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Stand By Me: Using Teacher Listservs to Collaborate With Other Educators

Voice of ExperienceEach week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in the Education World Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on the power of educator listservs. "Using the Internet, we communicate regularly, support one another unconditionally, celebrate one another's teaching successes, and mentor one another in spite of the obstacles of global separation." Included: Links to resources to help educators learn more about the collaborative power of listservs plus how to join in the fun and learning!

One of my favorite historical images is that of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill standing at the South Portico of the White House on Christmas Eve 1941. They have just sent mutual Christmas greetings to the people of the United States.

Brought together by World War II, the two world leaders created an unexpected collaborative working relationship, one that would eventually prompt Roosevelt to cable Churchill: "It is fun to be in the same decade with you."

Now, 60 years later, as I reflect on my own collaborative experiences with teacher listservs, I have to say that I share Roosevelt's sentiments. Bonded by the goal of effectively reaching and teaching today's young people, my virtual colleagues and I have developed enjoyable, productive, and professional relationships that stretch from Canada to Australia, from the United States to the Middle East, and to and from all places in between. Using the Internet, we communicate regularly, support one another unconditionally, celebrate one another's successes, and mentor one another constantly -- in spite of the apparent obstacle of global separation.


It didn't start out that way, of course. My initial listserv activities resembled the old-fashioned pen pal scenarios that most of us experienced in our youth. After registering on a listserv, I casually shared ideas, lesson plans, and stories from my classroom.

Before long, however, I began to realize that the people I was communicating with weren't your typical pen pals. They were serious educators looking for ways to improve their teaching practices. They were intelligent, reflective, and up-to-date in their education pedagogy.

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My first true exposure to "global mentoring" -- one teacher helping another teacher via the Internet -- happened the day I offered to share a unit I had created on the theme of heroes. In one day, I received requests for that unit from more than 100 teachers! The requests came from places as far away as Australia and as close as a town 200 miles from my home. Because I didn't realize I could just post the Web page address on the listserv, I spent the next day e-mailing each and every teacher.

I was amazed at the level of trust and commitment that many listserv members were willing to demonstrate to colleagues who were perfect strangers. A teacher from California sent me $138 so I could buy her the same flashy technology fabric -- covered with illustrations of various technology tools -- I had used as a background on classroom bulletin boards. Another teacher sent me a video of a program she had written about in one of her listserv postings. One teacher even offered to spend the weekend re-formatting my Web pages so pop-up ads didn't continue to distract the reader.

It quickly became evident to me that I no longer needed to handle all my classroom challenges on my own. Answers to my daily classroom dilemmas were as close as my listserv community. A powerful level of professional camaraderie developed among my listserv colleagues. Soon I had more meaningful professional relationships with virtual colleagues than I had with many of my peers in my own school.


The day I got off the plane in Raleigh, North Carolina, I knew I had crossed over from virtual collaboration to collaboration in the "here and now." As a result of my online work with students and educators, I had been selected to be a teacher-editor with MidLink Magazine, an ezine that profiles innovative online classroom projects. I traveled to Raleigh to meet and work with MidLink's team of teacher-editors -- to take a collaborative relationship begun online to a deeper level. I left Raleigh inspired and better equipped to integrate technology into my classroom projects.

Since that first trip to North Carolina, I have had the opportunity to meet many more of my listserv colleagues at international learning conferences. I am always amazed at how easy it is to connect and how quickly we move from small talk to the topics that drew us together in the first place -- education reform and technology integration.

Like Roosevelt and Churchill, my listserv friends and I have discovered that by merging minds, cultural differences, and resources, we are able to achieve a common good that might, at the end of the day, be education's "finest hour."


Following are a handful of resources to help educators learn more about listservs.


  • Churchill and FDR This lesson about the close friendship and working relationship that developed between U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill includes the text of their Christmas Eve greetings.

Brenda Dyck teaches at ABC Charter Public School, a school for gifted and talented children, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In addition to teaching sixth-grade math and science, Brenda is also the school librarian. She has written for various educational periodicals and is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Article by Brenda Dyck
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Copyright © 2006 Education World

Updated 01/13/2006