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Are personal learning networks the key to teacher retention?

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The shortage of educators continues to be a major problem for many. And the trend of teachers leaving classrooms is unlikely to change soon.

In the recent National Association of Education poll of the approximately 3,600 educators, more than half said they were likely to leave or leave education earlier than planned because of the pandemic. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that black and Hispanic / Latin American educators, who are already underrepresented in the classroom, pointed to an early departure with even higher scores than their white counterparts.

In terms of mitigation, raising teachers’ salaries was, of course, the option most supported by teachers. Other preferred strategies included providing mental health and behavioral support to students, hiring more support staff, and reducing document requirements. However, hiring additional teachers took second place on this list.

However, if adding new teachers to the list should be a lasting solution to this growing problem, schools and districts should be able to effectively support and retain these newcomers after they are hired. How to make sure that new teachers do not burn out and leave the profession, like many of their predecessors?

A new turn to the old idea may be one of the ways tomorrow’s educators find and retain their spark in the classroom.

Placing a “person” in personal learning networks

While educators create communities for learning and sharing ideas – this is not a new thing, modern personal learning networks (PLNs) give teachers the opportunity to hone their focus and build their practice in specific areas of professional development. Educators can access the knowledge and experience of others and share their own experiences in a constructive, decision-oriented environment. These networks are proving valuable to both veterans and new educators seeking to focus and improve their practice.

As part of the Reinvent the Classroom initiative, in collaboration with HP, Microsoft and Intel, Digital Promise is conducting HP Teaching Fellows. The program is designed to support innovative primary and secondary school teachers in the United States and Canada who demonstrate powerful teaching and learning using technology.

The fourth and newest cohort consists of six educators from Tulsa. This cohort is unique in its teaching staff – three out of six began teaching during the pandemic, and all teach in North Tulsa, a region that has historically faced economic and racial inequality. This new cohort brings together faculty from a variety of schools in Tulsa, as well as 75 other fellows located across the United States and Canada. This opportunity offers them a broader view of the powerful use of technology in the classroom. The scholarship program has proven to be a lifeline for educators facing the enormous challenges of the pandemic and its impact on students and practice.

“Now more than ever, educators need a consistent network of compassionate, creative peers,” says Reinvent the Classroom project director Nick Schiner. “Our team is delighted to have the opportunity and responsibility to significantly engage educators by supporting their professional training and growth.”

Digital Promise has joined Ashley Campbell, a professional development specialist with Foresight Consulting, to facilitate networking in specific areas and focus fellows on personal and professional growth. Campbell is introducing what she calls a “permanent empowerment.” The purpose of this method is to work continuously and not separately. Fellows should use each other as partners and employees to accelerate their personal and professional goals and expand theory to incorporate innovative teaching methods.


Ongoing Empowerment Cycle (image: Ashley Campbell / Foresight Consulting)

In this network space, the group will identify their individual and collective needs through one-on-one surveys and conversations. As Campbell explains, these conversations provide an opportunity to focus on stretching or adjusting thinking and practice. They can also be an open dialogue to address historical and systemic issues. In addition, Tulsa Fellows will conduct equity-oriented registrations to reflect on their own experiences and how they work within the broader goals of the Tulsa school district.

What motivates teachers?

Brown, a new researcher at HP in Australia, called the creation of PLN one of the main motivations for joining the program. “I hope to give back to my students different ways of presenting teaching materials. Being able to learn from experienced teachers who have learned to innovate to help their students will help me gain the knowledge needed to give my students what they need. ”

Brown and other HP Teaching Fellows in Tulsa are joining the network with practitioners such as veteran educator and HP Teaching Fellow member Tara Bova, who joined the program in 2021 to gain the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other faculty. Bova believes the program has changed its practice in the classroom, in particular, “changed and revised my thinking to think about the product and then about the process that leads to a better product from my students”.

Dean Vendramin, another HP lecturer, found value in the support he receives from other fellows, as well as in practical advice that actually eases his workload. “There is such a support network; it makes your job a little easier if you know there are people we can count on. ”

Such a shift may seem relatively small compared to the huge challenges faced by faculty and students. But perhaps strong PLNs are the right tool to enable teachers to continue their practice and provide the resources and support needed to fight for improvement in the education system.

Learn how to apply for the next round of HP Teaching Fellows.

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