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The Art of Networking on Campus

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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In my travels for work and pleasure, I have hunted agates in Scotland, searched for flints, arrowheads, and fossils in Wyoming, Texas, and Oregon, and brought pieces of obsidian home from Japan. Yes, I am an avid rock collector. But this posting is really about people and schools, not rocks.

The best part of my geological hobby is that I get to see the areas I visit up close and personal. Several years back, following an early August day working with teachers in southwest Wyoming, I took a drive through what we Mainers would call the sticks -- small roads, few houses, and lots of open space.

Credit: Jim Moulton

In places like Wyoming, my experience has taught me that dark material in the land means organics, and so I pulled over and stepped a few paces up the incline to see what was up. The exposed dark band, about 20 inches deep, was an almost solid mass of snail and mussel shells. One could have filled a trashcan in mere minutes. These fossils -- three species, and mostly in pristine condition -- are millions of years old! Oh my goodness, I thought. I collected about 20 fine samples and continued on my way.

On a trip once to California, I had a day free, so I sent an email of introduction to a local rock club. I received a reply that reminded me I was going to be in the Mojave Desert. It read, "In summer, folks don't do a lot of rock collecting -- simply too hot." The email also contained contact information for Lucy Tunnell, of Rosamond, California.

Lucy and Bob Tunnell

Credit: Jim Moulton

Lucy is now retired, but she has been collecting rocks professionally for years and I was told she might be willing to entertain a visitor from the other coast. I called Lucy and explained myself, and so it was that I arrived in her yard around 8:30 that first morning. I now count Lucy as a friend, have visited her several times, and have learned so much from her about petrified wood and other geological topics.

There is lots of limestone in Fort Worth, Texas, and limestone means marine fossils. So, when I was recently heading there for work, I was understandably looking forward to a bit of rock collecting. But to find something, you need to know where to look. I had checked the Internet before departing and found a wonderful Web site describing what might be found. But it was short on specifics of places to look.

So, as I hopped on the shuttle bus at the airport, I decided to ask the driver. "Excuse me," I began. "I'm a rock collector, and I read that you can find fossils in this part of Texas. I have only the afternoon, so I wondered if you could give me any pointers on where I might look?" I wasn't asking a paleontologist, I wasn't asking a geologist, and I wasn't asking the tourist board. I was asking the shuttle driver. And it turns out I chose the right guy.

"Sure," he replied. "Lots of fossils around here. I grew up down by Granbury, Texas. That's about 45 or 50 minutes from Fort Worth, and we used to find lots of them down in the creek beds. Here, let me draw you a little map."

And that was it. And what a day I had. Discovered at a road cut on Route 377: fossilized oyster shells, sea urchins, sea biscuits, and a nice piece of petrified wood along the Brazos River. But the mother of all finds was a nearly intact, dinner-plate-size, 45-pound ammonite.

Now, let's go back to school and make a connection. You see, I think the shuttle driver is sort of like the custodian, or the secretary, or the lunch ladies, in so many schools: They are the lifeblood of the school. They know it all, literally -- inside and out. Chances are they grew up in the community where the school is located and are well connected in the area. Teachers and administrators are often commuters, but secretaries and other staff are often not.

So, here is my question: How have you tapped these often-overlooked human resources to help you do more for your kids? What has the custodian done for you and your kids beyond the important job of keeping things clean? And, yes, the lunchroom staff makes sure everyone gets fed, but do you ever talk community resources with them? And how lately have you utilized the school secretary, who, in so many cases, is a wealth of community history and connections?

Think beyond the traditional roles of these positions, as I did when I asked the shuttle driver to be my paleontological resource. And please share how you and your kids have benefited as a result of your taking the time to ask a custodian, a bus driver, a lunchroom worker, or a secretary some curriculum-based questions. Oh, I just can't wait to hear!

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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Linda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed your post. I have been studying ways of learning and understanding students better. I work in a small school and live in a different area. I did not know anyone when I first started. It was real hard. You can not judge a student by first impression. Over the last few years I have met with the some of the lunchroom staff and they are good about giving some insight on the students background. Such as how many live in the same house, how often they have moved, etc. Our last principal was a veteran and knew everyone, if you asked he would inform you of what you wanted to know. We have a new one now and he doesn't say anything. I have asked others in the school when if I feel there is something I am missing, but sometimes they give me the look of it is none of my business. This school is in a rural community. It seems if most of the collegues have relatives in the scool, went to school together and go to the same churches. A recent DVD I watched from Laureate Education, called Teacher As Professional, talks about knowledge of pedogogy and dialogue is one of the steps in it.

Holly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jim--

I found your post on "The Art of Networking on Campus" to be eye-opening for me. I am a graduate student at Walden University and one of my most recent discussion and research topics has been on Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and utilizing technology resources to network with those in my discipline in order to positively impact student success. I have been a member of a PLC at my school in my discipline (middle school science), as well as in my school district, for the past five years. Upon entering graduate school, I became a member of a cohort, which I really consider just another name for a PLC, again in my discipline (Integrating Technology in the Classroom). I honestly never thought of myself as a member of a much larger PLC, by utilizing the expertise of those in my school that know about my students on a more personal level. I am certain that there are custodians, lunchroom staff, librarians, secretaries, etc. that can offer valuable advice on my students. Through my research in my graduate coursework, I am becoming more aware that students that know that I value them and understand them as individuals are more likely to respond positively to me as a teacher in the classroom. I plan to investigate these new resources to learn more about my students.

Kim K.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I wholeheartedly agree that the sometimes overlooked resources at the school can be the most valuable. We have an excellent custodian named Betty at my high school. She is a perfectionist with a great work ethic! I have a student with autism who wanted to do some type of internship his senior year. One of the guidance counselors had the idea to pair up Tyler and Betty on a trial basis. Tyler is very conscientious and wants to do well. The match-up was invaluable to both of them. My student earned Betty's trust, which says a lot. Betty became a true mentor and gave Tyler work experience before graduation. I thank the guidance counselor for having the vision and putting it into place. Extending relationships beyond student-teacher reinforces a school's commitment to shared responsibility by all.

Thank you for the reminder!

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Holly -

I often think about the two networks involved in all schools today. Your degree will be in making use of the digital one, but it will be your ability to leverage the resources of the human one that will make all the difference. The digital one works as long as the numbers are int he right places - the human one is so much more complex. Good luck!


Sarah Attermann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mr. Moulton,
I am a grad student working to get my masters at the University of Florida, and I would like to thank you for your wonderful blog. As a future teacher, and as I begin my internship, I am often overwhelmed with textbooks, activities, and ideas to interest students and find ways to reach out them. After reading your blog, I am enlightened to know that the resources we use as teachers do not have to come from a website or from a textbook, but can come from the surrounding community. These people are often overlooked, but can often provide the most accurate insights on students or surrounding communities. This blog reminded me that teaching is not done just by one person, but require the collaboration of the whole school and that a school must work as a community to help every child succeed. You have provided me with a large network of resources and people to connect with in order to reach out and try to help every child get the most of out their learning experience in my classroom. So thank you once again for your wonderful blog and honesty!

J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am in Oregon just now, visiting our daughter. On the flight from Atlanta to Portland, OR I sat next to Walt Ratterman and the time passed so quickly. He is a man who travels the globe installing solar power systems for schools and health care facilities in undeveloped parts of the world. I was so clearly reminded of what you are talking about in your comment - those thousands of people who have so much to share with kids, and who are traditionally never invited into schools...

Have fun, and do good things.


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