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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers Need to Share Their Stories

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

I am going to connect a couple of dots here in thinking about personality and teaching. Stay with me -- and please let me know what you think.

Early last Sunday morning -- as in 4:15 a.m. early -- I had just gone through the security check at my home airport in Portland, Maine. I was booked on the 5:38 a.m. flight to Atlanta. I settled into one of the rocking chairs scattered throughout the departure area and pulled out my book.

Jim Moulton and George Johnson (right)

Credit: Jim Moulton

Soon after I sat down, an older couple came along. The man nodded to me in passing, and I nodded back. Experience has taught me that 4 a.m. at the airport tends to be a time and place when and where folks are most comfortable staying within themselves. This makes communication -- beyond the nod I had shared with this gentleman -- rare, and I reasonably assumed the nods would be the end of it. But when his wife headed for the restroom, this fellow strolled over to me and said, "Hello, I'm George Johnson, of Bailey Island, Maine," or something pretty close to that.

Suffice it to say, within 20 minutes I knew that George had been fishing lobster for 64 years and is still, between his boat and a nephew's, fishing over 1,000 traps. I knew that his first wife had died of cancer 15 years ago. I knew that several years after his wife's death, he had headed out of state to track down his current wife -- a former flame from high school days who had been widowed -- and that they had been married some seven years ago. I was told about his home and that the property had been in the family for generations.

I soon knew that he was recently featured in Esquire magazine as one of its "What I've Learned" voices. I knew that the location of his house has drawn more than a few folks from far away, who, having driven as far as they can toward the Atlantic, are bold enough to ask if they can take a look at his view of the rocky Maine coast. This, in fact, is how he ended up in Esquire. You see, a certain editorial type from the city stopped in uninvited, was met with hospitality rather than hostility, and, like me, received the gift of getting to know George.

Arriving home, I was thumbing through a current edition of a magazine belonging to my wife and I saw an article that began with something like, "If you want to go places in your job, don't simply bear down harder on the tasks at hand -- try being more friendly and smiling more" -- and that reminded me of George.

Here was a man who has lived a long and rugged life. Trust me; lobster fishing in Maine for 64 years would wear most anyone down. And yet, he was outgoing and cheerful -- not Pollyanna-ish, but clearly upbeat and positive. He was willing to come right up to me, smile, and say, "Hello, I'm George Johnson, of Bailey Island, Maine."

Classroom teaching makes for long and rugged days. String a bunch of them together and you'll have, like George has had, a long and rugged life. And schools, just like airports at 4 a.m., tend to be places where teachers, like bleary-eyed passengers, keep within themselves. Besides friendships with close colleagues, the only connections we often have to other teachers are those nods in passing as we move through the halls en route to class.

And what about your student-teacher relationships? Are they limited to little more than nods in passing, or do you, from time to time, stop and say something along the lines of, "Hello, I'm George Johnson, of Bailey Island, Maine"?

Hello, my name is Jim Moulton, and I'd like to hear your story.

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (64)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hmm... If you're going to go digital, have you thought about setting up a ning for your faculty? Real easy to set up, and then you can invite folks to join: http://www.ning.com/ or a survey from Surveymonkey.com is another possibility. Good luck!



Yuliet Moreno's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Mr. Moulton,
I love your story, but what I love the most is your thought of communication. I strongly belive that people are desinged to know other people and to hear stories different from their own. I noticed that true friendships are getting harder everyday to get, and there is nothing more confortable that feel at work as you were at home. It is great to feel approved with a smile and a truly "good morning", and why not a litter chatter that welcome you to a new day. I think people are afraid of feeling dissaproved or rejected for other people, so they feel safetier closing all the external doors of their lifes. I think the main issue here is not to talk but to be listened. It should be great if at schools teachers could become members of one big family because after all; schools are the second homes for all children!

Yuliet Moreno

Danette Kerrigan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jim,

Good to hear from you again. This reminds me of the conversation you had with us at Sacopee Valley Middle School and the importance of the story in learning. I suppose that means for all of us , not just students! I have always loved the "What I've Learned" section of Esquire...and agree with Carolyn in trying to think of a way to use this at our middle school as well... Thanks for an interesting connection!

I also had a very interesting and meaningful conversation with an elderly gentleman when I flew into the Portland Jetport in January. It could be that our state is filled with unique people .....

Danette Kerrigan
Art Teacher
Sacopee Valley Middle School

Jake Langlais's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Interestingly, a week before you met up with Mr.Johnson - I met up with you or you with me I should say. I was the guy that didn't want to bother anyone. I recognized you as I have seen your photo and used your site as a starting point for staff development trainings. What a great resource & what a great conversation. Jim, you shared a copy of your book with me. Others reading this post, "it is a must read" in my opinion. As I was traveling I thought about (as I often do) what is our purpose as educators? Computers Can, Computers Can't... Is a motivating text that connects what we do to those inspirational thoughts we have about how we do it.

Thanks for the book...
You are also an inviting person with a story to tell...
I bet Mr. Johnson has some knowledge we could all value.

P.S. Survey Monkey has worked for me throughout this school year. The results are easy to compile and surveys are easy to build. Very user friendly.

Karen Shorkey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed your article which demonstrates just really how much people innately want to share their lives with other people who care, even just a little. Years ago I heard some statistic that stated the most students never have 2 minutes a week with their teacher. They tend to fall through the cracks of our busy lives and go unnoticed. My attention used to be taken up by those who insisted, but I still felt badly that I didn't have a way to talk with each student daily. In the late 80's I was fortunate to find Nancie Atwell's first edition of In the Middle where I was introduced to the concept of Status-of-the-Class. Although I have tweeked this a bit, I still ask my students each day what page they are on in their independent reading text. They look forward to this few seconds of each day where I interact individually with them, asking how the book is going, or if they want to put it aside when i notice that they haven't been reading the normal-to-them amount of pages each night. This little thing is one of the ways that I let them know that I care. (FYI- each day when a student reads 10-15 pages they receive 20 points. 20 points x5= an easy 100 points for a weekly homework grade.) Likewise, your interaction with this older gentleman by just noticing him probably added years to his life by him knowing that someone else cared to pay him the attention that we all need.
Warmly, Karen

JIm Burke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Odd, Jim. I just had one of those strange occurrences in life when one seemingly accidentally (and sometimes eerily) experiences events that connect ever so closely. This Saturday morning I've been cleaning house and doing other much-needed domestic chores while at the same time listening to an audio tape called Working with Presence < http://www.amazon.com/Working-Presence-Emotional-Intelligence-Conversati... > by Daniel Goleman and Peter Senge (picked up a Marden's no less ;) . This is on the topic of emotional intelligence. I stopped a minute to check my gmail which happened to have a link to Edutopia. While there, I thought to myself, why not drop into Jim's blog at SpiralNotebook . . . since I hadn't been there for awhile. Finding your story of your experience with George Johnson with the importance of being present and listening to others certainly struck an interesting chord.

Besides the irony of me multi-tasking while contemplating presence and the ability to get beyond the defensiveness of ego and the ability of giving patient time to what is right in front of me, I realized that this is a fundamental issue in my life and perhaps in our entire culture as well.

Our reaction to an issue is often to push harder, to work faster and with more intensity. Sometimes I would be more productive if I simply took more time to really listen to those around me . . . and to savor each experience from a "disinterested" point of view. All our fancy new digital tools are fine, but what do we lose in connecting with our natural roots . . . with our psychic and emotional needs?

Ultimately there is an ethics issue here. How do we balance the the tidal wave of technological innovation with our earthly origins? Do we blindly accept the determinism of Vinge < http://mindstalk.net/vinge/vinge-sing.html > and Kurzweil's Singularity theory < http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?m=1 >? What do we we want the world to look like in 40 years?

I'll stop there for now . . . but I do highly recommend Goleman and Senge's ideas. If you want, I'll lend you the audio book next time I see you. :) Thanks for the great topic! Now to get back to being present with my housework! :)

Jim Burke

Learning in Maine Social Network

Process Skills

Kathleen Canavan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

So true! My relationship with the majority of my colleagues is the "passing nod", with most of us carrying an inner burden that could be lessened by sharing. Fortunately, there are enough jokesters on campus to keep us all laughing either at ourselves or the foibles of teaching! Personally, I learned to smile and greet people growing up, and as strange as it seems sometimes to others, I just keep doing it. Rare is the person who does NOT smile back if met with a smile...

Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Good idea for encouraging reading.

One of the problem areas with my students is getting them to write. One way to interact with the students is to have them write in journals. I really find out who they are and what they are thinking. Better yet, I let them blog. It gives them time for their technology fix and a chance to share with more than just the teacher. Gaggle.net is a great educational spot with strong protections. Blogspot.com is another site I have used. As I respond to what they write, they feel like what they have to say is worth something.

Cathy McDonald
Lovejoy Technology Academy
Brooklyn, IL

Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is truly uplifting to share your story with others. I have had one of the most exciting experiences this year as I have collaborated with a teacher in Brazil through our election last fall. My students are communicating with his class in Brazil. Last fall they shared their stories about their lives, about their communities, about their countries. It was amazing to hear how closely another nation follows what happens her in the USA. They rejoiced with us and spoke of the hope that it gives people of color in their country. Right now Brazil is coming off summer break.

Our students will be watching the same movies during the upcoming quarter. They will be discussing those movies and similarities and differences in their cultures. Some of the movies will be dealing with teenage issues. Others will be to help build self esteem and hope for success as both schools are located in high poverty areas. The students will share their own stories globally.

It is a story I love to share with anyone who will listen -- sometimes within my own school and sometimes with other educators. I will also be presenting that story as part of the Global Connections Gallery at NECC 2009 in Washington DC.

Leda Vega's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Jim:
Thanks for sharing your story.
Years ago I was talking with my writing professor in college, and I could not believe how many problems he had. When I went to his office in order to help me about my essay, he started to talk about the tragedy he had the week before with his family. The story was somebody tried to enter into his house and murder his daughter. At that moment he started to cry and the only thing I could do was listen to him. Life is not easy; however we need to listen and help everybody because we don't know what problem that person has!

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