Paying It Forward

By Nancy Jang on April 7, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

When I attend a conference, my goal is to come away with techniques, ideas, or information that will improve my teaching, and my greatest hope is to leave inspired. This year at the Computer-Using Educators conference, both my goal and my hope were realized. Today I want to introduce one of the people who made this happen last week. He's amazing both in how he uses technology in his classroom, and also in who he is as a person and as a teacher. He is one of the people that I aspire to be more like. His name is Brent Coley, and I'm honored to have him write a guest post for this blog.



Brent Bio PicPaying It Forward

by Brent Coley
(Originally published on in January 2011.)

Think back to your first year of teaching. For some, it was just a few years ago. For others, it may seem a distant memory (and some of you may still be in your first year). Regardless of how long you've been teaching, think back to the beginning. Did you have an experienced teacher to mentor you through your first year or two? Whether it was informal or in a program such as BTSA, did you have someone come alongside you and share lessons, help you with your classroom management, show you the ins and outs of your new school? I did. Mrs. Kawase was her name, and I was incredibly blessed to work with her as she took me under her wing and showed me what it takes to be a great teacher. She listened when I had questions, freely shared her resources, and, more than anything, was a friendly face during a very overwhelming year.  


I've asked the same question of teachers recently at presentations I've given — "Did you have a mentor?" Unfortunately, very few teachers have said they had someone to mentor them at the beginning of their careers. After thinking about it, I asked myself, "Why not?" Is it because there weren't any teachers qualified to give a first-year teacher guidance? I find that hard to believe. Whatever the reason, it isn't right.

What about now? How many of you currently have someone you would call an educational mentor? I do. His name is Tony Vincent. Some of you may be familiar with his work. A former 5th grade teacher, he is now an independent consultant who works with teachers and students all over the world to help them tap into the power of educational technology. Spend some time on my Web site and you'll find his name on many of the pages, as he has been instrumental in helping me infuse emerging technologies like blogs, podcasts, and iPod flash cards into my teaching. Tony has been an incredible resource to me, and although it's not an official title, I consider him to be my educational technology mentor.

Here's the point I want to make — I've never met Tony. I have never been in the same room with him. As far as I know, we've never been in the same state at the same time. He lives in Arizona, while I live in California. With the exception of one Skype call, I've never even spoken with him. All of our communication has been in the form of text (email, Twitter, etc.). Yet because of his influence, because he has freely and graciously shared his ideas, expertise, and resources through his Web site, I am a better teacher than I was a few years ago. All because he was willing to share.

Are you sharing? Are you a mentor? Are you paying it forward? We all have something to share, whether we're in our second or third year of teaching or our second or third decade. It may be big or it may be small, but with millions of teachers in the world, someone may be online right now looking for what you have. So share, through a blog, a wiki, a Web site, Twitter, or simply a conversation in the staff room. Do not underestimate your influence.  

Circlehands A few years ago, I received an email from a teacher in another state. After seeing some social studies flowchart notes I had posted on my Web site, she sent me a short message. Below is an excerpt from the email, shared with her permission.

"I thought you should know that today you managed to indirectly touch the lives of 18 students here in Alabama . . . Last night I stumbled across your Web site and noticed your social studies flowchart notes for your lesson on Columbus. Coincidentally this just happens to be the lesson we are on in social studies. So, I thought I'd give it a shot with my kids. TODAY WAS THE FIRST DAY that my students ENJOYED social studies. Today was the first day my students comprehended ANYTHING having to do with social studies . . . I just thought you would want to know that you made a difference in the lives of 18 children today, even though we are almost a continent away."

Do not underestimate your influence. 


Thank you to Brent Coley for this wonderful guest post!

I hope that you will check out some of the great resources he has compiled at and

Join me next week to read about The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle, podcasting, and greenscreening!

Happy teaching, and don't forget to "pay it forward,"



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