By Kristal Doolin
Recently, I went to see my daughter sing at the Southern Kentucky Music Association’s All Festival choir concert. As I watched over 350 students from elementary and middle schools in this region singing “Reaching for the Stars” together, I realized that the beautiful music their joined voices created was a metaphor for us as educators and the magic that happens when we work together.
The value of working as a group was introduced to me many years ago when I began teaching. My first classroom was in a school built around the open classroom concept that was popular in the 1970s. Although the school had added a few internal walls in the building, I still had only two of them. I actually could see and hear what was happening in the classrooms next to mine. There were no walls between my classroom and the hallway or across the library and into classrooms on the other side of the building. It’s hard to imagine if you haven’t worked in a situation like this.
The whole experience was foreign and scary. Of course, I counted my blessings. I had been out of college for over a year and finally had a teaching position. So, I made the best of the situation. However, in those first two years I felt vulnerable and on display.
Having experienced it, I can’t advocate for open classrooms for students, but as a teacher, it held unexpected benefits. Without walls, I constantly heard and saw how others conducted classes, managed student behavior and built community in their classroom. Working closely with my fellow educators in this way made me better than I would have been alone.
Fast forward 18 years to today’s social media and Connected Educator initiatives, and that opportunity is now available to everyone on a much larger, less frightening scale. As 21st century educators, we can use technology to work together within our schools, districts and states in addition to branching out both nationally and globally.
We all have an interesting story about our first years in the classroom. After we get that shiny new classroom — I hope yours was shiny — too often we go into it trying to manage our daunting task with the door closed.
Whether we are intimidated or just overworked, it’s easy to feel alone, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Teacher-to-teacher networking has become an increasingly valuable tool for teachers across the globe and allows teachers to grow in a personalized, relevant way.
Yet, are we all taking advantage of the opportunities to connect? Do our colleagues and leaders encourage us to do so?
I grew up and teach in the southeastern part of Kentucky. All of us know that opportunities to engage with others are not as available here as they are in other parts of the state — for students and educators. How often are there high-level conferences, workshops or trainings way out here? Rarely. Most are in Lexington or Louisville. We also know what it’s like to be asked to attend or want to attend an event this far away from home. The personal and financial costs to make these treks are often hard to justify and harder to find.
Yet, teachers form connections and bonds at these events that enable them to network and share ideas they can take back to their schools, tweak to fit their needs and their students, and benefit in a way that lifts their entire area.
Southeastern Kentucky teachers, when was the last time you shared an idea with a teacher in the next district over from yours in any direction? Or two districts over? Do you even know the names of teachers in your content area in neighboring districts?
It’s time all of us — teachers and administrators — tear down the walls and embrace professional connections and relationships that could lead to success for our area of Kentucky.
So, in the spirit of “If you build it, they will come,” I’d like to introduce the Kentucky Appalachian Teacher Network, my project in my hybrid role as a teacher leader on special assignment with the Kentucky Department of Education.
All teachers are invited to connect and share with our group on our Kentucky Appalachian EdShare Facebook page. A Facebook account is not necessary to view the page. Teachers from the Southeast regions — those included in the Southeast Southcentral Education Cooperative and the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative — are energetically invited to join our closed group online, where we can have conversations as unique as our area of the state.
Let’s model what the Kentucky Core Academic Standards require of our students and use technology to connect, collaborate and create together. Sure, we can each sing alone or in small groups, but the combined efforts of everyone would make much sweeter music.
Kristal Doolin, a National Board certified teacher, was the 2013 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. She is a 7th- and 8th-grade reading/language arts teacher at Corbin Middle School and is working in a hybrid position as a teacher leader on special assignment with the Kentucky Department of Education. She is also a member of the Kentucky Teacher Advisory Council, NEA/Betterlesson Master Teacher, 2015 Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes Fellow and a regional recipient of Kentucky Secretary of State’s 2015 Outstanding Civic Education Leadership Award. In her role with KDE, she manages Kentucky Appalachian EdShare on Facebook and created the Kentucky Appalachian Teacher Network with co-hybrid teacher Anji Davidson