This fall, Fund for Teachers introduced a new Circles program bringing Fellows together around various topics. This effort coincided with teachers’ return to school in the midst of a pandemic, so we were uncertain about interest and participation level. What we discovered, however, is that our grant recipients remain life-long learners despite the circumstances and the result has been life-giving for them and inspiring for us.
Currently, Fellows are engaged in Circles focused on:
- Teaching for Equity and Justice
- Promoting Engagement in Virtual Learning
- Social Emotional Intelligence, and
- National Teacher Certification
Each Circle meets on a schedule they determine. In some cases, Fellows have stepped up to facilitate as leaders; in others, the structure is more group-centered.
“Circles provide an approach to teacher learning that is focused on the most urgent problems of practice Fellows are experiencing,” said Liza Eaton, Fund for Teachers’ Ramsden Project director. “Fellows meet regularly (virtually!) to identify areas for growth, share practice and problem solve. The focus and facilitation is based on Fellows’ needs and assets.”
Here’s what we’re hearing from Circle participants…
On their teaching practice:
- “It is nice to collaborate and hear ideas from like-minded individuals. In this time of frustration with so many aspects of school (and negativity of colleagues), it is refreshing and reinvigorating to attend the Circle meetings and get new ideas for instruction.”
- “I have taken small risks, and really changed the way I think about my practice this year.”
On re-envisioning teacher professional development:
- “I love getting together with other passionate colleagues from different schools, grade levels, states and learning together. We need each other during this time! I always come away learning something new. I also love the format- how there is not a LEADER or teacher, per se, but facilitators who let us do the learning.”
- “We put in a lot of work of community building and this has been such a unique experience. What is extra special is that it’s an opportunity to collaborate and network across the country, which is so rare.”
Perhaps the most encouraging comment is regarding why a teacher would add one more thing to their already overflowing plate:
“Even though I entered the meeting with low energy, I left feeling revived and inspired with new ideas to try.”
Based on such positive feedback, we’re in the process of creating additional Circles that will provide even more of our 9,000+ Fellows from across the country to share insights and develop competencies around topics such as housing security, civic engagement, combatting polarization, information literacy, social emotional learning, and remote learning.
“Distance learning is challenging for teachers, students, parents, and guardians. Having a space to collaborate with colleagues, working in vastly different environments, allows us to tap into the support that I refer to as the wisdom of the collective,” said Martha St. Jean, a 2020 Fellow and facilitator of the Virtual Learning Circle. “It’s very important to work out problems in community, exchange instructional strategies, and provide feedback while considering teacher needs in conjunction with those of our students. Being virtual increases the interdependent nature of teaching and learning. Crowdsourcing solutions to diverse challenges is pivotal to developing as an educator. It’s my pleasure to help facilitate this learning for my peers. I’m grateful for their trust and the opportunity to help lead them in this endeavor.”
If you are an FFT Fellow and would like to “circle up” with your peers, contact Liza Eaton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have an idea for a Circle? Let her know that, as well!