Will Virtual Really Work?
Teachers Who Say It Can and Does

This past week I travelled to North Carolina to meet the team at the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), a nonprofit with a mission to “connect, ready, and mobilize teacher leaders to transform our schools.”

During the meeting, I met half a dozen teacher leaders from all over the country by video chat. They had taken the time to let us know what kinds of networks they belong to, what it takes to be part of a digital community and how the connections to other teachers through the network keeps them excited about teaching. These “teacherpreneurs” include Nancy Gardner, an English teacher from Mooresville, North Carolina who works with the state education department on Common Core implementation and professional development; Fayette County, Kentucky, math teacher Ali Wright, who is helping to create a community of educators to lead Common Core efforts in her state; and Hillsborough County, Florida, media specialist Julie Hiltz, who helps teachers find leadership roles that fit their passions and skills.

Just the day before, I had met with some leaders from another network who were struggling with some technology decisions about how to create a digital community. My one piece of advice: Don’t start with the technology. My conversation with CTQ confirmed the need to begin with the community and first cultivate the relationships and protocols needed to have rich conversations before thinking about which platform or which tool to use to bring them together. CTQ began their community with a Listserv, which has evolved into what they now call the Collaboratory. It’s a haven for teacher leaders who want to connect with other educators that have similar interests. There are also smaller “labs” focused on more specific topics.

Many other networks could probably learn a lesson from CTQ about how to form a vibrant and robust online conversation that keeps teachers coming back. We’re thinking of gathering some of these organizations later this year to share best practices about digital communities from outside of education. But for now, find one best practice at CTQ.  Click here to meet more of their virtual community organizers and you’ll see what I mean!

– C.