Perhaps at some stage of your career as a language teacher and the only teacher of your subject in your school, you have felt a little bit alone, a little short of resources. This may even be now, especially in a regional area. I did at one stage and, as a Japanese teacher, I always wondered what was going on in other Japanese classrooms.
If this resonates with you, then you may recall one day perhaps doing some professional development, joining your language association, or being accepted as an HSC marker or, if recently, maybe even attended a teachmeet. Once you experienced these sorts of things, you connected with new people, discovered new ideas and how to find resources. You were discovering that there’s much more beyond the walls of your staffroom - I did.
Then, in 2007, I decided to use some PD time to update my ICT skills and went to a tech conference. I discovered a whole new world online and worked out that the @ mark was not restricted to its use in email addresses. I discovered twitter and gradually met other language teachers online from NSW, other states in Australia and also the UK. My language staffroom suddenly expanded way beyond those working in Sydney.
And since then I have discovered and learnt how to use a whole range of tools and sites to help me become more connected to what’s going on and ensured that I was not just treading water in my teaching. I have learnt so much from expanding my staffroom. There should be no walls anymore unless we put them up ourselves. In reality there are some walls and silos. Me, I prefer to share because when others share with me, I learn and it often makes it easier for all of us.
So, I decided to try to build an online community for Japanese teachers. A place we could share ideas and resources and have conversations. A place where it didn’t matter what state, country or sector you were from. All that really mattered was that you taught or were interested in teaching Japanese and wanted to join with like minded people. I didn’t really know much about setting up an online site / community but had been a member of a couple. Seemed like a good idea at the time and I hadn’t thought it through that carefully.
Things moved along slowly, lots of members joined but not many got too involved, which is kind of normal for online communities but it wasn’t really why I set it up. Lots of people told me they got a lot out of it but there wasn’t actually a lot of activity on the site so I was always wondering what, if anything, they were getting out of it. Though I knew that if I put more time into it a learnt a little more about how online communities work, I could get it moving a little better.
Then, at the start of last year I saw the invitation to apply for the MoreLeaps mentoring and reflecting project, which was perfectly aligned with my goals for the year. Basically I wanted more language teachers, in particular Japanese teachers, to connect with each other, help and mentor each other online across states and across sectors and, as a result, become better advocates for languages. I saw the ning as a vehicle for this. HSC and associated exams aside, we want our students to keep learning languages because they have found a passion for it thanks to their passionate teachers.
So, my more leaps project was to ... I wanted to make it several things but the one I’d like to draw your attention to here is where it says: “a model for other languages”. If I can help find a model that is even half successful for what I want it to be then all language teachers could benefit by coming together and working out how to best advocate for languages. For me the ultimate prize is more students learning language.
I would like it to become a place where teachers seek out advice from each other and where newer teachers can get new ideas and share in the experience of more experienced teachers. Ultimately, the better we are at teaching the more students will learn a language. The more we share the more chance we have of doing this. ???
And so as part of the MoreLeaps project I began to investigate other successful online communities in more detail. In particular the Classroom 2.0 site. Looked at design, functions they had on the site and how they were used. To work how how to get more out of our community.
So we began with a new design, a simpler layout, easier on the eye and out own little logo. I also plan to one day learn how to get rid of the little speech bubble at the top.
I discovered that the way you word a forum post can influence how many people are attracted to it. Ask questions in the forum topic, ask for opinions or include information about you and what you are doing in the topic can help. I’m still working this out, have watched a webinar or two and am trying to find the time to read a book that apparently will show me how to develop a ‘buzzing community’.
We also decided to integrate some other sites Japanese teachers visit into our site. I think it was Meryl who suggested the idea of a “One Stop Shop” for Japanese teachers. A place to go for conversations, ideas, images, videos and other resources
Began to use the chat function to have some scheduled discussions on a variety of topics. This has worked out quite well and we have had between 5 and 8 people in at one time. I think a regular schedule would work a little better but I think that there are better ways to discuss things, rather than a chat room where it’s hard to lose track of what it happening. I plan to try something like google hangouts or skype so people can hear each other. If you know of something good, please let us know.
I also learnt that regular updates can be helpful to remind people the site is there and highlight what is going on, new members and new discussions. You have to make them want to come to the site, updates are needed, ...
So things are looking a little better and there has certainly been more activity on the site this year. More members, a few new scheme teachers and more activity. A closer look at the analytics of the site would probably also help but ultimately if teachers are finding value in the site they will come back and engage more in discussions. There are new people joining the conversations but we need to build more momentum. It’s gradually building and that’s the main thing.
Remember that, in this day and age, no language teacher should feel isolated. No matter where they are in this country or any other. Hopefully we can continue to build our JTeacher community and inspire others to build community and mentor each other in the staffroom but online as well. especially for those who don’t have the luxury of being able to attend events like this and meet each other on a more regular basis.
Just remember the internet needs a valve on it. Create your own community to do that.
Thanks to Gina and the other NSW More Leaps members. It’s great to have an online community where we can join others in other parts of the country / world but we also have a great community of inspiring teachers here in Sydney and in NSW who are willing to share resources and advice.
Building Community Beyond the Staffroom Connecting Teachers online a more leaps project
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