Community by Jillian Heise

My professional lifesaver has been Twitter. It is one of the greatest things that has happened in my teaching life over the last three years. Through it, I have developed a learning network that feeds me professionally and personally (PLN). My PLN started out small as I dipped my toes into the Twitter sea. Little did I know at the time what a rich support system would develop to keep me afloat in the murkiest of teaching waters. In this day and age of so much information, it is sometimes hard to wade through the noise to find the most important pieces. My Twitter PLN provides a way to curate the links to the articles and blog posts I most need to read, even if not a single one of my tweeps realizes how much they have helped me. I am a better teacher, a more knowledgeable person, and a more supportive colleague through these connections. And what happens when our Twitter relationships flood over into in-person meetups? Even more support and a development of some of meaningful friendships.

I’d be hard pressed to have a conversation with any one of my PLN and not hop on Goodreads to add books I need to read to my never ending TBR shelf, or learn of a professional text I need to know about, or hear about what is happening in other classrooms around the country that inspire what I do in my own, or be challenged in my thinking about teaching, or just bask in knowing that I’m around people who truly understand what I do each and every day of the school year because they are doing it too. Being with them virtually is great, but being with them in person is even better, which is part of the reason I’ve spent much of my summer traveling to various conferences – I grow as a teacher through learning in sessions and the informal PD that happens in downtime conversations.

Through the richness of the conversations (both virtual and face-to-face) I have had with these friends, I have grown. I have reached. I have been pushed. I have had my thinking challenged leading me to deeper understandings and deeper growth than any other professional conversations. I have been validated. I have sustained my passion for teaching and getting the right book in the hands of the right child. I have let sleep go to the back of my mind so I could squeeze in a few more minutes or hours of late night conversations that leave me a better person than when I entered them. I have had mornings in need of serious concealer and caffeine, yet so full of adrenaline for the learning in the day to come that I don’t regret one moment of it. This is my community.

Why is community so important? It’s what helps us grow, keeps us going, and reminds us that we are not alone, no matter how alone we may feel. I am so thankful that Twitter led me to broadening my community beyond my school’s walls.

Are there teaching implications? Oh, yeah. And it’s evident in my end of the year surveys when my 7th graders told me what they want for next year with me is more time to talk about the books they’re reading. They’re craving community just as much as I was. I need to find ways to create that for them and help them all feel a sense of community in the classroom. How will I do that? By reaching out to my own community, of course, and talking with my PLN about ways to enhance classroom community. I will read picture books that will create common experiences and challenge my students’ definitions and beliefs about community. I will choose books for read alouds that will entertain my students and provide a joyful reading experience, but will also help that community grow. I will look for ways to talk about community and help my students create that in our classroom.

So build your community, grow your community, cultivate your community, participate in your community…find those who will support and inspire you, and you will never be alone when you need someone to talk to or help you think through something. Twitter might be the place to start. Your classroom (if you have one) is a place to expand it. The Nerdy Book Club community is a place to enhance it.

I need community in my life…perhaps even more than I thought I did. And I am so thankful to have found it, and to Nerdy Book Club for broadening it, and to those of you reading this that have been a part of my community, thank you for joining me and supporting me, and if you haven’t been yet, I invite you to join me.

Community [noun] a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.

Find your community.

Jillian Heise has been growing a community of 7th & 8th graders in her language arts classroom for eight years near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her students are used to her building community by sharing books from picture to YA, her reading life, appreciation for rockstar authors, and love of fictional characters with them. She also shares her book recommendations with a wider audience on her blog, Heise Reads & Recommends. Jillian is a self-admitted book pusher and does not feel the need for a program to change that. On Twitter, she is growing her community at @heisereads.