Teacher networking: Out of the fish bowl and into the sea

Mark Martin

Mark Martin aka @Urban_Teacher is recognised around the world for his insight and passion for education and technology. He has taught ICT for over 10 years, and has become an expert in helping teachers and schools use technology to improve teaching and learning. Mark is an international speaker, travelling to different countries inspiring educators to become better facilitators. He is also actively involved in the UK tech sector, supporting tech companies and promoting cultural diversity within organisations.

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After working in the education system for last ten years, and teaching in a range of different schools, I have noticed many teachers and departments isolated in their own practices and areas of the school. I was fascinated when I read a quote from Professor John Hattie which stated:

"Too many teachers believe the essence of their profession is autonomy. We hardly ever get together and look at each other’s teaching or practices."

Hattie’s quote has some truth, because in my teaching experiences it is a rare sight to see teachers actively working with other subject departments, schools and local organisations. As a result I came up with the name ‘fish bowl syndrome’, which means a teacher that is confined to their classroom, department or school.

There are many unforeseen circumstances why teachers may be unable to network or collaborate with other professionals in the field. The ever increasing workload is one of the main reasons that prevents teachers from connecting with others. Also, schools rarely provide time, space or support for teachers to collaborate with other departments, schools or local organisations. As a result many teachers are stuck in the trenches and gone into auto-pilot mode to fulfil their job role and teaching practices.

However, the traditional classroom is constantly changing due to government initiatives, schools are becoming more ambitious and technology is becoming a major focus. This has forced many teachers to change the way they operate and develop themselves before they get left behind. The importance for teachers to snap out of the fish bowl mentality is very important for their personal development and survival in the educational system. I have also been told that two is better one, and that iron sharpens iron, so one teacher sharpens another. The things you are reluctant to do in your practices, are sometimes the things that will take you to next level in your personal development.

This quote is so profound and encourages teachers to personally find the time and space to connect with other professionals. There has been some light at the end of the tunnel; some school leadership teams have encouraged internal CPDs (continuing professional development), and emerging departments are working together to promote better collaboration, but it still seems that there is a lot more work to do to make these systems work effectively. The best School CPD I had attended was called the ‘The Market’, which allowed departments to "buy" and "sell" good practices. Each department would set up a stall and every teacher within the department would contribute to the stall. I’ve never seen teachers with so many smiles on their faces and activity engaged in a CPD session.

Another approach some teachers have taken to break free of the fish bowl syndrome is to join Facebook, Twitter and blogs to share their practices with their colleagues, local schools and other teachers around the world. Technology has allowed teachers to jump out of the fish bowl and into the sea, where there is a huge amount of support, help and advice to improve their practices.

The question is, how motivated, courageous and brave are you to jump out of your comfort zone and take a risk to connect with other teachers to improve your practices? I love tweet to other teachers that when they’re working together, they can do powerful things to improve their own teaching and, in turn, improve student learning. I think this quote inspires and encourages teachers to branch out and network with other practitioners.

The transition - from the fish bowl to the sea - can be a hard process to go through, especially if you haven't done this before. My main advice is to join a social network (i.e. Twitter) and follow as many teachers as possible in your field. Try and reach out to them, build relationships and share practices. Also encourage your school to provide more opportunities (i.e Cross Curricular activities) for teachers to collaborate with others across the school.

Lastly, always remember: No matter how many mistakes you make, or how slowly you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.

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