Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pay It Forward: 5.1 Ways to Share Your Expertise

As we are beginning a new year, I have seen many posts, Tweets, and blogs about people paying it forward to individuals they do not know personally. In a world that is often driven with negative news, it is heart-warming to see people reaching out and helping others. It has gotten my mind to thinking about us as educators. We spend our days giving our best to our students, but often we keep what is happening behind the closed doors of our classroom.

I recently engaged in a conversation with another teacher at my school. She hesitantly shared an after-school program that she had started two years ago. She explained how she saw that her students needed some extra tutoring in academic subjects, but they could not afford to hire tutors. She also recognized that many of them lived in single-parent homes where the parents worked multiple jobs. This limited the types of extra activities that they could provide for their own children. To address those needs, this teacher began an after-school program on Friday afternoons where the students could stay after school for an hour for some additional help in academics. Then, the second hour each Friday, this teacher had arranged different community leaders to come in and do activities with the students. This has made a huge impact on her students, their families, and built a strong line of support from the community.

This amazing program was going on in the same school where I teach and I had no idea! When I encouraged her to share her experiences, she told me that she did not think it really counted as an important enough idea to share. That's when I realized how important it is for us to find these hidden gems that are lurking behind closed doors and encourage these teachers to share their ideas. She told me she had no idea where to begin so I shared with her a few of my suggestions.

Here are my suggestions for those just beginning to share their expertise:

  1. Share informally with co-workers. Because she was so reticent about even talking to me one-on-one, I knew suggesting that she speak at a conference was an unreasonable idea right now. I suggested that she begin sharing her program with her grade-level co-workers. She has some really open-minded co-workers who I am sure would be interested in joining her program and helping it to grow.
  2. Celebrate success at a formal meeting. In our weekly faculty meetings, occasionally, we are asked to share successes. This is an open opportunity to share a quick piece of what is going on behind classroom doors. This allows teachers in other grade levels and content areas to know what you are doing. Chances are they will have a contact that would like to participate or support a new and innovative idea.
  3. Speak up at training session or presentation. The best sessions are the ones where there is audience participation and much discussion. This is a way to build more support for that new idea. You never know who is in that room who can help you sharpen your ideas or challenge to reflect on how you could make it more impactful for your students and your school. It also increases your level of expertise in this area and build further support for your project.
  4. Volunteer to have others visit your classroom to see your expertise at work. Sometimes people are hesitant to try a new idea, program, lesson, tool or strategy until they see it at work. If you are the one they are visiting, it is really not any more work on you. You are not putting on a show, but letting them see your idea in action. Let them observe, get involved, and ask questions. They are not there to criticize you (they were interested enough to come for a visit), but to learn from your expertise.
  5. Begin blogging. This is an excellent way to share what is going on in your classroom and it gives you a global audience. All of the educators that I have encountered through blogging have challenged my thinking and helped me become a much stronger educator. It helps you clarify your thinking and make tweaks to your ideas. By gaining a much larger audience, you are also broadening your horizons and influencing others by your experiences.
    • 5.1 Tweet on Twitter. This microblogging site allows you to connect with other educators and have on-going professional conversations all within 140 characters per tweet. Like with blogging, you have the ability not only to share your expertise, but also learn from some of the best educators from around the world. Not sure where to begin? Here's a post I wrote Why Should I Tweet on Twitter?
As is often quoted from an unknown source, "The hardest part of any journey is taking that first step." That's what I hope I have been able to do for my colleagues as well as some of you and your colleagues...encourage people to take that first step and pay back what so many have given to us in our quest to become the strongest educator possible.

photo credit: sidewalk flying via photopin cc

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