The Importance of a Professional Learning Community

Kristen Drury, Stephanie O'Brien, Doug Ragan, Ariel Serkin, and Scott Milam hanging with ChemEdX's Jon Holmes at ChemEd2019 in Naperville, IL

Shortly after I first started teaching in 2001, I realized I didn’t know how to teach. I knew my content, was skilled at presentations, and had the ability to form relationships with my students, but that wasn’t the same thing as teaching. Over the following years, I became a good history teacher. When I switched disciplines and became a chemistry teacher in 2009, I had to start from scratch. I was fortunate to work with a team of chemistry teachers who coplanned 3x a week, developed and prepared labs and assessments together, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. I still think fondly about the Mexican hot chocolate and the lime and the coconut cupcakes we would enjoy as we planned. I found out when I switched schools that most places don’t have a similar type of collaborative environment and once again I was on my own in the classroom. Even if coplanning existed, it wasn’t as fun or productive.

Over the ensuing years I found my professional learning community again in a place I didn’t expect it to be: on Twitter. I had heard Twitter was a cesspool of hate and not a place where you wanted to spend time. Yet a former colleague of mine, a business and entrepreneurship educator Jacqueline Prester @MrsPrester convinced me to get an account. She told me it was the place where she connected with educators around the country and even around the world and it helped make her a better educator. It was several years before I mustered the courage to send my first Tweet and I found the #chemed community. As I became more involved on Twitter, I discovered a community of chemistry educators who were thoughtful and dedicated to their craft. They never settled for doing things just because they had always been done that way. I found teachers who looked for best practices, who found new technology tools to enhance their teaching, and who regularly used retrieval practice to help students succeed. My Twitter PLC quickly shared tips on lab set up, study strategies, practice problems, assessments and videos. They celebrated your good days and commiserated with you on your hard ones. They pushed to the forefront issues of equity and inclusion and made the sure the idea of chemistry is for everyone a center of their educational philosophy.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and effectively cancelled #chemcation2020, I have relied on my virtual community more than ever. I am grateful for their leadership, mentorship, innovative ideas, and being more than peers and colleagues, but friends. Some, such as @dragan39, @SchmidtChemist, and @KatyDornbos, created screencasts and set up virtual meetings to train teachers on new technology. Others such as @SnySciCHS, @CullenChemEdX, @chemduncan, ensured we stay connected with meetings for personal and professional learning. Others such as @sproutscience, @heydebigale, @STEMxicanEd, @Teachforaliving helped guide us through the transition to remote learning with resources, tools, and ideas. AP Chemistry teachers had support and resources from the endless efforts of @mrfarabaugh, @PuttiChem, @Pricepd, and @CummingsLinda. I saw contemplative reflection from @KeithAnliker, @Finetraces786, and @DrCJSobers and mathematical modeling along with Mentos and Diet Coke from @pchemstud. Educators such as @tanea_hibler, @AmandaHoran8, and @notphogiston vocally advocated for equity especially now. This short list does not scratch the surface of all the people whose work challenged me and pushed me forward.

Some of us have been lucky to have met in person at a Biennial Conference for Chemical Education or Chemistry Education conference, but some of us have only seen each other on Twitter. Yet, I couldn’t be the teacher I am without them. It took me years to realize your education community did not have to be in your school or even in your state. A Professional Learning Community did not have to be the one your school assigned you to, but rather it could be a group of educators from around the world who push you to do better.

My PLC of @teresamarx, @secaurphysics, @eposthuma text daily and I know I could not survive the pandemic without them.

Find your people, wherever they are, and don’t be afraid of Twitter, your #chemfam is waiting. Follow me there @aserkin!

Join the conversation.

All comments must abide by the ChemEd X Comment Policy, are subject to review, and may be edited. Please allow one business day for your comment to be posted, if it is accepted.

Comments 2

Michael Farabaugh's picture
Michael Farabaugh | Fri, 05/15/2020 - 17:55

Thank you for your lovely words, Ariel. My heart is full.


Ariel Serkin's picture
Ariel Serkin | Fri, 05/15/2020 - 18:06

Thank you for being an important part of my PLC and #chemfam.