December 1, 2012
Teachers Talk - Collaboration and Technology
Lori MacDonald, Teacher, Prairie Adventist Christian eSchool, Lacombe, AB

Several weeks before school was to begin, I was given my teaching assignment for the year.  I had been assigned new classes that, while I was qualified to teach them, I had not actually taught before.  Every teacher has had this experience.   I knew that I was not alone, and I knew that I would survive, but it was a race to get my materials ready and my head into the “right space.”  I found myself excited about the possibilities and began the frantic preparations: reading the textbook, aligning curriculum outcomes, and so on.  As all teachers know, the list of what one should do even before stepping into the classroom is daunting;  so I began the search for help and resources. 
Many of us have heard the old idiom, “don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to,” and it was with this attitude that I began my search.  I turned to teachers I knew, hoping for a little head start or some guidance.  When it turned out my colleagues were in a similar situation because a whole new curriculum had been introduced that year, I had to look to other sources. 
Because I teach online and because teachers today are encouraged to increase the technological aspects of their classrooms in general, I then looked to the internet.  I was amazed at the wealth of resources for teachers.  While I focus on English Language Arts and Social Studies, there is a literally a treasure trove available for educators, and many are free, which is always a bonus.   Some of the best websites I have found are created by teachers who have decided to share their own resources and ideas. 
In my time teaching, one of the most important things I have learned is that we cannot do this teaching “thing” alone – we need each other; when we share our creativity, allow others to use us as sounding boards, and exercise our talents and strengths, it is then that we are the best teachers.  God created us to be creative social beings, each with different talents to complement and help others. 
I am not sure if I would have continued in this profession if God had not seen fit to put two important people into my professional life at the inception of my career: Lorraine Popik, an English teacher at Parkview Adventist Academy, and Denise Herr, a professor of English at Canadian University College.  It was these two inveterate teachers that helped me focus on what I needed to be in the classroom in order to be an effective teacher, allowing me to ask questions and bounce ideas off them.  They were also extremely generous in sharing their personal teaching resources: literally opening their filing cabinets and allowing me free rein.  I still use some of those resources, with a little tweaking for changing times and my personal touch.  And now, I am finding a whole world, quite literally, of people who care about education who are also opening their files, for the sheer joy of sharing good ideas with others in the same field.  Their motivations are simply to help those who are just starting their teaching careers, those who are struggling, or those who may be beginning new adventures in a different subject matter.  I believe that this is a direction that all teachers should aim to take, and in this collaborative spirit, I would like to share some of the best websites I have found. 
Teacher Vision - website has printable lesson plans and many other great resources and ideas.  It is searchable and has sections for many subjects.  It has a free trial membership and a reasonable membership rate.
Novelinks - http://novelinks.orgis a great website that is maintained by English teachers and is dedicated to helping teachers look for creative connections for the novels taught in the classroom.  I have found it a great resource.  It is free and also accepts submissions if one has something to share.
Quest A+ a site based in Alberta curriculum but it could have application for all Canadian provinces.  It provides online practice tests for a variety of subjects.
WritingFix a veritable treasure trove of writing exercises and resources as well as interesting in-services by published authors and teachers. 
Engrade www.engrade.comis a free online grading program that my school, PACeS, has been using with much success.  It is very user friendly and has been well received by our students and parents.  It has a “Turn In” feature which allows teachers to have students submit their work directly into the program.  It has many in-program applications as well: flash cards, wikis, lesson plan, rubrics and class discussion boards (just to name a few). a British website dedicated to English teaching and while many of the resources are connected to British curriculum, they are easily adaptable to Canadian standards.  It is also has a free limited membership, but one can pay a fee for more access. resources for all areas of the curriculum and has an easy search function for age or grade, as well as subject and type of resource requested.
Classroom 2.0 a social network for teachers (and others) focussing on using today’s technology in the classroom.  It has a free membership and provides live online seminars as well as recorded podcasts and discussion boards on a variety of subjects.
I encourage all educators to explore the wealth of resources available online, but also to join in this global collaboration.  Each of us has been given talents and abilities, insights and creativity that we are meant to share.  Our classrooms, our students, and our professional lives can only benefit.