Mentorship: a new understanding of teaching and learning

I’ve worked with three mentors and their kids but I’ve not been equally engaged with all three mentors or their students.  The level of my involvement has been my own choice, for the most part, partly because with one of my mentors I found a connection and a shared passion to run with the possibilities of this mentorship gift.  For the most part, however, the difference in involvement with the three mentors and their classes was due to a lack of time.  I simply did not have enough time to give all that I wanted to with each group. 

San Diego, grade 7-8 Spanish Language LearnersSan Diago Blog Pic]

I’ve been blogging with Leigh Murrell’s Class in San Diego, Ca.  Like all of my mentors, Leigh was on the ball with inviting me to her classroom blog (using Blogger) and guiding me through the set up of my own home page.  I wrote an introductory post.  I then waited.  What was interesting about this mentorship is that I really waited.  I have Leigh’s class blog linked to my Google Reader and it didn’t occur to me to go back and check the classroom blog to see if the students had left comments on my own blog site.  When no posts came up, I assumed no new posts were being made to my blog.  I was wrong.  As well though, I felt I had no time to check the site and I was on the brink of emailing Leigh and telling her I would not be able to blog with her students.  I had accepted a temporary position with the school system as a ‘tutor’ and I was feeling very overwhelmed.

Leigh emailed me after about a week and said the kids were anxious to hear back from me!  I had oodles of comments.  I read the comments and felt terrible.  I had already given my word to the kids, and even though letting Leigh down would have been one thing, I can’t let kids down, I’m not made that way.  (My temporary position was put on pause for two weeks so that worked out well, for the parameters of ECMP)  I quickly posted a long reply to the students.  Leigh had me reply to the students collectively, on my own page, and though at first this seemed strange, like I wasn’t making individual connections, I began to see this kind of learning differently.  The other kids had a chance to jump in and comment and that took the conversation in a different direction, and I like that.  Openness like this felt more like a classroom discussion.  I did not feel like I was having a discussion with individual students who were thousands away.


Australia, grades 5 and 6 

I’ve also been blogging with Lois Smethurst’s grade 5 and 6 classes in Australia.  I feel that I know her students a lot more than the Sand Diego kids because I’ve seen their faces and heard their voices.  After experiencing the success of Skyping with another mentor’s class, when I was chatting with Lois, I instantly knew I wanted to Skype into her class and introduce myself this way, get to know her kids.  The time difference confused me a little, but we figured it out.  I got to meet both full grades of 5s and 6s.  They asked me questions and I asked them questions.  Lois and I had a short Skype call before I chatted with the students. 

Her students are in the LEEP program, at Berwick schools and these students are referred to as “Lodgers” because of what they do in their extension program.  The easier way to explaining the program is for Lois to describe it,  or to think of it as a pull out program, or self-managed educational technology program for students with exceptionalities.  Lois cautions that she is new to the program, but from what I can gather and from what her students blog, they adore both her and the program.

Currently, they are debating with students in other schools and working on novel studies, though none of these are done in a ‘traditional’ manner.  The students use pod casts, TuxPaint, VoiceThread, Skype, Glogster, Audiotouch and individual and class blogs.  As compared to interactions with the students in Leigh’s class in San Diego, my comments with these Australian students have been very individualised to each student.  However, I know from the comments that they make on their blogs and the project they are engaged in, that the students work collaboratively in class, that the class is filled with social learning.  It’s their comments with me that are individualized. 

My involvement with Lois’s class didn’t need to stay so one-dimensional.  I believe she would have been keen to let me try a number of projects with her students and that likely the reason it didn’t happen was because I didn’t volunteer.  I didn’t volunteer because I knew that I didn’t have the time.  At times too, I felt I was not fulfilling my role with her kids as well as I would have liked.  Some of Lois’s kids simply posted comments on their blogs while others embedded Glogster ‘poster’ pages.  I also found responding to the Glogster pages took a lot more time then responding to a blog post.   I was so surprised when Lois sent me this feedback,

Hi Cori
Just wanted to let you know you are doing a fantastic job on the blog. The students love to get your comments and     they are exactly what I would be saying. They are so much more effective coming from you as you are very special in their eyes. Your Skype conference had such an impact! Thanks for your work, it is brilliant.
Lois                                                                          (Lois Smethurst, Wednesday, June 10, 2009 4:07 AM)

Lois’s class will continue after ECMP355 is finished, and I plan to keep chatting with the kids as long as Lois will let me.  I have a great idea of geocaching project.  Both she and her kids are really good connections.  I think about where I’ll be next fall, in my internship placement, as of last Friday, it’s entirely uncertain.  But one thing that I know, I will stay in touch with my mentors, and I will find ways for our students to connect! 

North Carolina, Grade 6poutine and skype call 001

With Bill Ferriter’s three groups of grade six science classes, I’ve jumped right in.  Bill was the first of my mentors to reply via email and Bill was ready for anything, and said so, often.  He checked to be sure that I had a Gmail account, which I did, and then he encouraged me to Skype into his class and meet his kids.  Bill said go and I said OK.  As Bill struggled with the bureaucracy of getting Skype set up in his class, I struggled with setting up the web cam that came with this computer and its $7000 worth of software and fancy gadgets.  I remember asking myself why I ever would need a webcam?  Oh my goodness.  I emailed Bill later that week that I thought the third period kids were getting the better me!  I was more awake, my stories clearer at 9:30 than at 6:30!  And now, I would wonder how I could ever live without a webcam.  I am a storyteller for goodness sake.  I love sharing stories! 

The way Bill taught using the Skype tool impressed me as well.  He had a clear process for how we were going to Skype, and he laid out his expectations for me.  For example, when we tried the call first call, he said that if the connection failed, he would be the one calling back.  Always, when the class called, Bill and the kids controlled the conversation, not me.  He had the student prepare their questions and they were mostly questions connected to what they were learning, with a few about where I lived (Moose Jaw is a funky name for a city after all).  The kids knew a bit about me; Bill had read the “about me” section on my blog.  But his kids were prepared for the interview, and this showed.  I was being interviewed by well-prepared students, and I was set at ease instantly.  I not only learned how to teach using Skype from those calls, but also how to employ good teaching as part of teaching digital technology!  After those first three visits, I Skyped in every other day that next week.

The kids were practicing CommonCraft tutorials and I was there to watch and offer feedback.  I was nervous that connecting with the kids from so far away and via webcam would be difficult but, for the most part it wasn’t.  With one group I had to pick up my questioning to hold their attention, to keep them on task, but that was all.  I know that those mornings with Mr. Ferriter’s kids were my favorite parts of the whole semester.  The kids and I connected (oh and this makes me sad – on the voicethread that I started and the kids have added to, one of the students with whom I connected –[867-5309, that’s an inside joke, sorry, you are not supposed to get it] recorded his comment and the audio was wonky.  I didn’t get to hear his comments, or his voice.  I’m still sad!).  The kids said things like, “Hey, have you said Hi to Ms. Saas today?”  I loved sharing their learning, being part of their lives and inviting them into mine.

From the first Skype call with Bill that lasted for quite awhile, I knew I wanted to work with his kids and with him.  He was so open to ideas.  As the VoiceThread project unfolded and Bill and I collaborated, I followed what the kids were doing on their numerous blogs and began to read Bill’s professional blog as well.  The VT project started out with the intention that I would create it and the kids would participate in it, however that is not how teaching and learning works.  The project became more like I open a few doors and now I’m tagging along while students are probing deeper into the learning and this is exciting for me. 

However, I can tell the VT is my first one.  I can see all the ways I would improve it, from the guiding questions on the first slide to creating a VT that can be copied, with pages on the end for teachers with different guiding questions that they can record and used as they feel necessary.  Also, the audio needs to be re-recorded.  Let’s not even mention the monsoon season in Saskatchewan that interfered with the video taping!

Anyway, I checked back and there are new comments, all the time there are new comments, and I’m pleased.  I’m going to add the link to the blog about the new owl imprint on Wednesday.  Then the kids can blog with Janet, and follow George’s imprinting journey.  You know, keep the learning going.

When I began my ECMP355 class a few weeks ago, I had, what I believed to be a strong understanding of out-of-the-box inquiry-based learning in a middle-years classroom.  Now, wow, the pedagogy of differentiation, of engagement, of inquiry, of real-life experiences and heck, of just plain fun, is shifting so much I hear the sound of stone scraping against stone.  I hope with Bill, as with all of my mentors this semester, I’ll be able to continue to collaborate with them and their future classrooms of kids to discover social learning spaces where we tag-along. 

My postscript 

I’ve had amazing mentors in my life, my parents, both teachers, three instructors at university, and now Bill.  Recently, the chair of the middle-year program at the U of R announced that she will be heading to the US to write a book during her sabbatical.  I thought how strange it was to head to the US to write when we have so much to learn at home.  Then I met Bill, and began following what he was reading and writing.  My wonderful network of amazing middle-years teachers and supportive mentors is growing; its becoming global. 

I love learning.  I savor it like sweet hard candy.  In six years, my daughter will be off to University and I wonder if I’ll return to school to complete a Masters of Education degree.  In a recent post, Bill shared these words from one of his students:

Dear Mr. Ferriter,

You don’t know how difficult writing this letter is. 
It means admitting that my middle school career is finally drawing to a close.  Three fleeting years have passed in the blink of an eye, and I’m so thankful that you’ve been a part of them.  The year that I spent in your class was one of the most exciting of my life.  For the first time, I enjoyed coming to school each day and reveled in the fun of it all.


You taught me to look at the world in a new perspective.  I learned about all of the things that technology can produce.  I mean, who could forget all of that awesome blogging?  But most of all, you are an all around awesome guy.  You are funny, smart, witty, and can make light of almost any situation.  Thank you so much.

Very truly yours,

boy shoringBill is not a theory man, or better said, his theory is based on practical experience.  Advice from Bill, I suspect, most often comes from what he has learned in the laboratory of his classroom.  Moose Jaw is home.  However in six years, I wonder how much bigger the world will appear, knowing that I have a network of middle-years teachers and mentors?   However, doesn’t having that network, simply bring the learning to me?  Isn’t that the point?  Oh the possibilities…

Photo: Flicker

Got Something to Say?