I recently shared a list of role models and mentors on Twitter.
This is all very nice and may seem like the kind of mention praise that shows up a lot in my feed. But I want to make some things perfectly clear:
The names I have named have each made significant contributions to my learning and growth out here in the digital universe. Here’s how:
- Rafranz Davis (@RafranzDavis) actively welcomed me to edu-twitter 3 years ago. When I was lurking and wondering and gradually daring to toss in my 2 cents, Rafranz offered encouragement through retweets and prompt responses. She showed me that Twitter was more than a cacophony of disassociated voices. She read my blog posts and introduced my voice to her wider network, with kind and affirming statements. As I have watched Rafranz continue to expand her platform and receive greater recognition of her critical work in ed-tech, I have felt inspired and emboldened to pursue projects which speak to me and my particular strengths. Rafranz is someone I gladly seek out for feedback and whose judgment I deeply trust. She was my first online mentor.
- Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur) has to be among the most upbeat connected educators I know. She is passionate about offering her students possibilities and sharing those possibilities far beyond her classroom with colleagues across the globe. Like Rafranz, Sarah welcomed me aboard the Twitter train with all kinds of encouragement and good dialogue. It was through Sarah that I got to know some of my long time banter-buddies, people with whom I felt comfortable tagging (once I understood how that worked) in certain tweets and starting a conversation. And Sarah, through her early app of intro videos on how to use various tech tools, gave me this feeling that I could learn how to do just about anything – the key was in learning to just ask someone for help. These days, Sarah has a following that stretches into the tens of thousands and she still responds to tweets in no time! She’s working on her doctorate and seems to be at an EdCamp every weekend and I don’t know how she manages all the stuff she does but her level of care and personal engagement is consistent and incredible at the same time.
- Rusul Alrubail (@RusulAlrubail) has shown me how to tap into my own fire. In a recent interview, Rusul revealed that she has only been on Twitter for a couple of years. But what a presence she has! From Edutopia to #Educolor to the EdSpeakers Co-op, Rusul writes, tweets, facilitates, edits; leads, collaborates, and develops. But what makes Rusul a mentor for me is her consistent willingness to boost the work of others and her striking availability to help and support. When I was wondering how to set up my publication on Medium, Rusul provided really wise advice about options to consider and feedback on getting started. On a more personal level, Rusul’s writing on racism in the last year has been fierce and unapologetic and has moved me deeply on more than one occasion. Rusul makes me want to be braver.
- If it weren’t for Rusul I might not have met Maha Bali (@Bali_Maha) who quickly welcomed me into the digital humanities community by way of Hybrid Pedagogy (@HybridPed). One of the first posts I read of hers spoke of applying love (!) in the peer review processes of academic publications. I was struck by her sincerity matched with a spot-on process savvy that gave her arguments both heft and warmth. Through our exchanges I have come to appreciate Maha’s critical eye, her intense commitment to inclusion and her unassailable humor. Last November, Maha invited me to be a guest contributor during Digital Writing Month. That experience – of being invited, of having my essay selected to open the festivities, of being welcomed into the wildly diverse community of writers, readers, speakers, and musicians – changed me. It opened me up simultaneously to the possibilities ‘out there’ as much as those within. That’s mentoring.
- Audrey Watters (@AudreyWatters) has been a remarkable role model for me from early on. I remember that it took me a while to read her posts on ed-tech and really understand what she was talking about. Because her writing is always about more than tools and their marketing claims, a reader needs to be prepared to look deeper when Audrey writes. She’s here to challenge assumptions, to question not only the tools but what they represent, whom they serve and privilege, and how that instructs us about the society producing said tools. I have written before about a sort of conversion experience I had as a result of one of Audrey’s posts. The mentoring comes in after that. Audrey was open to dialogue and when I announced my plans to launch “Identity, Education and Power” she was among the first to sign on with a brilliant reflection about Twitter’s toying with the algorithmic feed and what that tells us about Silicon Valley’s intentions for further influencing our minute to minute behaviors. Audrey is a big fish in my internet pond and I know that her essay put IEP on the map. Mentoring means opening doors when and where you can. Audrey did that for me and continues to do and be so much more.
- And of course, this list would not be complete without Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd). I discovered Tressie’s loaded tweets often in response to Audrey’s. It was clear that they were friends and shared a command of Twitter sass and snark that was powerfully on point and in certain cases, merciless. I was fascinated by this of course. Then I began reading Tressie’s blog posts which place the realities she describes in social science context without overwhelming the reader with academic jargon. I was smitten. In my own way, I became a sort of academic fangirl. While I have no designs on completing a PhD, to be able to write with a confident expertise as Tressie does strikes me as a worthy aspiration, even at this age. (Perhaps precisely at this age.) Over time, I began to comment on her blog posts and do my own analyses here on this blog. And she noticed me, replied, said thanks, and we developed a firmer connection via Twitter. In the conceptualization phase of “Identity, Education and Power” I knew, was convinced that Tressie was point guard in my dream team starting line-up. And she delivered, offering the inaugural guest post. With that opening, Tressie lent the publication an immediate credibility and legitimacy. Again, real mentoring: providing the specific thing to help a dream get off the ground.
It seemed to take a while to get this post written. But it is important. For those of us who engage deliberately and widely, I find it helpful to step back and recognize how we arrived at this position or another. Who helped us? Who listened? Who sponsored us? And in turn, how have we contributed to others’ growth? What steps have we taken to mentor others? The other piece here lies in distinguishing distant admiration from the real life, hands-on support through relationship and action that defines mentoring. I feel remarkably privileged to have made these important connections and see them grow into friendships.
Who are your mentors and how have they helped you get closer to your goals?
7 thoughts on “Mentor, vb. trans.”
This post definitely speaks to the power of Twitter in creating a space where like-minded individuals can tumble around and bump into each other.
Jealous for your fantastic connections! I’ve long been seeking a mentor. I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lot of great connections (including you!), but I have yet to find someone who will scoop me up and say, “You have much potential, young one! Let me ferry you through this thing called education.” Now, granted, I’m an incredibly high maintenance charge, so I can’t say I blame anyone!
But you have definitely helped alter the course of my critical consciousness. Thanks for the post and thanks for the inspiration!
Thank you, Peter, for reading and being a vital part of my learning community. I want to challenge you on something, though. What might change if you decided to be the one who is ‘scooping’? The people we often envision as being ideal mentors may be exactly that and they are likely also crazy busy, right? So, in my mind, it is up to us to develop those relationships which then allow us to approach these individuals with specific ideas of how they might help. If you make a specific, modest request, that’s something that people can actually work with. They can say yes or no or go look there. In my experience, people are often happy to help but they need clear, doable opportunities to even consider being involved. And rather than imagining that single perfect mentor – consider instead building a team of supporters to cover different aspects of your interests and needs. When I was starting out on my path as a leadership coach I asked 4-5 friends/colleagues to serve on my “executive board.” I kept them abreast of my projects and asked for feedback and/or specific forms of support. This is yet another form of developing mentor type relationships.
So please consider being the one with real agency to seek out, rather than to wait and be discovered. Select whom you would most want to hang with and also know that you bring A LOT to the table. Your potential mentors will gain the opportunity to also learn, grow, & expand their horizons. Reconsider your framing and go from there. Your top mentors may only be an e-mail/DM/ phone call away.
Thanks for the push! I inherited a communicative tenacity from my mother. This means I regularly tweet/call/email individuals who say something that resonates with me. I’ve been fortunate to find a lot of like-minded people in my educational journey. Over the last twelve months I’ve slowly developed relationships with a handful of folks. And they’re always kind enough to offer feedback. I really like this notion of having a sort of personal executive board; that’s definitely something I’m going to look into. Thanks again!
First, I’m delighted to have Rafranz, Sarah, Rusul, and Audrey among the people I follow and have interacted with. I echo every word you said about them.
Brenda Dyck (@BrendaDyck) is the person who first got me on Twitter, and has a solid record of well-crafted online interdisciplinary projects that connect middle schoolers around the world going back well over a decade. No longer remotely as active on Twitter as she once was, she still gets all the love for helping me see the possibilities and for bringing me here.
Nancy Flanagan (@nancyflanagan) is one of the first people I knew on Twitter who showed me how to skillfully blend advocacy, leadership, connecting, conversing, and simply being a friend.
José Vilson (@theJLV) is one of the most skilled people I know at Twitter activism, using his own skills at blogging, connecting, and advocacy to identify and fill a need that resulted in the vital and vitally important #educolor group.
Finally, although I haven’t known him nearly as long as the above three, Greg Curran (@GregBCurran) has already had a profound influence on me as a thoroughly intersectional thinker, willing and always ready to go deep on race, class, diversity of genders and sexualities, abledness, and more. He is brave, honest, and authentic, always ready to promote other people, always ready to advocate for the marginalized (especially kids). There aren’t a lot of people out there regularly and publicly supporting LGBTQ+ kids, but Greg is solidly in that camp.
Thanks for sharing, Bill! And interesting to see how these connections speak to specific phases and particular fields of interest over time.
All of your mentors def have a huge social media presence. I have learned tons from them.