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Autonomy and Collaboration: The Strengths of Online Teacher PD

Brianna Crowley

I was 26, starting my fourth year of teaching, and in danger of becoming part of the 50 percent of new teachers  who quit by year five in the classroom. Although I could recognize plenty of ways I could grow in my practice, I was frustrated at best (demoralized at worst) by the one-size-fits-all approach to professional development I was offered by my school. I craved time to collaborate with my colleagues, but no time was built into our day to learn together. I felt isolated and restless.

Then I found an online community of educators who taught in schools across the country and in classrooms ranging from pre-K to higher education. They were authors, keynote speakers, and policy advocates. This interdisciplinary and diverse community challenged me to adopt a new perspective: Rather than simply identifying problems in my district, my classroom,  and the educational system, I should propose the solutions.

The CTQ Collaboratory transformed my practice by allowing me to see myself as a teacher leader whose experience in the classroom should empower me to affect decisions outside of my classroom. With the support and encouragement of this teacher-leader community, I began to engage with other educator communities through Twitter, ASCD, and Edmodo. Through these networks, I found not only teachers, but principals, superintendents, and authors willing to discuss the issues I was passionate about: educational technology, educational policy, and reimagined schools.

While educational literature continues to promote personalized, differentiated learning for students, teacher PD ironically remains one dimensional and is often created with very little teacher input. With the proliferation of online communities, webinars, and educational chats, school districts shouldn't have to settle for the old practice of a "sit-and-get" for their professionals. Promoting online- learning communities as formalized professional development honors teachers' autonomy, professionalism, and commitment to life-long learning.

But online communities and digital learning spaces are not only valuable for what teachers can learn. These digital spaces offer new platforms for teachers to share what they know. Professional development is not limited to the great resources and ideas delivered by the identified experts. Instead, being a connected educator allows for mutual collaboration, and the chance for every teacher to share his/her expertise with countless others.

In my seventh year of teaching, my career has taken a direction I could not have predicted. I have a vibrant personal learning network (PLN) with educators who both challenge and encourage me on a daily basis. Likewise, I have developed the confidence to lead within my own areas of expertise and strength to enrich my community both locally and digitally. This mutual cycle of learning is perhaps the greatest testimony I can offer to transformative power of online communities.

Brianna Crowley teaches high school English in Hershey, Pa. She also serves an instructional-technology coach to implement her district's BYOD policy and advocate for authentic technology connections in classroom. She blogs for The Center for Teaching Quality and PASCD.

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