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Professional Learning Communities in Rural Schools

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Who do you collaborate with in your school district? Another science teacher? 

If you are in a rural school or rural school district, you might be the only science teacher 7-12. You can collaborate with other teachers regarding pedagogy to a certain extent, but who is there to talk to, bounce ideas off of, design curriculum, lesson plans, and activities, and to help with standards alignment?

Edutopia posted this article on Overcoming the Isolation of Rural Teachers that you may find interesting. 

Please share your own challenges and solutions!

Pamela Dupre Pamela Dupre 92369 Points

This is an interesting topic about teachers feeling isolated. I don't live in a rural area. I did teach at the same school for 17 years and felt isolated by the mere fact that our district did not offer professional development for anything other than ELA and math. Other science teachers at my school came to me for help and ideas but I had no one to exchange ideas with and nothing to inspire me in the early years of my teaching career. Thankfully, I attended an NSTA conference about 5 years ago and realized how many amazing science minded educators are out there! I made contact with those teachers once I returned to my home school. THE most beneficial life-changing event in my teaching career has been NSTA! I brought one of their science journals home with me and read it from cover to cover. I began using their site to search for lessons and content knowledge. Then I saw an opportunity to apply for the Mickelson Exxon Mobil Academy and attended the week long session in the summer of 2016. I made some great contacts in that group and we still share ideas and ask eachother for help. I love using the forums here to exchange ideas and get input. Even at my current school, there is little time to collaborate! Every PLC has an agenda that doesn't include time for teachers to share. Our grade level meetings are all about data. No matter the subject area, there is no time embedded during the day to discuss classroom practices with colleagues. There are some groups on social media devoted to specific disciplines such as science. I am so grateful for technology because without it, I would still be isolated.

Cris DeWolf Cris DeWolf 11965 Points

Hello Bev-

This year, I am the only full-time science teacher in my building. There are 4 others who split their teachingload between science an dother subjects. 2 of them do attend monthly department mtgs - but that agenda is set by the building principal and usually is not content related.

Most of my collaboration occurs online in forums such as this one - and dedicated Facebook groups for the sciences I teach. The AP Biology group is very helpful with tips and tricks for different labs, as well as how to develop student thinking on more complex topics.

Tom Barnett Tom Barnett 45 Points

I guess my struggle is two fold. One is that while we have multiple science teachers in the building, we all focus on our more specific content. That is I teach biology, another teaches chemistry, another is physical science. We are starting to do more collaboration, but it is difficult to get everyone on board with things as most still see our subjects as being separate from each other. Without a department head to help align things across science subjects, collaboration is pretty limited. 

The other struggle that I have is finding othe like-minded science teachers in Nebraska to want to bounce ideas off of and to help with things like curriculum and activities. The internet does help some, but not nearly as much as I would like to believe. 

Any thoughts on how to overcome these problems would be greatly appreciated, as I think it is holding us back in our state.

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64765 Points

Hi Bev, 

What a great article from Edutopia!  When I was first teaching in a rural community 25 years ago, I did feel very isolated.  However, with the advent of the Internet, a completely new world opened up to me.  The NSTA online community provides me with a great sounding board for ideas.  I also benefit greatly from the resources on the Learning Center because they give me fresh ideas that I know are peer-reviewed.  I also find that the NSTA web seminar provide me with inexpensive professional development in which I can participate.  Since they are typically in the evening, I don't have to miss school and I get to visit with other teachers from across the country and depending on the web seminar, from around the world. 

In my district, I do a great deal of collaboration with my math teacher, my Agricultural Education teacher, and our middle school science teacher.  They are great to bounce ideas off of and it allows our students to have a more streamlined learning experience because we can compliment what each other does in our classes.  We typically do this on our workdays and over our lunch period because we don't monitor students. 



I am currently living part-time in Nebraska! Are you a member of the Nebraska Association of Science Teachers? They have resources and  opportunities to collaborate.

I too was the only ESS or physical Science or Chemistry teacher. If I taught biology, I did the extra section so did have another instructor teaching the same topics. However, my main collaboratoers were my colleagues in other content areas. I talked with the language arts teachers to find out what their writing rubics were for argumentation writings, graphic organizers for note-taking, if there were topics I could complement in science class-as in if students were reading say, Into Thin Air-could we talk about the physiological affects of high-altitude on the bodies of the climbers, genetic differences of the climbers and their sherpas, etc.,the geology of Himalayan mountains, climate and weather data, materials for clothing to protect the climbers from the cold, energy demands-i.e. foods for the climbers, how many calories are needed to maintain functions, etc. The geography instructor often talked about events that affected the economy of areas so my physical science students used their classtime to learn the chemistry and phsyics of incidents such as the Bhopal poisoning, the geology and physics of mudslides (hydrology too). 

With the new NE science standards using the Framework for teaching K-12 Science and NGSS, more interdisciplinary content could help you work with your science colleagues in shared projects for your students. The Science and Engineering Practices (SEP) are the same regardless of content, so discussions on incorporating those and the cross-cutting concepts (CCC)-pedagogy as a basis for collaboration. Doing a book study type activity with your science colleagues in your district to learn more about SEP and CCC, the new standards are all common ground topics for collaborating.

Here at the Learning Center is a great place for collaboration, professional interactions as well. There are also listservs with teachers of the same topics and other forums that may help. 

Hope this gives you some ideas!

An article out today in Smartbrief that may help teachers in rural communities: How Teacher Networks Can Facilitate Deeper Collaboration.

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