The Feel of a Community

It’s peculiar to me that when you have something at the forefront of your mind it starts to spring up all around you. I have friends who have told me this happened when they were pregnant, suddenly every other person they saw was also pregnant. Now before the rumours start (and before anyone calls my mom), the topic on my mind is not babies but community. Lately I have been really toying with the idea of communities-how they develop, how they are sustained, how they are created and nurtured in an online environment and the power of community in general. I have been thinking about it in relation to connections and networks but also in broader terms and in varying contexts. The stars are aligning continually as conversations about community are popping up all around me. At times it feels like the Whac-A-Mole game at the Calgary Stampede, only less aggressive and the prizes are not stuffed animals. From blog posts to conversations with classmates to guest speakers and beyond-community is being talked about everywhere! As it is threading itself through all of my academic work I feel a need to write about it as a way to make sense of it and to collect my thoughts in one place. This makes me grateful for my blog.

When Rick Schwier spoke to our class a few weeks ago he delved deeply into community. He shared 11 features of a community which I placed in a Glogster poster (I am considering using Glogster for my summary of learning but I wanted to explore it first-too much fun!). This made me realize that although I have belonged to many communities  I rarely consciously think about what defines them. It is more that I know the feeling of a community. After spending time with any one of my communities I find I say phrases that capture the essence of community, if not concretely then holistically and organically. “Those girls are so good for the soul”-after a monthly meeting of the minds (and appetites) with a group of amazing women I taught with several years ago. “You should have felt the energy in the room”-after an electric and authentic learning experience during a Skype call between our Grade 3 students and a colleague in Peru. “She got up in front of her classmates for the first time and read…you could see the thrill in everyone’s eyes”-after one of my students with Down Syndrome embraced her voice and her courage. “How can I feel so connected already? I feel like I know them. They push my thinking.”-after my ETAD 802 online class this summer.

I think it is amazing that some of the greatest communities I have belonged to have developed unexpectedly. I didn’t know at the beginning where the initial connection would lead and even now it is difficult to pin point all of the factors that contribute to transforming a connection into a community. Sometimes when people come together it is magical and the elements of trust, intimacy, intensity, resilience…are there. It may be due to a unifying passion or the mixture of personalities or natural leaders sparking the connections or for many other reasons, some even intangible. I think perhaps it is not necessary to find the full answer to this mystery. If we had a formula for creating the perfect community then we would risk that it would become clinical and no longer a community. We might lose the authenticity and the boundaries would no longer be permeable as we would want to define and contain them. I love the surprise of a community developing…that feeling when it clicks and I come away feeling energized, buoyed and inspired by the connections and experiences.

However I find am much more deliberate and intentional when trying to foster a community with my students. In his ebook Connections: Virtual Learning Communities Schwier discusses how “communities cannot be created; rather, they emerge when conditions nurture them.” I feel it is my responsibility as a teacher to help create and promote an environment that will have a fantastic chance for a community to grow. I think you can actually feel the learning change in a classroom when a community forms. A community supports us in stretching, reaching, growing, and taking risks-ultimately what we need as learners. I don’t want to hope for an accidental community to form with my students because I want us to learn together in as rich of an environment as possible. I want them to be able to be a part of a community so they know how it feels.

I’d love to hear what you say after you have been with your community…what phrases do you say that capture the feeling?

Also if you have had any success embedding a Glogster creation into a WordPress post please let me know. I cannot get it to work. Thanks!