Ruckus Maker

where the wild things by .Va i ♥ ven. Arp, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Photo by  .Va i ♥ ven. Arp 

As a teacher I always feel there are two New Years in a single year—September and January. I find it a welcome opportunity to evaluate and realign my goals, personally and professionally. Although I don’t refer to my professional goals as resolutions, in this context using Wikipedia’s definition, a commitment to goals, projects or reforming of habits, it fits. Call them what you will—goals, resolutions, plans, objectives.

Frankly, I prefer my professional new year’s resolutions over my personal ones as they are more about exploring new ideas and experiences with my students and colleagues, and less about what I am not doing, like losing weight and saving money. My professional resolutions always seem to be dynamic, exciting and evolving, while my personal January resolutions tend to be generic, familiar and tired. Don’t get me wrong, I have personal goals and I am a very goal oriented person but I don’t do well with the whole “it is January, ergo I need to come up with some goals”. It may work for some people but I tend to create my goals as life unfolds, January or not.

After the holidays I read through a backlog of Seth Godin’s blog posts, and I was yet again reminded how much his words resonate with me. In his most recent posts a common theme spoke to me and it is one I needed to hear to be renewed for the upcoming term. It is about committing to being a ruckus maker, being dedicated to bringing about change.

I think my desire to bring about change found me before I found it. In my search for ways to infuse technology into learning I stumbled upon many opportunities and many roadblocks, many tools and many policies, many questions and yet not as many answers, or at least ones I was willing to accept. These all led me to the same place—wondering why. Why can’t we look at this differently? Why can’t we try this for the sake of our students? Why is this door closed? It was a if I had re-entered the toddler “why” phase. These many “whys” fuelled my strong commitment to bringing about change—change with a purpose, with a goal, with meaning. All grounded in, “What is best for our students and their learning?”

What I have discovered is that as you start asking “why” to a broad scope of people and start offering “what if” options to be explored, the more the doors open and the more change can stretch its wings and find some room to fly around. Instead of change flexing its muscles and evoking fear, I am learning that giving it a crack of sunlight to grow and become established is far more effective and far less threatening.

I rounded up 6 themes from Seth’s posts that I think will give me strength and courage to push forward. I hope they speak to you, too!

Make a Commitment

You don’t need a new plan for next year. You need a commitment.

It’s always been this way” is not a reason to keep on keeping on. Challenge the status quo.

As soon as you accept that just about everything in our created world is only a few generations old, it makes it a lot easier to deal with the fact that the assumptions we make about the future are generally wrong, and that the stress we have over change is completely wasted.

Ask Great Questions

A great question is one you can ask yourself, one that disturbs your status quo and scares you a little bit.

Why not be great?

You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It’s never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment — just one second — to decide.

Make a Difference

One option is to struggle to be heard whenever you’re in the room…

Another is to be the sort of person who is missed when you’re not.The first involves making noise. The second involves making a difference.

Create a Hassle

…Great storytellers and artists and ruckus makers manage to insulate themselves from the people they’re going to hassle. And the job of those that are being hassled by the commotion is to be hassled by the commotion. No commotion, no job.

In place of new year’s resolutions I am making a commitment to the above statements, for myself and for my students. While I believe I have long been committed to these ideas, I love the clarity and focus found here on this list. I think they will help serve as my compass,  particularly when the road gets rough and the ruckus maker needs a reminder as to why a ruckus is worth making.

How will you create a ruckus this year?

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!