Connected.

Three examples.

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1. In the first week of December, I hosted what I called a “Tech Potluck” at my school. I invited everyone for an after school get-together to share our favorite tech treasures for any and all purposes. It had an open house feel. People were free to come and go, have a snack, add an idea or two to our list and chat informally about tools they used and liked. About 9 people attended and we generated a list of 24 different apps and products for health and wellness, chat/messaging, language learning, video production & editing, transportation, data filing & management which we then also shared with the community after the event. Our group included teachers, an administrator, and office staff and the enthusiasm for doing it again was frequently voiced. So I will do it again.
Connected.
2. Over the winter break I got to do a fair amount of reading and browsing. Among the treasures I found, this syllabus for an 8th grade language arts course stood out for me as absolutely phenomenal. Based on 4 central questions posed by W.E.B. DuBois, the course offers a selection of extremely compelling literature which encourages exploration of a variety of identity perspectives in terms of geography, history, class, race, gender and age.
I was so excited by this document that I immediately it had to share it with my colleagues in middle school who teach language arts. The three of us ran into each other on that first day back and had a rich conversation about great books with a social justice theme. One colleague mentioned  TaNahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and offered to loan them to me.
The simple act of sharing what I found sparked a conversation about literature and how it connects to our lives in progress. With very little extra effort, my colleagues and I have set ourselves up for further talk about practice, about reading, about being human. Connected.

3. A couple of weeks before the winter break I ran across a think piece about understanding the teaching of literature as teaching students to re-read. As with the LA syllabus I was intrigued and excited by the ideas presented and chose to share this find with my high school English colleagues who in preparing students for International Baccalaureate (IB) exams are expected to go both wide and deep in their content areas. One colleague found the time to read the article and liked it. In response, he suggested a text he’ll be using in Theory of Knowledge course that I might enjoy.

Easy share, generous response. Connected.

There are certainly other instances of little shares here and there which were appreciated and became a source of deeper connection with my colleagues and friends. These three very recent examples illustrate for me the larger purpose of being ‘out there’ on social media – in order to connect with the folks with whom we share our students. I love being active on Twitter and taking advantage of the multiple opportunities it provides for intellectual, political and cultural exchange. That is my choice. Some of my school colleagues are on other social media channels doing other things and some are not. All good. If I truly want to be worth my salt as a connected educator, then I need to become proficient at sharing with and responding to my immediate community – to the people I see and work with every day.

Being connected has as many iterations as there are communication channels. In our digital euphoria, we need to continue to pay close attention to what is happening and of importance outside of our distinctly digital webs of reference. Our individual follower counts are of little significance if we cannot find ways to invite our local learning communities to share the wealth in small and large ways. This is not about bringing people ‘on board’. Rather, our cause as connected educators may well be to build bridges across various expanses right where we are: subject matter areas, school divisions, school to homes, school to community. We can do this digitally and in person; as experts and novices; as learners and teachers – and in fluid and shifting roles. There is no single right way to live our connectedness, digital or otherwise.

Taking Control of the Firehose (Or Coping with Twitter Overload)

ImagePixabay.com

 

When I started out on twitter I remember someone likening the experience of information flow to “drinking from a fire hose.” Back then (not quite a year ago), I found it funny. Some 200 tweets later, I take that statement a bit more seriously and wonder if  I would ever willingly choose to literally “drink from a fire hose.”  I suspect not.

So what is my experience of twitter really?  I wonder.

  • I actually like it, use it, value it as a professional and as an individual with a variety of interests.
  • I enjoy the regular stimulus of continually new material: new links to articles, blog posts, photos and videos.  So much novelty, not just every day; every hour of every day. Didn’t think I’d respond to this but the phenomenon clearly has an impact.
  • To my surprise, I have found tremendous evidence of community. Most of the people I follow have some connection to education; many are well known voices in the North American dialogue on K-12 public education. Others have come to my attention through related channels. So politically, professionally and personally I generally feel that I am among colleagues and allies. And understand that I was able to select my way into this network.
  • Numbers don’t mean as much to me as when I took the initial dive. At the outset, I felt a little silly with my following of 1, then 3, then 8. I marveled at some of the folks I followed for both their number of followers (in the thousands) and the number of people and entities they were following (often in the hundreds). Now I can live with “To each his own.”
  • Yet, I ask myself: how does an individual actually follow over 100 sources on twitter? How do you filter all that information and find the stuff that is really relevant to what you want to know right then?  I know there are all kinds of apps and add-ons to help one do this, but still, how much attention can you give to each thing? How much do you gain and how much do you miss?  And at that end of the day, how will you know?
  • The diversity of content, perspective and conversation even within the very tiny slice of the twittersphere which I actually inhabit has felt at once nourishing and broadening.  Because most tweets actually take me somewhere else, I come into contact with authors and topics that I would not have considered or investigated on my own. If I choose, I can delve into the comment section of an article and discover more views (often dissenting ones) which further enhance my picture of the situation and what seems to be at stake. Of all the benefits of my twitter experience so far, ready access to the diversity of content is by far the greatest.

Where I struggle is in coping with a periodic sense of overwhelm. There is so much of interest. So many topics which I would want to unpack and address – and the beat goes on. The twitter stream flows unabated. First responders provoke a discussion which goes on for a short burst of time, only to be quickly subsumed into the next big hashtag thing.  Part of me has learned to let this go, to just scroll on by.  The other part of me stops to write a post that asks: Just what’s going on here?

As much as I appreciate my twitter feed and the familiar faces I have come to associate with great thinking, useful content and quite a bit of genuine feeling, I am learning to set my own parameters for use. They go something like this:

  • Lurk first before you tweet. (Context familiarity matters.)
  • If it moves you and has meaning, take the time to dig a little deeper. And save the link in Evernote.
  • It’s an ongoing party. No one will miss you if you drop out for a few days of fresh air.
  • Even twitter has cycles. If you missed something cool once, you’ll probably get a few more chances to miss it again.

Learning to Build Community; Sharing to Sustain it

I am in the middle of a terribly compelling read: The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist (2003).  Recommended to me by a good friend, I am finding much in its pages to wake up and shake up my thinking and feeling around not just money, but my fundamental beliefs related to scarcity and sufficiency.  At the same time, I’m thinking about my inner and outer resources: what are the things I hold dear and what do I have the greatest joy in sharing?

My last post talked about the value of being able to learn as more essential to progress than knowing stuff.  Getting beyond thinking that revolves around money and thinking about resources that I have and what I would call important, I recognize both my unbridled enthusiasm for learning and my deeper need for sustaining and sustainable community – not simply having community but creating, developing and nuturing community.  An in my prusuit of learning, I have often discovered communities of like-minded individuals through workshops and courses. However, the experience was often fleeting. Shortly following the conclusion of the event that brought us together, despite our promises to stay in touch, our individual and group connections sputter and eventually fade into the (often digital) background. My sense of community with that set of people may remain faintly in tact, yet it rarely becomes the go-to resource which sustains me and lasts over time.

Oddly enough, and I hesitate to admit it, I have found pieces of that aspired community experience specifically on twitter. I feel like I have gained a few twitter neighbors with whom I gladly connect and share. It helps me to have just a few such neighbors in that vast online world who are able to offer genuine interaction when I need it and whose wider contributions of links and thoughts, I can often use and incorporate into my practice. When I look at this development in the context of resource flow, I see that in order to create more of the community I so desire, I can dare to share a bit more.  The community can become stronger, better, fuller when I offer what resources I have, however humble.

 With so much talk about making a difference in the world, it’s easy to scare ourselves away from acting on anything based on all the inadequacies we bring to the task matched up with the magnitude, complexity and variety of needs to be addressed. It is exactly at this intersection where learning builds the bridges we need to get beyond our hesitancy to act. Learning, experimenting, risking, discovering – these are the experiences which build and strengthen communities when they are shared and extended beyond the two halves of our constantly churning brains. This process also  fairly accurately describes my  increased involvement in online media, especially through this blog and twitter: a steadily unfolding learning experience, a flow. 

On a more practical note: I have found that it also pays to repeat some thoughts which we’ve previously shared and to stay tuned to others because when we least expect it, that critical piece of learning we were missing may just show up at the right time. (Thanks for Rafranz Davis and Beth Stiller for recently sharing tips about how to use google forms which I was able to immediately apply!)  And if that doesn’t happen, all we have to do is ask. Right, neighbor?