DEN and the City March 2012
It all started with a simple online group chat session with 45 of my closest DEN friends as we were talking about the planned Summer Institute to be held in Bozeman. One friend said she wasn’t likely to be able to get there, so I suggested that we all try to do a spring get-together somewhere in between. The next thing I knew, someone had created a Google Doc with a grid to choose the best date and place to meet ( I think it was Trace, but am not certain). We settled on Mar. 30 to gather in Chicago. Gena started researching possible condos to rent (I still daydream about Aqua) but didn’t get a response from any of the condo owners she tried to contact, so she made a just-in-case reservation for two rooms at Springhill Suites on Dearborn. Apparently there was some big convention in town that was taking up much of the hotel space–even our ever-resourceful friend Amy who works parttime at Marriott wasn’t able to get any other good deal for places for us to stay. A few chat sessions later, we were contemplating what to do, and came up with a visit to Second CIty comedy club, so Jan got us the reservations for that. All this happened in a group chat window of Facebook over a period of about 4 weeks. The closer the date came, the more of us got on board until there were over a dozen people involved.
On Friday, Mar. 30, each of us started making our way to Chicago. We came from PA (Jan and Trace), Michigan (Gena, Emma, and Wendy), Missouri (Amy and I), Wisconsin (Peg), and even California (Katie and Genny), and met our friend Liz and who lives in the ‘burbs of Chicago, as well as Jan’s daughter who lives in the city. We came by plane, train, bus, and car. Six states, 12 people, ready to have a grand adventure! (see Peg Hartwig’s post for a more detailed account of our actual weekend’s activities; suffice it to say, we had a great time!)
What does this have to do with teaching and learning and professional development, you might ask? Looking back, none of this would have happened without true collaboration. The Facebook chat window provided the space for us to collaborate in a natural way. (see Liz Charlton’s post describing our networking process.) First we had to have an Idea person to toss out the fodder to get things percolating. Next, we had an Organizer to attend the details of starting the planning process. The Google Doc gave us a tool we could all access to collect data and make decisions. Everyone was involved in the decision-making process, and anyone who wanted to was invited to join in. Those who didn’t choose to be a part dropped out of our ongoing conversation. Others who couldn’t join us, but were just interested in what was going on observed from the background, or offered input as they wished. During our brainstorming sessions on location and dates all ideas were valued and discussed. While we couldn’t accommodate everyone, we did a pretty good job of bringing it all together. Some parts of the process had to be done solo, as we each made our own arrangements for travel. As far as I know, not a single phone call was made between group members until we actually arrived in Chicago; all arrangements were shared to participants and observers alike within the the chat space. A couple of us arrived on the train, five flew in, one came by bus,and three came by car. The best part was, as each of us arrived, we greeted each other with hugs and cheers of “We did it!” It was a terrific feeling of accomplishment just having arrived together.
Isn’t this the very thing that most of us are wanting to accomplish in our classrooms? The whole is ever so much greater than the sum of the parts. Had any one piece of this been missing, it would never have been accomplished; each person’s contribution was important and valuable to the process, and we all used our various strengths to meet our goal. The immense satisfaction we all felt when we arrived was exhilarating, even though we still had more to do once we got there. Celebrating the milestones, such as our arrival, was a very important part of the process. This is what collaboration is all about.
On a personal note, so many times we say “let’s get together” with friends and people we value in our lives, yet the process stalls. One piece of the process is missing and it just never happens. If there is no one to say, “Let’s do it,” or someone to help lay the groundwork, lost opportunities to connect are the only thing that happen. WE did it, not me, not Gena, not Jan, not Trace, not any one of us alone–we were all in it together. And we all grew a little closer this weekend to people whose friendship and opinions matter. We learned together, played together, and had an amazing experience together. Thanks to the DEN for getting us introduced, and creating a spirit of collaboration that has led to some long-lasting relationships with some truly wonderful friends!