Nothing is more powerful than when teachers
get together to further their own professional interests. From planning units and sharing content
area materials to learning technology and sharing collaborative projects, mentoring on-line is
becoming commonplace. On-line, teachers are meeting, collaborating, brainstorming, problem solving,
taking classes, and receiving degrees! Included: an array of opportunities
for teacher networking and mentoring -- and guidelines for getting involved!
Traditionally, teacher training has fallen under the auspices of universities and school systems.
For decades, public school supervisors have required a specified number (per contract) of professional
staff development days each year. But today, school districts are redefining their professional
development requirements. In many cases, teachers are taking responsibility for their own professional
development. Where in days past teachers might have had to wait for a conference or staff development
day to receive even general training appropriate to their discipline, today educators can use
the Internet to access training tailored to meet their specific needs within their individual
Opportunities for on-line professional development include multi-user virtual environments,
special interest groups, and communities of practice and Web-based courses. There are as many
different formats as there are learning styles. The WWW is a rising tide of opportunity for educators
who are ready to take charge of their own professional development!
After you've read this article, if you're looking for more resources, check out
the teacher networking edition of the Innovative
Teaching Newsletter as well as their Innovative
Teaching: Mailing Lists, Bulletin Boards and Newsgroups.
COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE
Dr. Robert Bauer, director of strategic competency development at Xerox (Palo Alto Research Center),
defines a community of practice as
"a diverse group of people engaged in real work over a significant period of time during
which they build things, solve problems, learn and invent in short, they evolve a practice that
is highly skilled and highly creative." (See Customer Inspired
Innovation: Creating the Future on the Ideascope
Such communities can form and disband as dictated by the needs of the participants. On the World
Wide Web, you'll find a number of long-standing communities of practice for teachers. Consider
some of these sites:
- Educenter offers discussions,
workshops, and on-line projects for classroom teachers.
- Center for Inspired Learning
brings together creative teachers to discuss progressive structures and holistic approaches
- Liszt's IRC Chats for Educators
lists 36,000 chats on 27 different networks; you can use Internet Relay Chat (IRC) for free
with your Internet connection.
- The Node offers discussion and collaboration
for secondary and post-secondary instructors with a special emphasis on technology development.
- Tapped In is a MOO with more than
5,000 K-12 teachers, staff from several partner professional development organizations, and
researchers who are engaged in professional discourse, collaborative work, and a variety of
on-line activities. (MOO stands for MUD [multi-user domain] Object Oriented.)
- Teachers.net is a finely orchestrated
hub using chatrooms, message boards, live meetings and conferences, job chatboards, teacher
mailrings, and the new Teachers.net Web Ring.
- Teacher-2-Teacher is
a fabulous teacher's mailing list that thrives on the participation of its subscribers. Lots
of mentoring takes place here!
As educators become more proficient on-line, these communities will continue to grow and diversify.
The common thread among the communities is that they provide environments where teachers can mentor
one another -- firsthand, from fellow practitioners, in real time, via the Web!
SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
Special-interest groups (SIGs) take several forms, including electronic mailing lists, discussion
groups, and chat forums. They are defined by the fact that they form around specific topics or common
interests, and they thrive on the input of all those in the group. SIGs that do not have active
participation from a wide range of members whither and eventually disappear.
Educators tend to be very active participants in the SIGs they join. There are a number of SIGs
that have grown geometrically over the past five years as teachers have taken to the Internet.
Try a SIG from one of these terrific resources:
- Deja.com Perhaps
the most user-friendly index of newsgroups on the Web, Deja.com has a site exclusively for educators
-- and its not only well organized, it's searchable too.
- Early Childhood Educators'
and Family Web Corner This site brings together educators through mailing lists, teacher
pages, and a teacher message board as well as providing family pages, a family message board,
articles, and calendars.
Mailing Lists for Teachers Put together by the San Francisco Unified School District, this
is one of the most exhaustive listings of educational listservs on the Web.
- Educational and Artistic
Worlds This site offers links to a number of different intriguing places on the Web of particular
interest to teachers.
- NCTE-Talk This
open discussion list is for teachers and students of English language arts.
- Parent Soup These message
boards provide an exhaustive list of topics covering all things to do with children.
- Teachers.net Mailrings More
than 8,000 of the world's brightest educators are connected through the magic of e-mail. There's
no cost to join.
Educators continue to raise the bar and set the standard for quality information on-line --
and those are some of the best of the best SIGs around. Keep in mind that some of those opportunities
might require you to subscribe, but they are all free services and the most information you need
to provide is your name and e-mail address.
A number of Web sites have already been established that combine a variety of mentoring approaches.
If you're looking for well-established places to find mentors -- places with clear credentials --
try one of these outstanding sites:
- Cisco Educational Archives This
site is a resource for teachers or schools interested in finding out more about the Internet,
how it can be used in the classroom, and how a school can get wired.
- Connected University Just
being launched by Classroom Connect, C.U.
is offering cutting-edge courses with an emphasis on mentoring and collaboration. The courses
are fee-based; university credits are available.
- Educast This educational broadcast
network delivers personalized, up-to-the-minute information to teachers and administrators via
- Edunet This site includes
the EDUforum, a specially designed bulletin board that promotes teacher interaction.
- Millennium Project A forum for discussing
how technology is impacting teaching, this site offers a mediated discussion. People who have
experience in education and learning technologies guide and interact with the ongoing debate.
- National Teachers Enhancement Network
Post to bulletin boards, read about what's new and exciting in education, and even take on-line
courses for credit at this nicely designed site.
- Special Needs Opportunity Windows
Made specifically for special-education teachers, this site offers discussions, bulletin boards,
a listserv, events, and resources to help with the task of teaching children with special needs.
- Teacher Talk Forums
With more than 18,800 registered users, this site promises lots of exposure for teachers' questions
- Teacher's Chat Join teachers
from across the globe for real-time, on-line chats sponsored by WebChat Broadcasting Systems.
- Teachers.net News The goal here
is to establish current and accurate Internet resources for linking the on-line teaching community,
and this site does a great job at it.
- TELUS Learning Connection
Stressing professional growth via technology, TELUS offers a variety of services for the connected
- 21st Century Teachers Network
This network is a nationwide volunteer movement encouraging teacher leaders in educational technology
to develop new skills for using technology in their teaching and learning activities.
GUIDELINES FOR ON-LINE MENTORING
As educators make use of the excellent opportunities for mentoring that are on-line, here are some
commonsense guidelines to follow:
- Make mentoring a natural extension of real-life professional development needs.
- Join only groups that offer credentials and policies up front.
- Participate in groups that require registration or are password protected.
offers your e-mail address to other companies or posts your personal information anywhere on-line.
- Always look and listen as you begin use of a teacher site. Sit back and observe for a while.
Learn the "netiquette" of the site.
- When subscribing to a mailing list, consider the list's "digest" format. You will not get
each individual message as it is posted; usually, you will get a single daily mailing that includes
all the messages posted that day.
- Be wary of giving out personal information, even in your community of practice; phone numbers
and mailing addresses should not be required and should be given to only those people whose
identity you are sure of.
- Plan on short-term mentoring partnerships; they can grow into longer commitments as the need
- Be aware of software conducive to mentoring, such as the Hipbone,
which allows two or more people to connect browsers and navigate the Web together, or Microsoft's
which allows users to work collaboratively on-line in real time. Those products enable educators
to learn from colleagues without the restrictions and conventions of established on-line communities.
SWIMMING WITH THE CURRENT
Mentoring has become standard practice as teachers turn classrooms into learning laboratories to
keep up with the latest and best trends in education. Mentoring allows educators to fill the gap
between instructional theory and real-world practice by sharing and comparing personal experiences
in the classroom. By buddying-up on-line, educators can keep their heads above the ever-changing
waters of both technology and education!
Please check out our other articles this week:
Article by Walter McKenzie
Copyright © 2006 Education World