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Collaboration across the Hallway Why Every Teacher Needs a Network of Support

We applaud the efforts of any teacher who goes above and beyond to help their students get college and career ready. But we also know that being a teacher can be exhausting at times, often to the point in which a teacher feels they have entered a “lonely profession.” That’s why we feel it is of the utmost importance for teachers to have a support network of their peers. Our NMSI English Director Michelle Stie-Buckles and NMSI Mathematics Coordinator Jeremy Posey  explain what a support network looks like and how a teacher can start to build one – but first they address the issue of the “lonely profession.”
As experienced educators themselves before joining NMSI, Posey and Stie-Buckles understand first-hand what it’s like to feel trapped in a lonely profession. “Even though most teachers are surrounded by people a majority of the day, those people are usually students,” says Posey. “We become so accustomed to relating with our students on a daily basis that relating to our peers or even other adults can become a challenge.” Stie-Buckles also believes the challenges of teaching in isolation are often brought on by the hectic schedules teachers must keep. “Teachers are under more pressure than ever to meet new college readiness standards and to prepare students for high-stakes assessments,” she says. “Reaching out to our colleagues seems like a luxury sometimes, given how little time we have left after we plan lessons, tutor students, and meet with parents and administrators.”
However, busy schedules should not keep teachers from creating a network of support, because they truly can make a world of difference. According to Posey, a support network is an active, engaging group of peers who share a common interest to help and support each other. Collectively, their shared experiences can bind group members together, and their different backgrounds can provide new perspectives and fresh insights. Furthermore, Stie-Buckles says that support networks should be “safe, positive places for teachers to exchange ideas and to seek assistance when needed.”

How then does a teacher build their own support network?

•Seek out other teachers in need of support. “Because teaching can be a difficult and lonely profession at times,” says Stie-Buckles, “it is important to find those peers who make us remember why we decided to become teachers in the first place.” Therefore, teachers should collaborate with those who truly enjoy their profession and are interested in sharing key resources such as content and professional knowledge, personal and professional experience, social and emotional support, friendship, and leadership.

•Build interdisciplinary relationships. Posey asserts that interdisciplinary support between the different subjects and teachers is a “key component to any successful teacher support network. Although the content knowledge may be different,” he continues, “experiences and process navigation can be beneficial for teachers across subjects.” Stie-Buckles adds that unless teachers are communicating with their colleagues about what they are teaching their students, they will “miss those opportunities to help students draw important connections between disciplines.”

•Use the internet to your advantage. As beneficial as collaboration within a school can be, teachers should not hesitate to build a network with fellow peers from across the country. “Teachers can build their support networks by proposing a book talk with colleagues over lunch,” says Stie-Buckles, “or by starting a conversation on an online forum about lesson ideas or instructional strategies. The main way to start building a network is to have the desire to reach out to your colleagues in whatever platform or environment that is comfortable to you.”
Among a host of other benefits, teachers in support networks learn new and more efficient ways to teach, they gain fresh perspectives on old ideas, and they create more opportunities for their students to make connections between normally unrelated subjects – such as STEM and English! Teacher support networks are also a central component in NMSI’s College Readiness program and NMSI’s Laying the Foundation teacher training program. We actively help teachers build their own support networks by giving them opportunities to engage in regular professional development sessions – such as our upcoming summer institute trainings, for which you can register now! These hands-on training sessions bring teachers from across the country together under one roof, enabling them to exchange ideas and strategies, and our own NMSI experts are available as leaders and mentors to help facilitate the networking process. And for secondary math and English teachers who have already participated in NMSI’s Laying the Foundation teacher training program, our new NMSI blendED Learning Modules are now available! This online platform enables teachers from across the nation to participate in year-round professional development courses and materials as well as build an online community with teachers from across the country– all of which are key ingredients to an effective teacher support network!
At the end of the day, networks should be designed to support teachers so that they may, in turn, better support their students, and the advantages far outweigh the effort members put into the group. To help smooth and expedite the process, we try our best to make connecting teachers into a network as easy as possible, because we know how important these networks truly are.