. For example, educators may find others who are interested in integrating technology more effectively in instruction. Or educators may seek others who are committed to the education policy landscape and want to build an action plan for influencing local and national policy. Some of these networks may exist within an educator's community and provide opportunities for face-to-face interactions; others may be available only virtually. Either way, they engage educators with other colleagues beyond their schools and, ideally, they challenge educators on a daily basis to see issues from multiple perspectives and offer new resources and opportunities for change and improvement.

Third, every educator benefits from participation in a professional association. Professional associations typically offer educators opportunities to meet like-minded colleagues, stay on the cutting edge in a field of study, and advance a shared vision and mission. Twenty-first century associations support virtual and face-to-face networks that address issues relevant to their field and to their members. These networks help educators to seek external perspectives and advise in addressing challenges and achieving results. Too often, educators are limited by the expertise of their learning team; turning to a network facilitated by a professional association should offer access to solutions and resources to address daily problems of practice. Educators don't need to spend time reinventing wheels; rather, they need to know how to access the depth of knowledge and resources available, and their professional associations should be a place they can turn.

As a professional association, we aspire to serve members this way -- by becoming one of their essential networks. I invite you to help us understand how to best meet your needs today and tomorrow.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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