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ESSAY ON MENTORS AND METORING Teacher from the Heart - Agent of Change in Education 2001

Written By: Bonnie Bracey Sutton

What motivates pioneers like Bonnie Bracey? Who are her mentors and role models? How does Bonnie define her passion for education and digital equity? What does she see for the education sector as we move forward in the Digital Age? In her own words:

Introduction and Exploration beyond Oregon Trail
Exploring the Possibilities
The Big Picture - Geography on my mind!
Willing Principal Mentor
Working for the President
Encouragement is Empowering
NASA Resource Centers
Mentors Abound

Introduction and Exploration beyond Oregon Trail

First of all, a big thank you to Karen Ellis. I am my office, and she very thoughtfully asked to help me, when I was beginning to really do technology all over the world. This is the beginning of the story. But had I not met Karen as I started to blossom out in my work, all of the bits and bytes would have disappeared in cyber space. She has been a true friend, even when I am too tired to do more, she takes up the slack. Karen has been the main mentor for me as I worked.

I first heard of technology ideas when people were using TRS80 machines. I was not a bit interested. Being a good teacher I had amassed a great deal of resources and information, as well as artifacts and knowledge in preparing my learning landscape for children. I did not think I needed to use technology.

Like many educators, I was first introduced to technology using MECC products. Oregon Trail was the most interesting software to me, and I built a curriculum around it. But after I absorbed, shaped, extended and made Oregon Trail personal; it was Lemonade Stand, and some other games that I know. As we were able transitionally to use the Internet in more than text based ways, I took tiny steps along the Information Superhighway. In many school systems, it was a case of "Mother May I?". And the truth was I was in an elementary classroom. I also took a lot of courses, but the various languages except Logo, did little for me in the way of helping with students.

When I first started using the Internet in many ways, it was as a result of a project that started with the Department of Education. We used email, and people asked "why"? We did a graphics, project and people asked, "what is the value of that?". We used Laser Disk in a VIM program and we had thirty disks, and one player. Because we appeared to be having fun learning with it, my principal gave it away to a middle school. And that was that. She felt that technology was an intrusion in the classroom. I think the disks hit the wall, when my class and I were featured in Science '83 Schooling the Gifted. For months most of the teachers in the school refused to speak to me. I had become a star. But taking me out of the gifted program was one of the best things to happen because I had learned gifted techniques that fit regular children in teaching and learning. Children in that school still saw me as the gifted teacher and so they worked as if they were also gifted, and there were wonderful results from my work. So I was banished to a different school in the county and I was not allowed to take a piece of technology, even what I had brought with me. I had to start all over again. It was depressing. I persevered!

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Exploring the Possibilities

Two experiences shaped my realization of the power of technology. I attended National Geographic Summer Workshop, and I attended an Earthwatch Project. I also attended that same summer, a workshop at the Science Museum of Virginia. These were the three first significant learning experiences besides involvement with NASA that shaped my path for learning technology. These three projects dovetailed in ways I would not understand. Gracie Beck www/ and project funded by NSF.

The science museum of Virginia let me begin to study misconceptions in science. There was some technology, as it was in those days, but there was deep science instruction. But I was good in science and I began to play. Gracie Beck, the instructor, took a friend of mine and I aside and gave us a lecture on the importance of creating a place for women in science among our pupils. She gave us added responsibility. She made sure that I would not back away from physics, but I still had fun. Using reality for science was a lot more interesting to me than reading it out of a book, and watching someone demonstrate for me. We had AAAS science, ESS science, and physics. My friends and I aced the lessons and were actually allowed to teach science to the group. We also were told that we did not need to teach out of the book if we really knew science. I wanted to impress Miss Grace and so we worked hard.

Her smile was a lot better than her frown. We did wonderful things in that workshop. It was hard work, but it was joyful learning. We got to take the kits back to our schools. It was like a gold mine for good teachers. Gracie Beck was my first mentor in science. Now I have had quite a few.

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The Big Picture - Geography on my mind!
Dot Perreca and Monica Bradshear

The first quote I remember is "There is no bad landscape!". I was thinking yes there is, and I knew of many places I did not want to live in the world. But I learned region, location general and absolute, the use of ideas that were specific to that region, the indigenous resources, and human icons. I am sure you have seen those t-shirts of a place that show identific features of a region. I had a lot of mentors at National Geographic, but Dot Perecca was the person who encouraged my love of geography and technology, but first I had to learn the geography. I won. I tell you how low my scores were on the initial test. I had never made a score below a "b" in my life. If 50 is a D that was what I made, but they never mentioned it. It was an assessment of my knowledge of geography.

At National Geographic, they treated teachers as professionals. We learned in new ways. There was lecture time, but with the use of technology as media we had experts to engage us in projects. There were instructional lessons, and demonstration using a wide variety of materials and resources, and we went on field trips, walks, to demonstration sites. We were introduced to the best of media. There was a learning lab and there were computers to use, to look at materials with and there was this thing called Kidsnetwork. This was project-based learning. There were mentor teachers. There was a map division, the geography division, the book division and leadership classes were a part of the whole thing. In addition to that we had to teach along certain themes and be graded by our peers. It was a lot of learning. There were 8 women in the classes. There were 2 people from every state who were allowed to participate. I felt extremely lucky because the state had turned me down.

This was my start in being able to explore technology in meaningful ways. This was hard work with a sense of discovery. We met explorers, archaeologists, photographers and our ideas and dreams were gathered in. Every week we were given materials, books, maps, movies, and programs. This was new to us because most teachers buy a lot of their teaching materials. Monica Bradshear was talking about working with schools in other countries. She became a friend. She had worked in Russia. This was before the wall went down. We listened to her tongue in cheek. But the ideas were planted there. I actually did not want to do Kidsnetwork, but Dot got me what I did not have, a computer in the classroom. So I felt obligated. I fell in love with the projects. With the projects I also empowered girls, boys, and parents. I had great stakeholders. We were filmed many times demonstrating ways to create, to learn to share knowledge.

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Talley Forbes, Brian Rosborough, and the Wild Cat Foundation

I had always loved and learned about ancient cultures. I won a grant from Earthwatch. IT was a two week archaeology project in Spain. I had no idea what a significant learning experience it would be. I was terrified that I would not have enough knowledge to bring to the table, but that was not a problem. I worked in Deia, Mallorca, Spain. They had computers. That was not a problem. What was a problem was finding things at the site. I must have been working over a site where the kitchen was. But the Principal Investigator had lots of book, stories, and ideas. Dr. William Waldren and his wife were very interesting people who knew the lay of the land and the stories and ideas of the region. We would go to the field in Land Rovers, we worked very hard when it was work time, but we played just as hard. I don't think I have ever laughed so much in my life. I washed a lot of bones. But I found a bone awl, and Carthaginian beads and a small piece of Beaker Ware. We took naps under big olive trees, and explored the island, George Sand and Chopin lived at Villahermosa on the Island so we read about their lives, and went to hear Chopin's music being played in the cloisters. When we had time we went to the market, swam at the beach. But we worked most of the time. At night we would gather at the bar. There would be children, grandparents, tourist and the locals and some dogs and cats at the bar. It was a local meeting place. I learned in our nightly lectures about the crossroads of civilization in the Mediterranean. Sometimes we found shards of pottery.

We learned about the geography of the region, we learned how to computerize and plot our finds on the computer, we learned the history of beaker people and gave our real finds to the Museo, which was a part of the house we lived in while there.

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Willing Principal Mentor

Camay Murphy

This mentor was Cab Calloway's daughter. She pushed me into deep mentorship, because she let me do wonderful things, but I had to provide leadership with that permission. What I learned became what we did in the school. She sent me to NGS, and to Earthwatch, and recommended me to the Science Museum of Virginia. She let me have a dedicated line for my computer. People laughed at us, but we got what we wanted and then a computer or two. She let me do Kidsnetwork and she encouraged me to learn more. So NASA was the next learning place. When I went to NASA I was wearing laser jewelry. My fiberglass was my car, and I did not know Astronomy or much about Space Science.

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Shelley Canright, Christa McAuliffe, Dorothy Coleman, and Amelia Earhart

This mentor (Shelley Canright) was a teacher at Langley, the director of the NASA Newest Program which was a two week workshop for teachers on the NASA base. She now is the director of education projects at NASA. She was a younger teacher, but we had the same teaching styles. I could not believe the creativity in her work. She was academically outstanding. Seeing her working in astronomy, in physics, in rocketry , in whatever she was doing and being a bridge between us as students and the scientist was wonderful. I don't have a way to quantify what I learned. I learned about future ventures of NASA, I learned to incorporate and integrate subject matter. I learned about space and space science and we were introduced to the NASA Resource Centers. We modeled and shared and learned and went on field trips.

I had my on-ramp to physics, astrophysics and why science. My knees would knock when we dialogued with scientists, until the day I told one of them that if he wanted me to understand science he had to be able to communicate it better. We flew planes, gliders, made paper planes (not in that order), made rockets, used technology, robotics, and we learned to explore media for classroom use.

We met women of NASA. We tried out lessons and created lessons. We became knowledgeable about everything NASA. This was a pathway to the Challenger Center, the Hubble Institutes, and to being a Challenger Fellow and a Young Astronaut State Chapter leader. My girls and I could look boys in the eye and answer all kinds of things, but we also had access to the NASA Educational programs and other resources.

At this point I was knowledgeable in the use of technology. I was picked as a Christa McAuliffe Educator. The highlight of this work was that several of us who were minorities of different kinds, were picked to create, demonstrate and build a summer institute at Stanford. We were also picked for leadership and we crafted many workshops around the USA. We learned a lot. We became fearless in the use of many kinds of technology. I met members of the Lucas Foundation at Stanford. The Lucas Foundation invited me to be on their advisory board. I had a new mentor in George Lucas.

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Working for the President

The day I was told to send in my resume, I was also being told that I had to cut back my use of technology in my school system. Other teachers were worried that my students were having too much fun. We had taped for NASA, for Discovery and had done all the Kidsnetwork projects. But I had purchased my own technology, and others in the school had one computer in the classroom to my five computers, a laser disk machine, cable, and other kinds of projects including a lumaphone. Eventually I was told that I had been selected to participate, and appointed by the President of the United States to be the one K-12 teacher on the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIIAC).

My mentors then were George Lucas (, John Sculley (former CEO of Apple), and Bert Roberts (MCI) we worked together well. Our legacy of work is archived in the Benton Foundation's work (Communications, library). When I was appointed to the NIIAC it was the best of times, and the worst of times. I did not have telephone access in my school, so I was always fielding calls after school. Most of the time during school there was no possibility of getting to the phone. I even took the call that let me know I had been appointed on my knees, in the office with some child screaming in the background and work in the office going on as usual. Of course, I could hardly hear. I was across the digital divide in a big way, but the term had not been invented. I hate to say that the best thing about getting a dedicated line was getting a phone, but it was very true. I never abused it. I felt so elated to be able to communicate without waiting in line in the teacher's room or the office.

Larry Irving of the NTIA called me. He became my mentor, because he taught me the ways of Washington.

This was the best of times, because since I was not a CEO, and a real educator, I worked with the formal council, and I worked with their staff. I did not have a fax machine and my school system would not let me install one. So my days were very long. My mother was concerned about my time, and funding. She helped me with my expenses. She loved it that I had made something of my education. Before that, she was disappointed that I had not become a lawyer or a doctor.

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Encouragement is Empowering

Jane Smith Patterson of the North Carolina Governor's Office- networking Ed Fitzsimmons of the OSTP- ideational scaffolding Patty Burness of the Lucas Foundation for George Lucas- research and contacts including George Lucas.
Scholastic- for my NII listserv
Apple Computer Company- I begged them for a laptop and got it
Prodigy - free online
AOL free online (at that time)
Parents, parents and loving kids....

Jane and I started the move to have the council meet in places outside of Washington, as we noted that we saw pretty much the same policy wonks at every meeting. Jane,Toni Carbo Bearman, and I worked with the ALA, the NEA, and other teacher groups for educational ideas we wanted to present for the NIIAC. We attended a lot of conferences. The position I had was not funded and when I was doing something unofficially. I did not know how to finesse for the best airfares. But Jane and others taught me to join the hotel clubs and I finally got a fax machine.

As I was being the queen of email with my own listserv mosaic came in and my computers and some of my knowledge became suddenly old fashioned. I had this listserv to create an awareness of the processes we were going through, to share with teachers and other interested professionals, the goings on of the NIIAC. I knew I had to open the discussion to educators in the classroom. They could not get to the hearings. Educators all over the country supported me in many ways. Some sent me their ideas, some sent me money for a beer (not kidding), some set up demonstration projects for the council.

This was specially neat in New Mexico. That was the time when the idea for KickStart was crystallized. I knew I was in trouble when someone knocked out my windows of my car at school. I had filmed a movie for NGS on Kidsnetwork. The school secretary would say when someone called, how am I supposed to know where she is. I missed a lot of important contacts because, of course, her priority was school business. The whole thing was making her crazy. I finally got voicemail, because a company donated it to me. But my principal was not sure that I should accept it, so I found it out later, much later than it was given.

I don't remember much of that year, but my students were excited, and rose to the test. Making incredible scores as I learned to maximize the use of technology in learning ways. As I worked on my technology after school parents would bring me meals. I had a great group of parent cheerleaders. When I was away, I sent boxes of things from where I was, sent them email, and connected by CUSEEME.

Before I was on the NIIAC, I was being filmed for Discovery, I was on the team of teachers working on projects for them, and my children and I were in the National Geographic Catalogues, and videos , and we did workshops for NASA because we really enjoyed the study of space, using NASA resources, particularly the Challenger Center Marsville, and Mars City Alpha. I used Apple Computers the whole time I was in school . That was the computer of choice in my school system. I now use both platforms, because it is prudent.

There were offers from education groups to fund a half time substitute for me, but my principal would not hear of it. So at first I had the same substitute most of the time. It was not so bad. I worked in a school where the parents were in so frequently that you never needed look up, because they were just there.

When we won a Blue Ribbon School award, parents went to the White House. I had support from a lot of parents who tutored, who did technology workshops with me and students in the school and who helped me write grants. We planned frequent field trips, project based learning and we had a meeting once a month for parents who wanted to know what the next learning adventure would be. We planned these together and wrote objectives for the next six weeks or so, and parents took these home. Many of the parents who worked with me are now classroom teachers. They found materials for me to work with that were specialized and did everything from quilting, cooking, teaching kids to do solar cooking. I never got the hang of it, to teaching students who had never fired rockets, (we had proper clearance) to a parent who was not in my school, who had children to write to her. . She did an Oprah Book Club in a different way. We picked a book a month for the children, and they responded to the book to her on line, and we then choose another book. Each child got a book. They read these books and other suggested books. I never knew who the woman was because she would not tell me. She had a mysterious email address and I was the contact for the children.

Tom Smolenski, Arlington Career Center, Principal
Dr. Chris Dede, George Mason
Ashlawn Parents
Bert Roberts, MCI

My mentor in Arlington then was a high school principal at the Career Center. That was Tom Smolenski. We went to his school to learn about industrial robotics. He allowed us to learn to program robotic arms to pick up cubes.

He had enough computers so that all my children could sit at one and learn to do Hyperstudio. He accepted me as a teacher and technology consultant when I was made to move on the last day of the school year. I was in tears, he showed me how to make it an opportunity. I can't tell you what a rock he was. I was devastated. He let me do leadership, craft new ideas, and do filming at the Career Center. We also continued to run an after-school program, creating great after-school projects and initiatives. I even had an office. I tried a lot to tell him thank you. It was devastating to be moved away from the children, but it is hard to be a classroom star when you can't always involve everyone in the process of transformation.

Tom and I had worked together on the idea for an after-school program which we created to let students from all over the county come to, we offered photography, architecture, cooking, drama, first aid, technology lab, building computers from scratch (not me), knitting, pet care, there were various seasonal projects. We had Saturday School as well.

So I knew the career center, its television studio, the photography dark room and resources, and other career options. We did wonderful things. We created a program to allow children to write a simple program. They wrote posters and projects that had titles such as "How to Make a Peanut Butter Sandwich" in flow charts. There was a technician who explained technology and the computer by taking it apart and helping us to rebuild it. We had Logo, and Lego. We learned to do simple machines, and to create simple robotics using Lego. This principal reached out to us and enriched our learning.

As the world wide web increased in influence, I had to make changes to be able to work with my students. Eventually I had five computers in my room. One was furnished by the county. One was won by a student. One we got on a grant program. I was piloting NGS Kidsnetwork, and they gave me a computer and every kind of software, all kinds of books. This was from a specialized program, but it taught me to think of technology as a tooI, to think of technology as media, and purchased two more. I had 5 working computers, a laptop (from and a slow machine that a parent gave to me). I had one dedicated line. Lisa Bievenue of NSCA kept me learning.

Bert Roberts of MCI had always helped me with books and the philosophy of the new technologies. He was always explaining anything to me that he thought that I did not understand. John Sculley listened to my teachers voice and helped me get influence to make a difference for teachers.

I felt privileged and special because neither looked down at me, but tried to make sure I was conversant on all levels and they also supported my teaching and learning ideas.

I think most of the members of the NIIAC were solicitous of me, even though they often said I was the most opinionated member of the group. I had a little power because I worked with staff, and with the CEO's and I did not have any money, or resources, and they liked my hard work.

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NASA Resource Centers
Dorothy Perecca, NGS
Roger Wagner

Roger Wagner, he allowed me to share materials with people I talked to and gave away technology to technology leaders.

Kids... Skipper Norton, Benj Gaines, Linda Cottle, and a beautiful girl who's mother supported me (she probably would want to be anonymous) I bought software, I begged software, I got software, we demonstrated the use of technology in many ways with converging media.

I challenged a member of the council to visit my classroom, and they did. Then we started talking about infrastructure, resources for classrooms, and software . I had a Microsoft set of wonderful resources. When I left the school, I had to leave the software and all of the machines but two. I had the laptop when I left , another computer and a laser printer. Everything but the laptop went into classrooms at the Career Center. I had access to the labs and friend to work with there.

At first I used the high tech instruments as my personal tools. But once I did Kidsnetwork, the kids were always wanting to use more and more of my tools. First they wanted to do Hyperstudio, and then it was to learn to create presentations on the Laser Disc(GTV), and we actually made a movie that the National Geographic featured in their news letter and so we shipped it to schools all over the US.

Did I say we learned to create a learning landscape that involved the use of educational games as a part of our resources?

Did I mention the lumaphone? We used to call foreign countries and pay for the call. We could see the kids on slow scan. We could print out the pictures. That seems primitive now. I used to have a fancy car and clothes, but now my world was of fiberglass used in a different way, and the fancy was in technology. I did not have a lot of money but there were two people who helped me, my mother and a teacher who looked around, and from time to time would give me $20.00 or stamps, or resources . I was able to help her do Kidsnetwork, and she did such a wonderful job, her work was featured by National Geographic. I was not a tad jealous, because this seasoned teacher who said she did not like technology, used that program at a level of excellence that I had not thought of. Before that she would tell me she did not have time to do technology.

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Mentors Abound

Parent, Parents, Parents
George Mason
George Lucas

Unfortunately, I had to move schools. We got a new principal and he wanted all teachers at the same level. He moved me away from the dedicated line and threw away a lot of my "hands on" materials. When I came back to school , everything I had was in a big pile in the middle of the new room without the dedicated line. But it took a year before he was able to move me. I was devastated , as he turned the staff against me. But parent managed to get my dedicated line back, and my programs, and we wrote, applied for and got a lot of grants and an ARPA grant. We worked with George Mason a lot. But I was moved before the ARPA was initiated. I never knew why. I was moved to the Career Center. I had a Corvette. I had to move all my things mostly by myself on the last day of school . I was devastated but I smiled the whole time as other teachers peered out of the windows as I packed. I did have teacher friends who helped me pack , and I knew I needed to be brave. George Lucas said that being a pioneer was tough and sometimes you fall out of the wagon. I think those might not be his exact words, but the rest of it was that you had to pick yourself up and get back on the wagon. And so I did.

All through this time, the Lucas Foundation helped me to stay the course.

Nora Sabelli NSF
Lisa Bievenue NCSA
David Thornburg
Stan Silverman
Toni Stone
Deborah Phelan
Ron Brown , Sec of Commerce
Karen Ellis
my mother and my cat.. She (the cat) would just sit on the laptop when I had been working too long and would not get off. My mother made me move in with her and close up my house.

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In conclusion,

Sometimes mentoring is a helping hand that starts out as assistance, which happens to continue. Perhaps,mentoring is maintaining email support and contact which may seem like lurking, but for a particular individual it is exactly what is needed as they create a path to their own understanding.

At times, mentoring is connecting people to others who can create possibilities for others.

In education, teaching , living and learning, what you do comes back to you in ways that you never expected, planned for or decided as a path.The magic of connectivity extends into knowledgenetworks, collaborations, and synergies that are probably impossible without the use of technology.

In science, Nora Sabelli, looking over my shoulder to think ahead for me. What will you do next? She simply asked: In communication Art Galus, asking, how can I help you with this listserv? Let me help you for you!

In thinking about emotional intelligence, linking and thinking to find that some of my mentors themselves had a special person who created a path for them. In thinking about CEO's and corporate friends, that the hand up, is often a very sincere interest in things that they do not have time or the inclination to do, but understand.

In thinking about children, by holding the hand of another and being a spirit guide, clarity of thought and purpose also comes back to you.

Pass it on... we have a short time on this earth. Teachers and mentors, touch the future.

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.
~ Thomas Carruthers

Bonnie Bracey
230 G Street SW
Washington DC