This past Tuesday was our last local Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) meeting for the school year. It’s also the end of our first year having any CSTA meetings – these types of meetings & gatherings didn’t exist until a colleague and I started organizing them back in August. All of this is pretty new, so I wanted to write down some thoughts on how the year went and especially how this last meeting went.
Our CSTA meetings are very new – I started organizing meetings with a fellow teacher only at the start of this school year. We had both been in the same Code.org cohort the year before and really valued the community built in those meetings. But, when that year of PD ended, there really wasn’t a ‘next step’ for us to keep meeting. We weren’t in the same district. We were the only CS teachers in our schools. We were back to being silo’d & disconnected in our own little bubbles.
We had already been talking about continuing to meet beyond our Code.org commitments when I discovered CSTA. It seemed like a good fit with a snazzy name and legitimacy, so we joined the state chapter and started organizing meetings once a month in our local community. A local university donated space for us to meet and we found past Code.org folks to attend and sporadically cold-emailed other teachers. We spent most of the year just trying to figure out what worked and meet the other CS teachers in our community that we didn’t know existed. We had informal happy hours. We had structured meetings with agendas. We invited guest speakers. All of this had lots of mixed results. Sometimes it was just 3 of us who would show up, and sometimes we’d have a dozen.
But I guess we’re doing something right because this last meeting ended up being one of our larger ones. And, for the first time, it actually felt like a *real* meeting. We had above-average attendance. We had updates on how the year had gone. We had news about summer plans. We had enough of a full-group discussion that, by the time dinner arrived, we could continue side conversations and make individual plans. It was both productive and casual.
All of this was exciting because it seemed super contrasting with many of our previous attempts at meetings. In the past, we might have an agenda planned and a set of action items, but then only 2 other people would show up. Or try to have a happy hour where lots of folks show up and there was lots of networking and connecting, but it’s hard to tell what really gets done or if there’s any forward momentum. Something seemed to click in this final meeting where we had decent attendance, something productive to show for the meeting, and still maintained the casual conversations that made the happy hours successful.
To put a cherry on top, we had a new teacher join us who will start teaching Computer science next year at a high school. They’re a science teacher by trade, but will be taking over a blossoming CS program. It strikes me how fortunate it is that there’s this CSTA community for this person to jump into. And it makes me really happy that we blustered through the first year and kept the meetings going so there was this place for him to find community and support.
So, even though there was a ton of uncertainty, it feels like this group has some forward momentum and enough buy-in to make it worthwhile to keep meeting and expanding. Right now I think the only incentive for teachers to attend meetings is to be a part of a community and hear updates on news / opportunities (which could just be an email) – but, I hope we find ways to expand this. I don’t really know what that looks like, but my mind is on two things for next year: trying to find the other people in our community who teach computer science (especially at the middle & elementary school levels), and trying to figure out how grants work so they can support the needs of this group that we’re building.