As I write this, I’m on a plane on my way back from TCEA. It was a quick trip, but I did get to see a lot of our TX STARs and hang out with some of my colleagues over doughnuts at Gourdoughs. If you’re ever in Austin, you have to check it out. They have doughnuts with slabs of bacon, gummy candies, you name it. I apparently ordered the most boring thing on the menu and was heckled by complete strangers about it, but it’s a free country, and I was happy with my choice.
The in-flight wifi connection is allowing me to follow Steve Dembo and Dean Shareski’s session via twitter, take a look at the feedback from our Digital Learning Day festivities, check out a few sites and articles I learned about yesterday, and monitor the flow of messages to my inbox so I don’t have to spend the afternoon in perpetual catch- up mode. At 30,000 feet I feel pretty connected. In fact, I feel much more connected right now than I ever have and exponentially more than when I was teaching middle school.
Why is that?
Some, a lot actually, has to do with my personality. Another big chunk has to do with the ease with which we can connect via social tools today versus ten years ago. But, it’s the personality part that is really intriguing me this morning. I’m reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain right now, a title that I immediately gravitated towards because I’m pretty introverted, at least by some definitions. I enjoy hours like these when I’m on a plane and can just be alone with my thoughts. It helps me recharge my batteries just as much as a more extroverted person might feel recharged by hanging out with 200 people at a party. Oftentimes I’ll have my best ideas after a 3 hour flight because I’ve had time to just reflect and synthesize a lot of disparate ideas and conversations. At the same time, I enjoy meeting new people, going to events, presenting and many other things that we typically associate with extroverts. It’s not black and white, and our tendencies are just that, not fixed, variable, and ultimately reflective of our own complex natures.
These ideas run in parallel with something else I’ve been giving a lot of thought to.
How do we engage more educators in community?
How do we help them make connections that we know will help them learn, be inspired and grow personally and professionally? It doesn’t seem like it should be a hard sell. Yet, when I think of myself or my wife (who is an amazing sixth grade teacher), I see such dramatic differences in personality that make the pathway to community engagement a very windy, often branched, road.
When I was teaching, I put a doorbell on my classroom door. Actually the kids did it. I just encouraged them. I came up with a secret ring so if you approached our classroom during the day and didn’t know the secret three-buzz-pause-one-buzz ring, I wouldn’t answer. The assistant principal hated this for obvious reasons. I enjoyed it for the lack of interruption it provided in our instructional day. Despite the fact that I still think this is hilarious and an effective way to teach students about circuits, it’s probably not the best modeling for children. It’s also not the introverted behavior one might expect of someone who for the past 8 years has helped build and support the Discovery Educator Network, a global professional learning community of thousands upon thousands of educators.
Even though I went to introverted extremes with the doorbell and was never much for idle chit chat, I loved getting together for Friday Night Pedagogical Society meetings (aka solving our school’s challenges over beer and wings) where a handful of colleagues and I would have in-depth conversations about everything happening with our students, school, district, etc. I also loved the opportunity I had to participate in a Critical Friends workshop through the Annenberg Institute. It was very uncomfortable at first, but the changes it helped bring to my instruction far outweighed my uneasiness with sitting in a room of strangers who were evaluating the science quiz I designed. As an introvert, I see tremendous value in connecting with others through community. I also recognize that my preferences for connecting are different than yours, my wife’s and those who have 75,000 tweets.
And guess what? That’s okay. It’s more than okay, it’s the whole point.
Our particpation in communities should be self-differentiated. Last week I had a great discussion with a group of STARs about ways we could enhance the DEN Community online to provide more opportunities for more educators to know about and connect with the DEN. Several of the folks believed, and I don’t disagree, that no matter what we put in place many educators would just lurk and not actively participate.
Well, my name is Lance, and I’m the biggest lurker in the DEN.
I don’t tweet as much as I should in return for all that I take. I post a blog like this once every five years. And once in a great while I’ll spend an inoordinate amount of time working on a cartoon to share with the community. The rest of the time I lurk. Yet I feel very connected. I participate in the community in many ways. They just might not be as visible. Perhaps you’re in the same boat. Again, that’s okay.
With our community like many other great PLNs, we intentionally have different levels of participation. You can be a DEN member or apply to be a STAR. After you’ve been in the community for a while maybe you’ll consider being on the leadership council or applying to be a DEN Guru. Some folks even run for “office” to be on the DENvisory Board. Others mentor new STARs who join the community. No matter how you participate you’re still part of the community. Maybe we should even add a new level called DEN Lurker. Yes? No? Because the point here is that how one person measures and values activity and participation in a community might be totally different from how you do. And once again, it’s okay, as long as you’re connecting.
So back to last night when my colleagues and I were stuffing our faces with doughnuts. Some were eating bacon and maple syrup soaked doughnuts. Others were enjoying doughnuts that had filet mignon and lobster stuffed inside. Others had doughnuts that looked like mini Mardi Gras floats. Me, I enjoyed my time. I enjoyed the company. I enjoyed the connections. And of course, I enjoyed my understated, somewhat boring cinnamon and sugar doughnut. And it was more than okay.