Are you interested in connecting with other local psychology teachers?

Local networks of psychology teachers provide a forum for sharing classroom ideas and camaraderie.

By Amy Ramponi

My experiences with teaching psychology, the TOPSS organization, AP Readers and #psychat community on Twitter have shown me that psychology teachers are among the most generous in sharing their expertise and activities with others. Teaching can be really difficult if you’re the only psychology teacher in your building or district. Reaching out to local teachers in your area and forming a local networking group can seem like a difficult and daunting task, but can be quite easily done with a little footwork.

How to plan a local network

You can start off by compiling a list of psychology teachers in your area. Make a geographic radius that you’d like to stay in and start an Internet search of psychology and social studies teachers in that area at local high schools. You can also go to MyAPA and search the APA membership database for TOPSS members in your state (you’ll want to search for “affiliate” members), or you may want to contact the state public instruction office or someone in social studies or science education at the state level to get contacts. 

Next, plan your event; possibilities include a Saturday morning event at a coffee shop, an evening social with appetizers or a daylong conference. Contact the restaurant or place where the meeting will be held and get more information. With a bigger group or a daylong conference, lunch may need to be provided. Call around to get pricing and information on catering. The American Psychological Foundation offers grants to help provide funds for these types of expenses. Charging a registration fee (even a small one, or a refundable one) commits people to the conference.

You can ask others to share their ideas as you plan your event; do you have a well-connected or well-respected psychology teacher or professor in the area? Do you have a local university or community college that has a great psychology department? You can check the TOPSS Speakers Bureau for people willing to speak in your area. Local counseling professionals or other psychologists in high-interest areas may be a great draw as well.

Another great option is to have a peer-sharing session of new and original classroom ideas. These sharing sessions tend to be very successful, engaging and helpful to teachers. You can create a Dropbox or Google folder that everyone can access to share information.

Then, you will want to promote, promote, promote. Get as many people to promote the event as possible. Share details of the conference via your growing email list, on Facebook and Twitter, with your local department of public instruction, on your school’s website and with TOPSS, which can help you promote it as well. If there are state organizations for the social studies (Wisconsin has the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies, for example), they may be willing to promote an event. Another avenue is student teachers in psychology or social studies who may be interested in the field or networking. 

Finally, a big draw for teachers is free stuff. Contact publishers, TOPSS and, perhaps, local businesses which might be interested in donating an item to your conference. Textbook publishers have been more than generous in sending DVDs, texts, supplemental materials, notepads, pens and bags to regional psychology teacher groups. It never hurts to ask.

Find a local network

Following is a listing of several local networks of psychology teachers. We will feature more in future PTN issues. A TOPSS webpage will be added soon listing these groups and more.

CHITOPSS

Nancy Fenton

CHITOPSS serves Illinois, but most of the participants will be from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. In addition, some teachers may be attending from southern Wisconsin.

CHITOPSS meets annually at one of several area high schools, and the meetings to date have all been held in person. We reach teachers through a list accumulated through prior conferences and by reaching out via electronic mailing lists. Because the conference rotates from year to year to different high schools, the contact information for the coordinator also changes annually. The conference consists of a keynote speaker and teachers sharing resources and ideas. Over 80 teachers attended the conference in January 2014.

FOXTOPSS

Amy Ramponi

The Fox Valley Teachers of Psychology (FOXTOPSS) is a group centered in and around the Fox Valley region of Wisconsin. FOXTOPSS was reorganized in 2013 and holds a fall meeting and a spring social for Wisconsin psychology teachers. The fall meetings will be held on a Saturday in October at an Appleton-area coffee shop, and the spring meetings will be held at a local brew pub. Interested teachers or members can join by contacting Amy Ramponi by email or via Twitter at @amyramponi.

MATOP

Kent Korek

The Milwaukee Area Teachers of Psychology (MATOP), founded in 1993, brings psychology teachers from Wisconsin and Northern Illinois together to share ideas on how to enhance their teaching, learn about the latest news and resources in the teaching of psychology, and develop professional friendships. 

Biannual evening meetings, usually held during fall (October/November) and again in spring (April/May), are free and open to anyone interested in the teaching of psychology. While MATOP’s primary emphasis is high school psychology, psychology teachers from all levels, secondary (regular, AP and IB) and postsecondary, are welcome to attend.

A typical two-hour MATOP meeting reports on current news of interest, showcases the latest textbooks and resources in the field, and provides the opportunity to share the best and most productive classroom lesson plans and activities. 

For detailed agendas of upcoming meetings and previous meetings dating back to 2005, check our website listed below. For those not within driving distance of Milwaukee, we strongly suggest you inspect our agendas for items you might find useful. Wherever possible, we try to include Web links and emails for further information. For more information on MATOP or to join our mailing list, go to the Germantown School District website or contact Kent Korek, Germantown High School.

MNTOPSS

Mike Berndt 

The MNTOPSS Conference consists of psychology teachers throughout the state of Minnesota getting together in person at Saint Cloud Apollo High School to share lesson plans, resources and teaching techniques within the field of psychology. All of the presenters at the MNTOPSS Conference are high school psychology teachers who volunteer to demonstrate a psychology activity, a lesson plan or a resource with the group. The MNTOPSS Conference takes place annually in May after the Advanced Placement psychology exam, and MNTOPSS welcomes any teacher of psychology to attend the conference. This year's conference will take place on May 8, 2014, and the cost is $25. The primary communication method for MNTOPSS is email. 

VATOPSS

Steven Turner

VATOPSS is a new local organization of psychology teachers in Virginia. Winter weather disrupted our original plans for a first conference in 2014, but we still managed a good turnout on March 24. Our conference featured two keynote speakers, James Freeman, PhD, and Fred Smyth, PhD, from the University of Virginia. Various high school teachers also shared resources and lesson ideas.

This conference was a good kick start for connecting teachers in Virginia who up to now have worked in isolation from one another. About 30 teachers expressed an interest in participating in this group, and we hope it will continue to grow and our conference will become an annual event.

The 2014 conference was funded through an APF grant, so there was no cost for participants. We’re currently working on plans for our next conference — which we will plan in the fall — far away from the possibility of winter snow.

Information and updates on the activity of VATOPSS can be found online.

About the author

Amy RamponiAmy Ramponi is a psychology teacher at Kimberly High School in Kimberly, Wis. Ramponi is a member of the APA Committee on Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS).