Communities, Tribes and the Learning Renaissance

“What is a community?”

That’s the question we’ve been asking as a class and as a school this term. My class are looking at this from a few of perspectives:

  1. As a community of learners, working together to develop our learning muscles.
  2. As a community of hackers, building, hacking and creating our learning space to work most effectively for us.
  3. As part of our Community Perspectives module, looking at the way events affect communities and how we hold differing perspectives depending on the communities we are part of.
  4. As part of our Vital Stats module, looking at the way individuals within sports communities use statistics to make decisions.

As part of our discussions in the Community Perspectives Module, my students came up with 10 principles which they felt were important parts of what it takes to be a successful community:

  • People
  • Communication
  • Time
  • Respect
  • Common point
  • Ownership
  • Commitment
  • Environment
  • Collaboration
  • Trust

Firstly, I’m super impressed with the language these 11, 12 and 13 year olds came up with. Secondly, I think they’ve hit the nail on the head. And finally I think the way the came up with these was totally in keeping with our communities theme. Individually they came up with 5 or 6 each, but together they’ve got everything covered.

So naturally, all this talk of communities has found its way into my thinking. What does it mean to be part of a community of educators? For me it means:

  • working together with others to achieve better outcomes for students
  • feeling like I have ownership and am part of a something important to me
  • being challenged, extended and made a better teacher through collaboration and the support of others within my community.
  • working alongside my colleagues to achieve something bigger than myself

I’m lucky, I’m part of multiple communities as an educator, I’m part of a global and national community of connected educators – we connect, engage, support and challenge each other and most of the time we do this online, through Twitter. I’m also part of my school, team and of course class communities, but it’s the first and last communities I want to talk about today.

Recently I watched Seth Godin’s TED talk about The Tribes We Lead. In this talk he speaks about the way we can affect change through connection. According to Godin, our world is organised into tribes and has been since long before recorded human history began. Tribes enable us to connect with others and feel that we belong. A tribe is a group of people aligned around an idea, connected to a leader and to each other. InĀ  many ways this reflects the definitions my students created of communities. When we unpacked the word together in class we identified two root words that make up the word ‘community’, ‘common’ and ‘unity’. In a community we should be working together (unity) for a shared (common) purpose.

So what does all this have to do with education, aside from being an interesting discussion in a class? Well, I think it can all be defined in one simple hashtag. #edchatNZ – the little hashtag that could. There is no doubt in my mind that #edchatNZ has changed me, as an individual, in my philosophy of teaching, and most noticeably in my teaching practice. And I know it has done so for many people. Not only has it become my community – my tribe – it’s inspired me to take the awesome things I’m learning back to my school, and back to my tribe of learners. With all these new ideas and challenging concepts, not only am I questioning everything I’m doing, I’m teaching my students to do the same. It may be time consuming and hard work and drive other teachers in my school up the wall, but I can see the benefit in my students. They don’t accept status quo just because it’s also been status quo, they’re not sucked in by media and they don’t cave under peer pressure (well as much as is possible for 11 – 13 year olds). They desperately want and need to understand why we do things the way we do, and if they can see the logic or the rationale behind something and agree with it, then they are behind it 100% and boy do they give it their all.

Last week a came across a retweet on twitter talking about a learning renaissance rather than a revolution.

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For me, the students I have this year and the way they approach their learning is this renaissance in action. In his talk, Godin speaks about the way we create change, and he asks 3 questions:

  • Who are you upsetting? (Because if you’re not upsetting someone or something you’re not challenging the status quo)
  • Who are you connecting with?
  • Who are leading?

The first question serves as evidence of change or lack thereof, but the last two is where the change really happens. When we connect with others we are bringing together a multitude of ideas, talents, creativity, and capable hands that can work together to affect change. But what about leadership? How does that fit into the picture?

The #edchatNZ community began with a lone nut – the wonderful Danielle Myburgh. As she started to share her passion a community started to form around her, it grew and began to connect in multiple and diverse ways becoming a tribe, and now with increasing momentum, it’s affecting real change in education communities and schools around the country. But at the same time, it’s also empowered each of us edutweeps (twitter educators – education + twitter + peeps) to return to our own schools and classrooms and lead change there.

So how do we do this? How do we lead change and build a learning renaissance? (I love that phrase so much more than ‘revolution’).

We live in age now where it’s no longer good enough or even effective to try and sell an idea, instead we need to tell a story. Godin describes an ongoing cycle:

This cycle appeals to me and I think it is a good way to reflect on what we are doing to be agents of change within our own learning communities. I know that I am really good at making changes for my own learners, and I’m certainly getting better at connecting with my tribe but do I tell the story of what I’m doing?

I have no doubt there is the beginning of a learning renaissance happening in for my students, but I’m not yet telling that story effectively and if I want to help lead a movement and create a culture of inquiry and innovation within my school I need to be.

So how I can do this?

This is the part I’m still figuring out, but here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Talk about with my students and build their language of learning so they can talk about it with other students and teachers
  • Invite others into my class to hang out and get a sense of the way we’re mixing it up in room 3
  • Blog more often
  • Blog more deeply – less of the surface stuff more of the challenging and questioning stuff (like this post)
  • Share my blogging, I communicate well through words, it’s always been my natural medium, so I need to use this and I need to be willing to put it out there – especially with colleagues at school
  • Keep tweeting, cause magic happens on twitter

So to finish, I’m going to leave you with a question:

How are you telling the story of the education renaissance?

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