To complete the Education Trends assignment for Vancouver Community College, I was required to prepare and deliver a presentation on the roles of adult educators and the trends in adult education to my learning partner. The biggest lesson I learned from this experience did not revolve around the content but the interaction, connection, and community that stemmed from meeting with my learning partner. My most important take-away arose from realizing how I valued a professional community and needed to cultivate one in my profession in order to combat the isolation of teaching, to enhance my teaching skills through constructive criticism, and to learn new ideas from my peers.
Seeking a professional community could remove the isolation and negative experiences that I have encountered as a freelance, sessional instructor who works from home. Bilash (n.d.), writes about the irony of teacher isolation, “that in a profession which is so centered around human interaction, teachers can find themselves feeling very isolated” (para 1). For myself, as a new, emerging teacher, I concur that at times, I have felt very alone. My isolation dissolved every time I participated in a staff meeting, had phone meetings with my program heads, or reached out to other teachers for guidance. Whether we discussed classroom management or student behavior, knowing that I was a member of a community and not alone, solidified my confidence that I was making sound decisions that benefitted student learning. Having a community reduces future burnout because it takes the pressure off teachers who realize they have support (Bilash, n.d.; UBC, n.d.). Both online dialogue and my personal experience reveal that working in community prevents the negative consequences of teacher isolation.
In addition to distinguishing the damaging feelings of isolation, maintaining a professional teaching community also provides opportunities for constructive feedback that can be applied to better a student’s learning experience. The University of British Columbia (n.d.) recognizes the value of teaching communities and offers its instructors several opportunities to congregate in order to “allow people to share knowledge, expertise, scholarship, ideas, and suggestions, both face-to-face and electronically” (para. 1). I encountered this firsthand when teaching an online course where an activity intended to foster community and emulate off-line interactions failed miserably-students immediately complained and did not attend because they preferred more self-directed support. After brain-storming with my program head, I decided to create weekly videos where I addressed common problems and to start a YouTube channel with additional support materials such as demonstrations and reading summaries. By receiving constructive feedback from my professional community, I was able to identify a stress-point for students and better address and serve their learning needs.
A professional teaching community can not only enhance learning experiences by pointing out weak points, but also by sharing tried and true student engagement ideas and activities. For Bilash (n.d.), teachers have much to offer their colleagues and encourages teachers to seek out mentoring opportunities and professional training programs as a means to create community. At one of the institutions where I teach as a sessional, term kick-off and term debrief meetings have provided several new ideas such as evaluation techniques and authentic activities to implement in my own classroom. Without a professional teaching community to offer fresh learning content, teachers are limited to their own creativity and self-support.
After reflecting on the web conference I participated in with my Vancouver Community College learning partner, I realize the value that participating in a teaching community can bring to my practice for the ultimate benefit of my students. I have benefitted firsthand from the expertise and wisdom of my peers and colleagues and will continue to seek out constructive feedback and new ideas from my community.