Interview with Meenoo Rami

Due to the growing popularity of distance education and a number of people preferring to study at their own pace, more and more educational institutions enhance their traditional classroom by introducing online courses.

However, the concern is that online education, in comparison with traditional one, requires from a teacher a completely different set of skills, other approaches and techniques that teacher education programs don’t usually provide. A good solution is to connect with experienced teachers and try to develop the skills needed for the eLearning environment on your own.

To give you more powerful insights into refining your teaching practices through the collaboration with other teachers, we talked to the founder of a widely popular weekly educational twitter chat #engchat - Meenoo Rami.


Meenoo, could you please tell us how did the idea of #engchat come up?

Meenoo: I started #engchat in 2010, it was just few weeks after I had finished the summer institute for National Writing Project at the Philadelphia site. I was starting to think deeply about the relevance of teacher connections and teacher voice. I was also a 4th year teacher in the school district of Philadelphia in a school where I felt isolated and without much guidance. I knew that I wanted to improve my practice and it would mean having to go outside of my school and district to find exemplary English teachers and learn alongside them. #edchat was quickly taking off and I kept saying to others that there should be an English chat dedicated to teachers of English. People kept tired of me talking about it and someone plainly said to me, "If you're so passionate about this, why don't you start a twitter chat for English teachers?" I doubted myself and felt that I could not do this, I didn't have the reach of some of the others on twitter. But I took a leap of faith and now #engchat has touched thousands of teachers and I am so proud of the community it has become. It is the passion and dedication of teachers around the world that has made it an amazing community.

#engchat
What are the main attributes of professional learning communities?

Meenoo: I think any learning community worth being part of and investing time in is welcoming, respectful, and is grounded in work to make learning better for all students. Whether you're participating in an inquiry group in school, blogging with another teacher across the country, going to conferences, or lending your voice to the Teacher2Teacher movement, you have to tie your work to making learning an awesome experience for the kids in front of you.

What makes professional eLearning communities effective?

Meenoo: I think it starts with respect and a clear idea about why these folks have gathered together. Teachers don't have a lot of time to spare so communities better be effective about providing teachers the support that they deserve so they can continue to do amazing work with their students.

What are the advantages and challenges of online professional learning communities like #engchat?

Meenoo: I think you have to make time for face-to-face interactions. I clearly remember the first gathering that we had of #engchat teachers at the National Council for Teachers of English conference. It was all these teachers who had connected via Twitter coming together to celebrate their connections at this conference. You have to care about the people who take the time to join and contribute to your community. #engchat hosts have never been about how many followers they have, they are teachers who are doing amazing work in their classroom and have some interesting to share with teachers.

What are the benefits of online professional learning communities over traditional workcamps and early conferences?

Meenoo: I think ease of use. You can learn all day on Sunday in your pajama with your cat or dog beside you. Teachers also don't have a lot of money to spend on traditional professional development opportunities and online, free, and relevant training can rejuvenate teachers.

What advice would you give you to someone who wants to start his own professional learning community? What are the initial steps? What obstacles the creator can face?

Meenoo: I think my answer would have been different five years ago. Now, I would say, look to see if such a community already exists. It probably does, volunteer your time, connect with other members and offer your help. If such a community does not exist, connect with others who are looking to do this work and join them. I think it is way too hard to do this alone, bring a friend along.

How do you see the future of professional learning communities? What are future trends?

Meenoo: I think digital and hybrid learning for students and teachers will continue to evolve but having face-to-face connections will remain important. We as humans have a deep need to belong and we will continue to see teachers stepping up to meet their profession's needs.


About the Author:

Meenoo Rami

Meenoo Rami is a national board certified teacher who taught students English in Philadelphia for ten years, at the Science Leadership Academy and in other public schools in the city. She has shared her classroom practice at various national and regional conferences including NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, ILA, EduCon, and the National Writing Project’s Urban Sites Conference. The founder of #engchat, an international Twitter chat for English teachers, Meenoo has also been a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project and an educational consultant with The Educator Collaborative. She is also an instructor in Arcadia University’s Connected Learning Certificate Program.

She can be reached at meenoo.rami@gmail.com
or www.meenoorami.org and followed on Twitter

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