classroom community · collaboration · culture · leadership · learning · professional development · professional learning · professional learning community · professional learning network · school leaders · teacher leadership · Uncategorized

The Shift from Teaching to a Culture of Learning

As educators, we talk all the time about creating a culture of learning in our classrooms.  We want to inspire our students to be intrinsically motivated to learn, but we often fail to model those expectations for them nor do we provide the classroom climate to provide space for it.  Creating a culture of learning requires that we put intentional thought behind the environments we create for learners of all kinds.

It’s clear from the absence of blog posts in the last two years on this page that my mind has been occupied elsewhere.  I took a chance in the summer of 2019 for a new job at a new school in a new district and ended up exactly where I was meant to be.  If you know anything about my journey up to that point, you know that it was not easy.  I’d always had a knack for dreaming big and stepping outside of my comfort zone in the classroom.  Being innovative and thinking outside the box are kind of my jam.  And I am and always have been a champion for students.  I believe that they can, and will, make our world a better place.

More than anything, I love to learn about how to be a better teacher, how to better serve our students, and how to collaborate better with my fellow teachers by listening to a good podcast or reading a book that challenged my practices.  In the past when I went to share my learning with others, I was usually on an island.  Every once in a while I’d find a willing colleague who’d say, “Why not? Let’s do it.” In my last year as a classroom teacher (2018-2019), that support was non-existent.  I struggled with burnout, frustration, workplace bullies, anxiety, depression, and more.


When I took the leap and stepped into my new role in the summer of 2019, I had no idea what to expect other than I’d get to work with students and teachers, which is something that I’d been looking to do for a while.  What I found were my place and my people.

In my current role, I have the perfect blend of a classroom teacher and instructional coach.  While I spend two hours of my day teaching community-centered courses (where I implement a project-based learning approach aimed at transforming community), I spend the rest of my day supporting teachers and staff in pursuit of a true student-centered vision for learning.  I work in a community that values the power of people and the gifts they bring to the table and is actively working to elevate those gifts for the good of others.  However, I think my absolute favorite part of my “new’ position and the team that I work with is that we embody a true culture of learning.


As educators, we talk all the time about creating a culture of learning in our classrooms.  We want to inspire our students to be intrinsically motivated to learn, but we often fail to model those expectations for them nor do we provide the classroom climate to provide space for it.  The same is true for those in teaching roles and those in support roles, such as instructional coaches, as well as school and district leadership.  If we want students to develop a lifelong passion for learning, we have to show them what happens when we have one.  A learning culture hinges on two main dispositions: reflection and inquiry.


First, we must be constantly reflecting upon our priorities, practices, and progress.  In schools, it’s easy to roll out an initiative at the beginning of the year and not touch it again until May.  Learning requires that we continuously reflect upon what is and what is not working.  As a first-year teacher, I kept a journal to reflect.  These days, most of my reflection happens in collaborative teams where I can share my ideas with others and get feedback.

Reflective Questions for Small Groups:

  1. What’s going well right now?
  2. What tensions do we feel?
  3. What’s one thing we can do tomorrow/next week/over the next month that will move us forward faster?
  4. What has been most helpful?  Least helpful?

Secondly, we have to acquire a sense of curiosity and inquiry.  If we are not asking questions, we’re not growing.  At the beginning of the year, I developed a driving question that has guided my work throughout the year.  This question, which is “What does it mean to be a community?” is on my classroom website so it can be viewed by students and colleagues alike.  I am not going to lie to you and say that everything I’ve read or listened to this year has directly tied back to that driving question.  However, it has helped me develop a lens through which I’m consuming content.  The professional books and podcasts I’ve dug into this year have helped to contribute positively to the work my team and I are doing.

Ways to Develop Sustained Inquiry:

  1. Develop a driving question that guides your work.
  2. Get good at asking questions.  Ask them for yourself and those around you.
  3. Gather others to learn together.


A missing piece between learning and reflecting is often creating.  We have to do something with what we learn so that we can reflect upon its impact in our classrooms and/or our lives.  Whether you are reading this as a fellow educator, an entrepreneur, or you just stumbled upon this post after a random sequence of events, you know of stagnant people.  There are those who, it seems no matter how hard they’re working, fail to make progress.  That’s because in between inquiry and reflection, there has to be a change or, what I call, creation.   When one of these three pieces is missing, it’s hard to make or see progression toward a goal.  This constant cycle of inquiry – creation – reflection – inquiry will ensure that we are committed to learning and growing as individuals, as organizations, and as a community as a whole.

I am so fortunate to be working in a place that really embraces a culture of learning from as small as the classroom environment to the broader community as a whole. My colleagues and I are actively working to create change and see an impact.  I’d love to hear more about your personal journey in being part of a culture of learning.  What made that environment powerful to you?  What are some other ways to build a culture of learning in our schools and organizations?

Curious about some of my older blog posts around classroom culture?  Check out this post about how I built classroom community or this one on my favorite hour of the week.

education · networking · PLN · professional learning community · professional learning network · teacher · Twitter · twitter chat

How to Build Your PLN This Summer

Like most teachers, I am heavily involved in my students and classroom.  I am constantly looking for engaging lessons, rigorous curriculum, the next best behavior system.  Most teachers spend their summers working to add to their mental file cabinet with these types of knowledge.  And while I’ll agree that these activities are important, I’d also be willing to bet that you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck by building your PLN.

Most people in education have heard of a PLC (Professional Learning Community), which is a usually a site-based community of learners with the same or similar goals.  The term PLN, or Professional Learning Network, is a little more elusive.  A PLN is a community of learners that transcends all the barriers you might normally experience while networking.  Your PLN is much broader and might include teachers from your school and district, but also those across the state and across the country.

Why should you grow your PLN?

  1. They are like-minded but offer different perspectives on topics you’re interested in.
  2. They are a system of support.  Got a question?  Ask and your PLN answers.
  3. They are cheerleaders for your work.
  4. They know people you don’t know and can help you make things happen.  The key here is the word network.
  5. They can provide real-time conversation, or slower, on-going conversation. (Think Twitter or Voxer.)
  6. They are passionate and inspiring.
  7. They motivate you.
I could go on forever, really.

I really started building my PLN when I joined Twitter and started using it for educational purposes about 2 years ago.  Since then, my PLN has blossomed.  Here are some tips for building your professional learning network this summer.

Introduce yourself to new people in your building.  If your school is anything like most schools, you stick to your team and similar grade levels.  Kindergarten teachers talking to fifth-grade teachers?  Uh-uh.  Math people mingling with the ELA folks?  Forget it.  The notion that these people have nothing in common with you is ridiculous.  If anything, you share a love for students and a passion for education.  That’s enough.  More than likely, you’ve seen someone in the building that seems like they have it – you know, that thing the students love, even if you’re not sure what it is.  Talk to that person.  Introduce yourself.  Ask them if they want to meet up for lunch or coffee over the summer to talk about how to bridge the gaps in your school or work on a project you might both be interested in.  You can also take this same approach to district professional developments that you attend.  Introduce yourself!

Attend a teacher-led professional development.  It’s not that we don’t like administrators, but we all know that they have a different mindset.  Find a good professional development session that is lead by teachers and is designed for teachers.  An unconference or EdCamp is a great place to start.  If you’ve never heard of an EdCamp, it’s a teacher-led unconference where participants sign up to lead sessions throughout the day.  It is very organic and is based on the idea that there are no experts, only learners.  You can learn more about EdCamps at  If you’re in the Louisville area, check out EdCampJCPS on August 1st at Moore Middle and High School.  If you’re in Kentucky or anywhere near, EdCampKY is August 26th at Bardstown Middle School in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Get on Twitter.  If you do nothing else to build your PLN this summer, at least get on Twitter.  It’s super easy and free to set up an account.  Start following some people in your district, state, and across the nation.  Twitter will also suggest a list of people for you to follow.  You can do a Google search for the best people to follow in your state on Twitter and get lots of ideas that way.  For example, here’s a list of Kentucky educators to follow. Just by following some great people, you’ll get lots of inspiration.  Following hashtags (such as #edchat or #edtech) is another great way to get inspiration, find like-minded folks, and build your PLN.  Let me be one of the first people you follow on Twitter.

Participate in a Twitter Chat.  It’s one thing to follow people on Twitter, but it’s another to interact with them.  This is where you’ll get the most of your Twitter experience, hands down.  Check out the list of education chats here. Try to start with a grade level, content area, state, or district chat.  For example, as a third-grade teacher, I sometimes participate in #3rdChat.  Some of my other favorites are #learnlap, #tlap, #sunchat, #jcpschat, and #kyedchat.  You can start by just following them and gain more courage to participate over time.  My friend Kelsey did an amazing post about how to participate in a Twitter chat!  You can check it out here.

It’s not hard to grow your PLN, but it does take some work!  I hope you’ve got a few ideas about how to get started.  Let me know how it goes!

Take care,