Thursday, March 13, 2014

Communities....


“True belonging is born of relationships not only to one another but to a place of shared responsibilities and benefits.  We love not so much what we have acquired as what we have made and whom we have made it with.”  Robert Finch

What defines a community?  I know that in education we see a lot of trends and buzzwords and sometimes hearing them can get a little tiresome-- but for me, community is different.  We all are members of multiple communities; family, friends, church, school, work, cities, states, countries and virtual. There are a number of opportunities for people to belong to communities in today’s world.   So many opportunities that it can become overwhelming to some and even with the options available, there are people who are convinced that they have no community.  I am fascinated on a daily basis with the different communities that are available to our students and of course, to us as educators.  The path to community may be changing but the foundation will always be the same-- relationships.

“Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community.”  
                                                                                                                                                Simon Mainwaring

I was fortunate to be able to attend a presentation by  Jeff Utecht (@jutecht).  His focus was the changing world we live in and its impact on education.  His presentation was informative and engaging. One specific quote of his resonated with me; “Twitter is not about people, it’s about communities.”
When I first decided to open a twitter account I was not unlike a lot of people.  The perception that the purpose of twitter is to share with the world what you had for lunch or to keep track of the activities of your favorite celebrity.  I joined reluctantly because I thought in my position, I needed to model the use of technology.  It is pretty obvious to me now that my perception was flawed.  What I hadn’t planned on was being a part of the many different communities that have allowed me to grow in both a professional and personal way.  Sure, people sign up for twitter accounts for various reasons and there are many different uses for the information that is posted on twitter but for the most part, I agree with Mr. Utecht, people use twitter to create communities.  It might be a professional learning community as I often share information with my followers because I feel a responsibility to offer something in return for all of the great things I have learned from them.  It seems to me that I should be giving back to a profession, from which, I have gained so much.  But I don’t use twitter just for professional communities.  I also follow accounts that are purely for personal reasons such as: my favorite tv shows,  sports teams, celebrities, motivational quotes and of course, adorable puppy pictures.  I find myself having twitter conversations with people around the country and even the world about things that I like and also things I dislike.  I even made  a point to “bingewatch” Breaking Bad so that I could join the twitter conversation during the last episode as it aired.  #BreakingBad became a hashtag that represented a community, albeit temporary.  The thing about twitter is that it is about building a place where we can share our ideas, thoughts, opinions and knowledge.  I am a member of many different communities on twitter.  I seek out all kinds of people.  People, in which,  I share common interests, and some that I don’t.  I think most of us can think of an example on twitter when you have disagreed with a fellow tweep (twitter user).  It is perfectly acceptable to have adult discussions about a variety of topics—that is one of the many benefits of a twitter community.  The ability to have these types of discussions is a valuable skill that we should be teaching and modeling. What an inspiring environment to be able to explore.  Of course there are other Social Media outlets to use to create communities.  Google +, Pinterest, Instagram, and the list goes on.  It doesn’t matter which one you choose, the opportunities to belong to a community are endless.

“The process of really being with other people in a safe, supportive situation can actually change who we think we are…. And as we grow closer to the essence of who we are, we tend to take more responsibility for our neighbors and our planet”.  Bill Kauth

Back in January when our second semester began, one of our students Chelsea Kalar (@chelseakalar) began a movement that has since blossomed.  Chelsea was enrolled in Mark Pisel’s (@mpise12) Entertainment Marketing class.  Mark had his students create a blog as a part of an exercise to practice marketing.   The students were allowed to choose any topic that interested them and they proceeded to “Race to 1500” views.  Students were given a real life marketing experience while being able to write about anything they wanted.  Chelsea chose to write a blog entitled Experience Acts of Kindness.  In this blog, Chelsea describes her daily act of kindness, the reasons behind her choices and the impact it has on the people she helps.  As you might guess, the blog has exploded and Chelsea has become somewhat of a celebrity.  She has over 50,000 page views on her blog.  She has created an official twitter handle (@KalarKind) and has asked people to use #KalarKind in their tweets about any act of kindness they are sharing.  She had schools from all over the world, contact her and set up a connection.  She and her group have skyped with schools in New Jersey and Saudi Arabia.  The community that Chelsea has impacted isn’t solely in her geographical area—that community has expanded across the United States and into other countries.  How powerful is that?!  What a lesson in being a part of your local and global community!

“In most vital organizations, there is a common bond of interdependence, mutual interest, interlocking contributions, and simple joy”.  Max DePree

This idea of community has me thinking about the library and its role within a school.  At a time when some school districts are cutting budgets and getting rid of library personnel, it is important to remember, the library is a community.   It is a community for creators, knowledge-seekers, and those just wanting a safe and supportive place to “be”.  It is a place where students and staff can get answers to their questions, collaborate, and create.  At any time on a given day you will find many of these activities happening in our library.  Just today, for example, we have a class in the computer lab working on research for an English paper.  We have small groups of students using our Design lab--complete with green screen to create Cold War newscasts.  There is a student using his iPad and our library MacBook to create an iMovie that will serve as his application for a welding scholarship.  Students are checking out our new fiction books that have just arrived and there are a few Seniors who have camped out in the soft-seating hanging out and waiting for the start of their next class.  This is what a learning environment should look like and what a community should be for our students.  

A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people.  It is a never failing spring in the desert.  Andrew Carnegie



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