For the past six years we’ve been investing in teacher leaders in a variety of ways—through networks and programs that grow teacher leaders and through our own teacher conferences like ECET2. In the past year, I’ve started to pay attention to a set of what we call “teacher influencers.” These are teacher leaders in a digital space—they’re active on Twitter, on Pinterest and have large followings through their blogs, podcasts and speaking engagements.
A few weeks ago, we invited five teacher influencers to spend a day with us to help us understand how they use social media and why they think people follow them. We asked Allison, Amanda, Amy, Nicholas, and Vicki what we could do to support more teachers in making connections the way they are. We believe those connections are critical to reducing the isolation that teachers feel and helping teachers get the resources they need to improve their practice. Social media also gives these individual teachers an incredible toolkit to build their voice, their reach and their personal network/communities.
The growth of teacher influencers is incredible with some of them going from zero to 50,000 followers in five years. The collective reach of the five influencers we brought to the foundation was over 1M! The challenge that we invited them to help us solve was how to bring individuals and this organic growth together with established organizations and networks.
Besides hearing some amazing stories about what is going on in some of their classrooms, we learned a lot from these teachers and others who openly describe the barriers the majority of teachers face in using social media to connect—everything from time to fear. Social media means putting yourself out there and that is a risk that in times of high-stakes accountability can be scary. Starting a blog and committing to follow others takes time—time that teachers don’t always have during the day. But we are still finding that a growing number of teachers are finding ways to connect and contribute through social media.
When you talk to the teachers who have gotten over that hump, they almost always say that it was another teacher who helped them do it. These are teachers who are trying to help their colleagues and themselves improve at scale. The question is—how can we help facilitate this teacher-to-teacher connection so that more teachers who want to connect, share and learn are encouraged and supported to do so?