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On-Line Mentoring: Teachers Buddy-Up to Learn!

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 schedules.

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.



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 Web site.)

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 to education.
  • 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.)
  • is a finely orchestrated hub using chatrooms, message boards, live meetings and conferences, job chatboards, teacher mailrings, and the new 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 (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:

  • Perhaps the most user-friendly index of newsgroups on the Web, 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.
  • Educational 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.
  • 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 the Internet.
  • 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 and ideas.
  • Teacher's Chat Join teachers from across the globe for real-time, on-line chats sponsored by WebChat Broadcasting Systems.
  • 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 teacher.
  • 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.



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.
  • Read and agree with any group's privacy policy before joining; don't join any community that 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 arises.
  • 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 NetMeeting, 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.


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!

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Article by Walter McKenzie
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