Ensuring a well-established network of support
GUEST COLUMN | by Sophie Huntington
Teachers and future teachers often find themselves overwhelmed when they are first in the classroom – both in student teaching and in their first years in the profession. Meeting the demands of individual learning needs, the pressures of high-stakes testing, and the difficulties of classroom management, make it essential that teachers — at all levels of experience — have a well-established network of support. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), in partnership with universities and districts across the country, is learning how access to an anytime, anywhere network of support changes a student teacher’s experience as a learner and an educator, using mobile technology to call upon their networks of support exactly when they need it most.
The Teachers Learning in Networked Communities (TLINC®) project,with support from Qualcomm Wireless Reach ™, deploys mobile devices in teacher preparation programs to provide anytime access to an online professional learning community. The powerful combination of mobile devices and online learning communities provide a real-time, 24/7 support network of peers, mentors, higher education faculty, and accomplished veterans.
NCTAF is currently working with six TLINC implementation sites to utilize smart phones and tablets with online professional learning communities hosted by edWeb.net to collaborate, share resources, and address challenges that come up during the pre-service teaching phase of teacher preparation. These sites are: Georgia State University, Albany State University, the University of Colorado at Denver, the University of New Mexico, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the University of Texas at El Paso.
NCTAF is committed to ensuring that all students have access to quality teaching in schools organized for success – a mission that has guided the work of the organization since its founding in 1994. In addition to TLINC, NCTAF also facilitates teachers collaboration at the K-12 level in an initiative called Learning Studios.
The lessons learned from the TLINC work are important to understanding what the catalysts and the challenges are to incorporating technology into teacher preparation. For instance, the TLINC sites are breaking down policy and permission barriers to wireless access in K-12 schools that prevent student teachers from accessing their support network while in the classroom. In addition, NCTAF and the university teacher preparation programs are working together to figure out how to train future teachers for “Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD)” environments and experimenting with using mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to connect multiple and different devices.
Each site is working on an individualized project that uses mobile devices as part of a specific collaborative setting. For example, at the University of Colorado at Denver, all student teachers participate in and contribute to an online community focused on exploring the pedagogical challenges they experience when they first begin to work with students. These conversations, which are then archived for future reference, include topics such as differentiated instruction, working with English language learners, and preparing to teach with the new Common Core Standards.
In Georgia, technology and mobile devices help student teachers training at Albany State University connect to their fellow students at Georgia State University around issues related to teaching in high poverty, rural schools. The technology also facilitates connections between the faculty at both campuses. The use of new and mobile technologies as an instructional tool is also an area of exploration for TLINC projects, but the emphasis of the work is on technology as a tool for improved communication and collaboration between pre-service teachers, faculty, and district partners.
For many years our schools have been impacted by high teacher turnover. The NCTAF TLINC collaborations counteract the isolation and lack of support that can negatively impact new teachers and can cause them to leave the profession. The TLINC sites – individually and collectively – are demonstrating how technology can play a significant role in ensuring that all teachers are supported in strong professional learning communities. With anytime, anywhere access to networks of support, teachers in all stages of their careers can work together to strengthen their own practice and the profession as a whole.
Sophie Huntington is the Director of the Teachers Learning in Networked Communities (TLINC) initiative at the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF). She has a diverse background in P-16 collaboration, program development, and teacher preparation and support.