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What Oregon Trail Taught Me About Teaching, Community, and DonorsChoose.org

Guest blogger Genein Letford is an elementary music teacher from Canoga Park, California and a member of the DonorsChoose.org Board of Directors.
Genein conducts a music class“Your wheel spokes have busted. Remain in this location for three extra days. Lose a turn!” Seeing that message was never fun. Even worse? Losing your oxen, throwing out spoiled food, or pausing the journey to attend to an ailing family member.
Having played Oregon Trail is, for many of us, a childhood badge of honor. Going hunting on our boxy IBM computers in the 1980s, and getting from Missouri to Oregon (alive and with most of our family and materials intact) was an achievement we eagerly shared later on the playground.
Now looking back on that experience as an adult, valuable lessons arise from that 2,130-mile digital trek (beyond just understanding westward expansion). When settlers embarked on their journey, they didn’t go at it alone. Forming an alliance was their first critical action. It was understood that if one strayed from the group, they were more or less a goner. Having a community of travelers greatly increased their chances of successfully reaching their destination. Oregon, here we come!
 
A New (Facebook) Community of Teachers
Many things are shifting in education. As educators, we are all on the journey together through these changes. From the launch of Common Core to the shifts in educational leadership, this is the time when we most need a community. DonorsChoose.org not only developed a platform where teachers can receive resources for their classrooms, but they’ve also created a new space where teachers can be a resource for each other.
In late 2016, they launched their Facebook community: a hub where teachers brainstorm ideas about new projects, post questions or concerns, and receive tips on getting their projects funded. Katie from DonorsChoose.org moderates the page and offers resources, and it’s an area for teachers to support other teachers.
This support extends even beyond creating a project. We share our triumphs and our struggles. One teacher shared a tragedy that occurred with one of her students and asked for inspirational quotes to create a condolence book for those affected. Our educators responded in droves, and, once again, showcased the power of a connected community.

An Ecosystem of Success: The Greater DonorsChoose.org Community
At the June DonorsChoose.org board meeting, Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, commented on our community of teachers and supporters: “DonorsChoose.org created a new platform, a new ecosystem, and guess what? Teachers are at the heart of this ecosystem.”  
We teachers are posting projects for our students, and donors are connected to our students through us. The companies and organizations that support DonorsChoose.org do so to support America’s teachers and their classrooms. We are all connected, and any one of our successes is all of our success.

Continuing the Journey
We are all on this journey together. Though we may not be headed to Oregon, with broken spokes or dying oxen, there are some daunting issues that we teachers face every day. It is our community, this DonorsChoose.org community, that can serve as a significant resource to help ensure the excellence we expect in our classrooms and give us the support we need to get there. I’m excited for this journey, I’m excited to be connected with you, and I’m certainly excited to be a DonorsChoose.org teacher.

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