There are lots of ways to connect with colleagues: professional conferences, email groups, web forums, blogs, social media, . . . . Teachers should take advantage of these to whatever degree is reasonable. But one of the easiest, most rewarding types of teacher-teacher interaction is simply to visit a colleague’s class, or even to get together with a colleague outside of class. (By colleague, I mean anyone who is also a teacher.)
Here are some good reasons:
1. Everyone likes free stuff. If the colleague is at your school, your administration may not even have to pay for a sub. Even if you have to travel across town, there’s a much lower Professional Development cost than with traveling to a conference.
2. Everyone likes to steal ideas. When I give presentations, especially among teachers who are required by their administration to be at the workshop (e.g., at inservices), I usually say something like this near the beginning: “I’ve never met a teacher who likes to be told he or she is teaching wrong or who likes to have to change what he or she is doing. But I’ve also never met a thoughtful teacher who isn’t interested in how other teachers do things or who wouldn’t like to steal an idea to use the next day. This presentation isn’t about telling you how to teach–you’re all professionals–it’s about giving you something you can use tomorrow.” When you visit a colleague’s classroom, you’re almost guaranteed to observe something–an entire activity, a habit, or even a gesture–that you can incorporate into your own teaching without fundamentally changing your style or preparation.
3. Everyone likes to talk shop. Even if you don’t sit in on a class, talking with another thoughtful teacher will give you ideas, allow you to talk through your own ideas, help you feel better about what you are doing, or just help you feel like you are part of something good.
4. Everyone likes to have someone who deals with the same issues. A lot of teacher stress can be alleviated through the realization that it’s normal. And once you have ongoing relationships with other teachers, you can debrief issues as they come up. Feedback, advice, or encouragement from a fellow teacher is often easier to trust or internalize than that from an administrator or consultant.
5. Everyone likes to realize that he or she can be a great teacher. While observing teachers I respect, I’ve often had the pleasure of being unimpressed–in a good way. What I mean is this: master teachers aren’t necessarily planning or running their classes completely differently than other teachers. They don’t necessarily know their subjects better than other teachers. They’re simply doing things that any willing, loving person can do with the right training and practice. Seeing these things in action is the right training; trying them in your own classroom the next day is the right practice.
6. Everyone likes to mix things up. Whether you are visiting a class or yours is being visited, there will be a different vibe than in a visitor-less classroom. Students are usually interested in the visitor. The visitor may be involved in the lesson in some way. In certain seasons of my teaching career, I’ve had visitors in my classroom up to several times a week, and it’s always been fun to include the visitor in whatever ways possible. Now, I’m more often the visitor, and I love getting to know the students and participating in the lesson whenever I’m asked to.
7. Everyone likes his or her students to learn better. If you’re regularly visiting and being visited by thoughtful colleagues, they will.
Visit early, visit often!