"Miguel," began a close friend telling me bad news, "I heard that Jan passed away earlier this year." The news shocked me. So many years ago, when I walked into Jan's and Linda's third grade classrooms in Mt. Pleasant, Tx, they welcomed me with a smile and offered to share their lesson plan and resources. The acts of kindness from these gentle, but tough East Texas ladies--my wife, not even year old daughter and I had just arrived in Mt. Pleasant, Tx as bilingual educators, which were in high demand due to workers at the chicken plant--helped make the transition from big city to small town easier. Social media these days is about sharing, isn't it?
Today, after two years of tweeting, I get it. While I still enjoy using Twitter at conferences, it has also empowered me in my daily life. I continue to connect Twitter users around the world who share my interests. To date, I follow about 300 users. Do I know these people? A few of them, but most of them I have never met nor had a conversation with. Yet still they contribute to my collective, continually evolving understanding of the world of teaching, learning, art, and social media (my interests).
Those acts of sharing, repeated countless times by other grade level team members, enabled us to build a bond, a relationship that I treasure to this day. As I began to work with adult learners in Mt. Pleasant ISD, I decided to extend those acts of sharing by making my workshop materials, handouts and tutorials available online. For many years afterwards, I made my copies of original documents available to the world via the Texas Education Network (TENET). The experience changed my career, and my life.
My first wiki--Share More! at http://www.edsupport.cc/mguhlin/share/index.php--served as an extension of this idea.
In a strange set of circumstances a few years ago, my backups of my original documents were wiped out. This was a time before inexpensive USB drives and cloud storage. Yet, because I had given away I hoped to keep for as long as possible, I was able to regain it by asking people to "share back" what I had given away to them. It is a profound lesson, that you keep only what you give away.
Yet, sharing isn't necessarily for everyone, is it? A week ago or so, a teacher friend of my wife (also a teacher) dropped by and remarked, "Miguel shares too much online in Facebook." In one school district, "We charge for units and lessons people want to use that our teachers have developed." I suppose there's a balance to be found. Still, born in 1968, I find the following an apt description of my approach to sharing:
Tech experts generally believe that today’s tech-savvy young people – the ‘digital natives’ who are known for enthusiastically embracing social networking – will retain their willingness to share personal information online even as they get older and take on more responsibilities. Experts surveyed say that the advantages Millennials see in personal disclosure will outweigh their concerns about their privacy.
Learn more about the Millennial generation athttp://pewresearch.org/millennials/
New tools will soon become available to broaden our reach, such as the newly announced...
As we move wholeheartedly into sharing online, I pray that we'll remember people like Jan and Linda, people who, in nuanced ways, took time to share their experiences and what they had to offer with a teacher new to their school...and extend that online.
When I went back to my East Texas school, to share where life's path had taken me and revisit my memories, I walked into a beautifully remodeled school. The portable building I'd taught my third grade bilingual students was gone, replaced by a new building. Still, a tinge of sadness as I realized my fellow grade level teachers were retired or, as I had just found out, passed away.
As I stepped into the office, walking back to speak to the principal, I noticed a slim and stately woman sitting in the assistant principal's office. When she looked up, we both stared in amazement, although her's was a bit puzzled, then she bounded out of her chair and gave me a hug. It was Jan...it turned out she hadn't died, but rather, her mother-in-law had passed away and there had been some confusion.
As we chatted about life's twists and turns, I couldn't help but feel profoundly grateful for what this teacher had taught me about sharing, and how what you give away always comes back to you.