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?