If you had asked me a few years ago, I’m not sure I would have been able to tell you what a co-working space was, or how it was different from a makerspace or a hackerspace. And then, after that fruitless conversation, I might have gone to the Local Bookstore or the Local Coffee Shop (or even the other Local Coffee Shop where I’m sitting and writing this morning) … because I tend to do better work when there are other people around me, even if I’m not necessarily interacting with them. Add some food or coffee, some half-heard but interesting background music, and the hum of a few quiet conversations, stir in a few interesting things to look at and the occasional conversation with somebody or other, toss in various forms of seating and a WiFi connection, and you get … a co-working space. Or a co-learning space, for that matter.
Add an interesting mix of high-tech and low-tech tools, and you get a makerspace or a hackerspace. Add some eager young learners, working separately or together to connect their personal interests with something important for each other or for the larger community around them, and you get the physical environment I intend to create with, not for the right team, in the right place, at the right time.
But when you create things with, not for people, you have to start out with a mostly blank canvas. It can’t be entirely blank; that’s why we have those core stories, core characters, and a general story arc in the Tres Columnae Project. But it can’t be so full that there’s no room for you to add; it can’t be like the scores of perfectly decorated classrooms I’ve seen (and a few I’ve made) over the years, the ones where Ms. X or Mr. Y spent so much time, effort, and money that it’s clearly Her Room or His Room. Physically or virtually, it has to be our room if it’s going to be our space for co-working and co-learning.
Can you see how these threads connect with the GHF online classes I described on Monday and Tuesday? In each case, my work is to start creating a welcoming space for co-working and co-learning, to make the conditions ripe for a joyful learning community to form. And when I compare the GHF class schedule with school schedules, I see exciting possibilities for larger-scale community in a co-working and co-learning space that’s open after school hours. Imagine what might happen if some co-workers and co-learners in the physical space started interacting with the co-workers and co-learners in the virtual space! Imagine the possibilities for building joyful community and building meaningful things across geographic and cultural lines!
That’s why I’ve been looking for team and place this summer. To be fair, I slooked last summer, the summer before, and in seasons other than summer … but even as I looked, I could tell that the time wasn’t right. “Do you know anybody,” I kept asking, “who’d be interested in something like this?” And people did, but team, place, and time never quite came together.
Or did they?
The idea wasn’t as solid as it needed to be then, and the time wasn’t ripe. And maybe I wasn’t looking in quite the right place, either.
“What if we started an after-school program like this,” I asked a Relevant Power or Two, “and deliberately focused on the kids who aren’t involved with Other Activities? What if we invited the ones who just hang out together Over There after school, and gave them a safe place to hang out and some interesting things to do if they wanted?” That sounded great to those Relevant Powers, but nothing seemed to result from those conversations … nothing but a small cadre of Former Latin Family Members who sometimes asked if they could hang out for a bit in the Latin Family Zone. Sometimes they even brought food and background music, and sometimes they helped each other with homework or planned projects for Various Organizations they all belonged to. And the school provided the Wi-Fi.
Wait … did I say nothing came of those conversations? Quite a lot of co-working and co-learning happened. There just wasn’t a formal program … but did there need to be one?
In any case, the next step is clear: I want to build a co-working and co-learning space that’s not housed in a school building, not dependent for its existence on Bold New Priorities and Shiny New Visions delivered, from time to time, by Greater Powers That Be to Somewhat Lesser Powers in the kinds of organizations that Richard Elmore describes as Hierarchical Individual in leadership style and organization … the kind I call “factory-model schools” even though, to be fair, many well-run factories these days operate very differently. In Elmore’s terms, a space for co-working and co-learning is Distributed, not Hierarchical, and a joyful learning community is Collective as well as Individual in structure … and it’s really hard to build a distributed-leadership space in a hierarchical-leadership organization. Hard doesn’t mean impossible, of course, and over the years the Latin Family has built such spaces … but as hierarchical individual institutions feel their power and influence slipping, they tend to “fix things” by becoming ever more hierarchical. That translates to less and less space for co-working and co-learning, fewer and fewer learners willing to take the co-working, co-learning risk … at least when those learners are on the inside of those hierarchical individual institutions.
That’s why I’m looking for a space and a place, and that’s why I’ve spent time driving around and talking to people, looking and listening, and seeking out potential team members this summer. And that’s why I’m excited by the potential synergy between physical and virtual communities, co-workers and co-learners nearby and far away.
I wonder what other new discoveries, insights, and opportunities are waiting!
Source: personal photo