It has been over 20 years since I took my first job as a teacher. When I reflect on the valuable tools that have allowed me to grow as an educator since then, one has been by belonging to professional organizations. During my career, I have been an English language teacher, English literature teacher, social studies teacher, CTE (Career and Technical Education) teacher, site administrator, and now district leader. Each step along the way, I joined groups that helped me learn and advance my professional understanding.
I recall being a new teacher and joining TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). When I received my first quarterly journal, I immediately discovered teachers, who were connected to me and my students, sharing their stories and ideas in a way that helped me be a better teacher. This was before Pinterest, Twitter, and other social groups could instantly connect teachers, but I immediately saw how I could grow by belonging.
These days, articles, thought leaders, and information are easily accessible without actually joining organizations, and it may be tempting to not join. But the power of belonging is more than glossy journals. Organizations all allow us different opportunities to come together and grow as professional educators. Whether it be through professional development or leadership opportunities, the key to growing with an organization is becoming an active member.
There are a number of ways to do this:
- Join the state affiliate of the organization. Many professional organizations have a state affiliate that may hold an annual conference, put out their own publications, and support their own awards. These state affiliates are great opportunities to join others who work close to you in contexts that may be similar to yours. State affiliates give educators ways to present at annual conferences and sit on boards when they can’t at a national level. I joined Arizona ASCD years after being a member of ASCD (Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development). Being a member of a state affiliate has given me opportunities to lead in a way that is specific to Arizona’s needs.
- Find ways to serve. Many national organizations are looking for members to serve on committees, as article reviewers, or as presenters. Serving helps connect you to the organization’s mission. I was a long-time member of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. I worked with their committee that oversaw the National Honor Society. Not only was I able to shape policy surrounding the NHS, I learned much about how other high schools supported student leadership.
- Present at a conference. Conferences can be expensive, especially when there is travel involved. There are ways to minimize cost. National conferences (when they return) generally move from coast to coast. Wait for a conference to be close to you and apply to present. There are often discounts for presenters. Look for virtual conferences which will grow in number beyond today’s travel restrictions. One of my favorite experiences was presenting at the National Council for Social Studies Annual Conference with a colleague. We were both able to develop our skills and bring back amazing ideas to support us as teachers.
- Take advantage of student and other discounts. Many organizations do not charge full price for students or for those who are not serving in the role. I was able to belong to some administrator organizations before I served as an administrator at a discounted rate. This is a way to learn about a position before applying or taking it on.
- Follow your favorite educational organizations on social media and connect with others that belong. Networking is a real reason why we join and a way that we grow as educators.
Professional organizations are a great investment and worthy of the expense. So whether it be your local association, an organization related to what you currently do, or maybe something you aspire to be, I encourage you all to join.