Choosing a Community is like Choosing a Doughnut

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.


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  1. Jennifer Wagner said:

    BRAVO for being simplistic.

    I think your analogy with using donut options was superb — and truly identifies the network we are finding ourselves in right now.
    There are many who are the sparkles, the cheerleaders, the voices, the noticed. There are many who are quietly speaking out, sometimes noticed/sometimes not, the ones who are quietly wise and though seldom speak up — when they do it is worth the listen. And there are the ordinary — nothing special, not noticed, but still getting the job done…and done well!

    I think our biggest problem becomes when we try to make ALL the donuts the same — or have the same “OHHH lookee” — instead of embracing our differences and realizing that if we started mingling our differences, we might have a powerful outcome.

    Which is one reason I like DEN so much. There is not a cookie cutter expectation of anyone….and the acceptance of where we are right now — with a bit of nudging to be even better tomorrow… not only appreciated but it is to be admired.

    Thank you for sharing our your thoughts — and for giving me an opportunity to share mine.


  2. Whitney Mihoulides said:

    I alway enjoy your posts, Lance! One thing I have always loved about the DEN community is that it is inclusive of french crueller like me and maple bacon’s like Princess Porter that inspire me and I can learn so much from. 😉 We really do have an amazing network of educators from all walks that motivate me do and try more every day!

  3. Dean Shareski said:

    I was going to write about this in the context of classrooms but this is precisely the conversation we need to do a better job of articulating and sharing. While our personal experiences are rich and varied, we often unknowingly, in our enthusiastic attempts to entice others to participate, send a message that all our experiences are universal. While we would all collectively agree that one size doesn’t fit all, we don’t always convey that in our actions, as well meaning as they are.

    I’m always curious and interested in others perspectives on community that are different from mine.

    I enjoy the fact that you had a sub par doughnut but were still happy with your choice, but I’m still sticking with the Funky Monkey. 😉

  4. Gena Price said:

    From one plain doughnut to another, Bravo, this sums it up beautifully!

    • Kathleen Kelly said:

      Right there with ya, love a simple way to do things, so I belong in the plain doughnut category with you.

  5. Ginny Washburne said:

    Great post Lance. I still find myself lurking much more than I share, but like you feel incredibly connected with this community. I’m proud to call the DEN home and hope that every member of our community is receiving the connections they need to feel empowered and inspired.

    Maybe our next DEN event can include a doughnut making activity where we make one that reflects our personality?? Just a thought.

  6. Kass Bates said:

    Lance I love that you have given “permission” to be a member of the community the way it feels comfortable. I often feel guilty for being a “lurker” and not expressing my ideas more. While it’s hard to measure what is gained from lurking I know I am influenced by the sharing, exchanging, and challenging that I receive from the DEN community. I know my practice is better, my relationships with teachers are richer, and my expectations for self are stretched. So yes, I am greatly empowered and inspired by the DEN. Thank You!!

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  8. Sheila said:

    Great post, Lance! We’re all at different levels in the DEN and I love your analogy! Sometimes we’re all lurkers! Growing up in New York I grew up being opinionated (though I’m much more tame these days), which is probably why I usually throw in my two cents worth (lol), or share with my friends or the world. Though there are days when I like sitting back and just reading the posts, and hitting like. Just because we don’t comment doesn’t mean we’re not learning from the enormous wealth that is the DEN! Thanks, Lance!

  9. Karen Wells said:

    Well said, Lance. Some days (probably most) I’m a cinnamon and sugar donut girl and other days nothing will do but one draped in bacon and covered in maple syrup. No matter what day it is there is always a place in the DEN for me!

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  12. Shelly said:

    The bacon maple sends me into fits, though secretly I’m curious. I am just a jelly filled roll! Usually quiet, but watch out when I open up!

  13. Christine Baummer said:

    I enjoyed reading this post and I guess I’m a DEN Lurker. I wish I could eat donuts with everyone, but I have Celiac’s. DEN is a great community and learning more is keeping me in tune with my students. Thanks for posting your thoughts.

  14. Sara Miller said:

    I agree with everyone above. Choosing a group has to be a “right fit” in order for you to feel and be successful which will make you want to continue and be involved. You also have to be comfortable enough to go out of your box to take a chance and try new things & share that….that is how we learn and try again or try something new. Since the world can be crazy and busy, depending on what you’re doing, it does determine how much or how little involved you are. Sometimes, lurking is okay because you need a refresher! 🙂

  15. Barbara Hardos said:

    I am such a Lurker that I was just going to read your fabulous post and then leave without a comment. But that felt like something a donut hater would do. I have been lurking around the outer-limits of Discovery since 2005. This year I will challenge myself to become more active, teachers need support with all the new stuff coming down the pipeline. Thanks Lance for the thoughts.

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  18. Wendy Norton said:

    I loved this I could see myself a few times. I started as a far lurker and this year I feel I am lurking a little further inside finding a more comfortable place. I find Facebook helps with this. I really want to read the book, thanks for that. I always feel I am an introvert but others view me as extroverted? I guess when I spread the DEN love to others I have a hard time not getting excited about how it makes me feel accepted and loved. Thank you for that, all of you.

  19. Amy Ballard said:

    I love how you honor all different styles! I read a book called “Honoring Diverse Teaching Styles” and love how it made me realize that one size does NOT fit all. Your writing is so impressive as well. Thank you!

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