Sharing. It’s something we’ve all been taught to do from the earliest years of our lives. Share your toys with your friends. Share the crayons at preschool. Share the backseat of the car with your brother. But then we move into adulthood and things change. Too often we get tunnel vision, consumed with our own day-to-day tasks, forgetting the power of sharing.
Last March at the annual CUE conference, I attended an excellent session on LiveBinders. At the conclusion of the session, I felt compelled to do a better job of sharing resources with the educators with whom I work. So, when I returned to school the following Monday, I resolved to begin sending to my staff a series of emails I called Tuesday’s Tech Tips. Since March, I have been sending short emails to teachers containing brief technology tips or suggestions. The tips are typically basic in nature and have included things like keyboard shortcuts, how to take a screenshot, and app/resource suggestions like Jing, Dropbox, and Remind101. I realize many of those who receive these tips are already aware of what I’m sharing, but I also know that not every teacher possesses the same level of proficiency in the use of technology. Bottom line, just because I know how to do something with technology doesn’t mean everybody else does. The response from teachers has been very positive, and sending out these tips has given teachers an opportunity to share back some tips of they’re own. It hasn’t been a one-way street, as I’ve learned a bunch from my staff in the process of sending out my tips.
I've previously written about the importance of collaboration (see my post "Paying It Forward"), but I believe this is a topic worthy of repeated discussion. My challenge to readers is this – if you’re not already doing so, start sharing with your staff. No matter who you are or what your position, you have something to share. It may be a lesson plan with a grade-level colleague. It may be an instructional strategy you’ve found to be particularly effective. It may be a tech tip of your own. Whatever you’ve found to work well for you, share it, for as a poster in my classroom used to read, "TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More."
I recently watched, for the umpteenth time, The Princess Bride, one of my all-time favorite movies. This movie has it all – action, adventure, humor, romance, and upon my most recent viewing of this classic, a teaching reminder. “A teaching reminder?” you say. Inconceivable! Yes, the movie teaches one how to navigate the Fire Swamps and why you should never trust a six-fingered man, but I was reminded of an important instructional strategy in the three-second clip below.
Vizzini’s comment reminded me of the importance of waiting, something typically viewed in our society as a negative, but in education is imperative in certain situations. Let me explain. In our teaching credential programs, we all learned about wait time, the research-based teacher practice of pausing several seconds after posing a question, allowing students more time to formulate thoughtful and detailed answers (as well as giving more students the opportunity to answer the question). But there is another kind of wait time, one that seems obvious, yet in my opinion, is often overlooked. I’m talking about waiting until every student is paying attention before delivering instruction or giving a direction.
Sounds simple, right? But do we actually do it? Do we have the attention of all our students before giving a direction? Sure, those students seated in the front couple of rows or at the front of the line are focused on what we’re saying, but what about those in the back? Are they listening? Are they looking at us? Are they even facing the front? Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed too many instances, with students inside and lined up outside the classroom, where the answer to these questions was no.
Unless we demand the attention of all our students, chances are we’re not going to get it. And it’s okay to demand students’ attention, because this can be done in a respectful way. I’m not saying we should mimic an impatient Vizzini and say to our students, “I’m waiting!” in a rude tone of voice. What I am saying is that it’s okay to wait until you have everyone’s attention. And you may have to wait several moments. That’s okay. No, it’s not just okay; it’s a cornerstone of effective teaching. Because if you don’t do this, some of your students will miss out on what you’re saying, whether it’s a simple direction or something more important. If they’re not listening, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying.
Vizzini could have walked away, frustrated with the delay. But he waited, knowing he needed Inigo Montoya and Fezzik to accomplish his task. We too must learn to wait, for we need all our students, just as they need us. So the next time you’re about to give a direction or deliver a lesson, think of Vizzini. Just try and wait a little more patiently than he did.
Think back to your first year of teaching. For some, it was just a few years ago. For others, it may seem a distant memory (and some of you may still be in your first year). Regardless of how long you've been teaching, think back to the beginning. Did you have an experienced teacher mentor you through your first year or two? Whether it was informal or in a program such as BTSA, did you have someone come alongside you and share lessons, help you with your classroom management, show you the ins and outs of your new school? I did. Mrs. Kawase was her name, and I was incredibly blessed to work with her as she took me under her wing and showed me what it takes to be a great teacher. She listened when I had questions, freely shared her resources, and more than anything, was a friendly face during a very overwhelming year.
I've asked the same question to teachers recently at presentations I've given -- "Did you have a mentor?" Unfortunately, very few teachers have said they had someone to mentor them at the beginning of their careers. After thinking about it, I asked myself, "Why not?" Is it because there weren't any teachers qualified to give a first-year teacher guidance? I find that hard to believe. Whatever the reason, it isn't right.
What about now? How many of you currently have someone you would call an educational mentor? I do. His name is Tony Vincent (www.learninginhand.com). Some of you may be familiar with his work. A former 5th grade teacher, he is now an independent consultant who works with teachers and students all over the world to help them tap into the power of educational technology. Spend some time on my website and you'll find his name on many of the pages, as he has been instrumental in helping me infuse emerging technologies like blogs, podcasts and iPod flash cards into my teaching. Tony has been an incredible resource to me, and although it's not an official title, I consider him to be my educational technology mentor.
Here's the point I want to make -- I've never met Tony. I have never been in the same room with him. As far as I know, we've never been in the same state at the same time. He lives in Arizona, while I live in California. With the exception of one Skype call, I've never even spoken with him. All of our communication has been in the form of text (email, Twitter, etc.). Yet because of his influence, because he has freely and graciously shared his ideas, expertise, and resources through his website, I am a better teacher than I was a few years ago. All because he was willing to share.
Are you sharing? Are you a mentor? Are you paying it forward? We all have something to share, whether we're in our second or third year of teaching or our second or third decade. It may be big or it may be small, but with millions of teachers in the world, someone may be online right now looking for what you have. So share, through a blog, a wiki, a website, Twitter, or simply a conversation in the staff room. Do not underestimate your influence.
A few years ago, I received an email from a teacher in another state. After seeing some social studies flowchart notes I had posted on my website (http://www.mrcoley.com/flowcharts_examples.htm), she sent me a short message. Below is an excerpt from the email, shared with her permission.
"I thought you should know that today you managed to indirectly touch the lives of 18 students here in Alabama...Last night I stumbled across your website and noticed your social studies flowchart notes for your lesson on Columbus. Coincidentally this just happens to be the lesson we are on in social studies. So, I thought I'd give it a shot with my kids. TODAY WAS THE FIRST DAY that my students ENJOYED social studies. Today was the first day my students comprehended ANYTHING having to do with social studies...I just thought you would want to know that you made a difference in the lives of 18 children today, even though we are almost a continent away."
Do not underestimate your influence.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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