One of the biggest challenges rural teachers face is how to effectively collaborate with teachers who are not directly in their communities. Because many rural schools have small staffs and even fewer support professionals, professional relationships often must take creative forms.
Effective collaboration in education is imperative even in the best environments. In rural and remote communities hit heavily by poverty, depopulation and teacher shortages, it becomes increasingly important. Lauren Davis, an editor at EdTech and former department chair and instructional coach, pointed out the following benefits of effective teacher collaboration:
- Increased academic effort.
- Increased understanding of student data.
- More creative lesson plans.
- Less teacher isolation.
These teacher collaboration benefits take on new meaning for rural educators. They are more likely to be the only person in their school teaching a subject, or they may be teaching a variety of classes to pick up the load caused by teacher shortages. In addition, they are dealing with a plethora of diverse student challenges due to the struggles in rural communities, such as poverty or mental health issues, without much support staff. Collaboration tools that connect teachers in remote communities to resources are vital.
There are many ways to collaborate now thanks to technology and organizations focusing on rural education. Here are three ways teachers are fostering collaboration in schools in rural communities and examples of each.
Social media is a great way to connect and share with other educators. It’s also a method that teachers can use to display their skills, discuss challenges and promote solutions with others around the country and world. Because of social media, districts can be more connected to other areas, whether rural, suburban or urban.
Facebook gives teachers a way to create communities of likeminded individuals. This is especially important for teachers in rural communities to connect with other educators because they likely don’t have a direct counterpart in their school.
The Rural Schools Collaborative has a public Facebook group called I am a Rural Teacher. In the group, rural educators can network and communicate with each other. They share advice, answer questions and post their proud moments. The group has more than 400 members, but anyone can view the posts and answers.
Twitter is a fantastic way to converse with other teachers in real time. Hashtags give an excellent opportunity to ask questions and share answers at specified times. One such chat is #RuralEdChat. Educators share their rural education experiences, questions and photos. They also meet virtually once a week for a scheduled chat, which can prove valuable to teachers who are craving a sense of community to combat isolation.
There are also Twitter chats for teachers in specialized areas, such as #specialedchat for special education teachers. In schools where only one professional is responsible for specialized instruction, these connections on Twitter can provide valuable insight they can’t find within their district.
Pinterest is a treasure trove of information for teachers. They can post and share everything from lesson plans to activities and worksheets for other teachers to pin. Following fellow teachers from different districts gives incredible resources to those who would otherwise be secluded in their brainstorming and planning. The platform offers a community of creativity and collaboration often missed by rural educators.
MDR, an organization committed to studying the best way to engage with teachers, found that 74% of teachers favor Pinterest for work-related activities. Those teachers stated they’re looking to get inspired by new teaching ideas, find resources, stay on top of trends and connect with other educators.
Exploring Rural Education in AmericaRead the Guide
Online Collaboration Tools
Technology has provided many teacher collaboration tools that allow educators to access and share a variety of resources with others who face the same challenges. They also offer opportunities to connect students to peers in other districts or countries. Here are a few online tools rural teachers can use.
Google Drive is a free and simple way for teachers to upload and share lesson plans, documents and more. Though it’s useful in each school, it can also help rural teachers connect with educators in similar communities and collaborate continuously. Google Drive allows other educators to comment on plans, which provides valuable feedback that remote and rural teachers may not get in their districts as often as their suburban and urban peers.
ePals is a free tool for collaboration in schools. It connects educators from around the world, including 200 countries, so they can create learning communities with other classrooms. Adding to the value of the site, students can connect to peers across the globe to expand their horizons. This offers teachers a way to expose students to other cultures and communities, even in remote, rural areas.
Mastery Connect is a tool that teachers use to share data and collaborate across schools and disciplines. While it can be useful in a school to track a student’s performance from one classroom to the next, it also provides teachers with a professional learning community complete with private messaging and the ability to follow teachers who can deliver valuable updates and information.
Furthermore, the many features of Mastery Connect ensure that teachers are using their time to the best of their ability. The tool helps with grading, creating reports and monitoring progress, among other things. Because rural teachers often have busy schedules and wear many hats, anything that helps with time management is valuable.
Conferences & Publications
Conferences and publications offer another way for rural teachers to foster collaboration. Stories and presentations by other rural educators help teachers feel understood and represented. They also provide valuable insight from the perspective of those who have experienced and researched similar issues. Some offerings specific to rural teachers include the following.
I am a Rural Teacher Narrative
The Rural Schools Collaborative houses a series of stories about rural educators. These stories are accessible to anyone and offer perspective and camaraderie to teachers who may otherwise feel lonely. Rural teachers discuss their decisions to work in rural schools, as well as their challenges, wins and hopes. Anyone can reach out to share their stories, offering a way to communicate and celebrate with peers.
National Rural Education Association (NREA) Annual Convention
The National Rural Education Association is the oldest organization to study and assist rural teachers. The NREA annual convention and research symposium gives education professionals a chance to discuss rural education and share tools, resources and ideas for teachers to bring back to their towns. Awards are given to some educators as well. This chance for connection every year is a great opportunity for rural educators to discuss challenges and celebrate wins with others like them.
Impact Rural Teacher Collaboration
Are you interested in making a difference in rural students’ lives through advocacy and collaboration? Consider a doctorate in education online. The University of West Alabama Online offers a one-of-a-kind program that examines rural topics specifically, including the need for effective collaboration in education.
The Ed.D. Rural Education from UWA Online helps candidates gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and issues in rural education with two distinct tracks: Teaching and Learning and Organizational Change and Leadership. This forward-thinking degree is the first of its kind and creates leaders addressing the needs of rural students and school districts.