It was an unexpectedly productive, happy morning. I “delivered” the professional-development content, we talked about how to make it relevant and meaningful, and we started work on our “real” task of preparing assignments for Ms. M’s classes while she’s gone. And in the midst of that, Ms. H had a wonderful idea. We’d been talking about creating an Edmodo group so that Latin students at the other schools could share things with Ms. M’s students, and so that students at any of the schools could get help and ask questions when they needed to. “Of course the students can monitor the feed and answer the questions in real time,” she said. “And then there could be a real community.”
It turns out that Ms. H’s students have used their Edmodo groups that way for several years. Mine haven’t. They quickly embraced the idea of the “daily post” from me, a summary of what would happen in class each day with links to the various Tres Columnae Project stories and other resources we’d be using. After a while, they started uploading videos and other “stuff” they built, for ease of sharing in class and with friends who were absent and with family at home. In terms of the modes of communication, they started out with an interpretational task, taking in the information I provided to them. They moved on to a presentational task, sharing things they’d created and rehearsed. But they never used Edmodo in an interpersonal way, to exchange information and negotiate meaning together.
“It took us a while to get there,” said Ms. H. When the Local District first embraced Edmodo, her students (and mine, too, at the time) thought it was “dumb” and “stupid” and “useless” and “boring.” Then, over time, they came to appreciate the power of receiving information through Edmodo … of using it as a funnel, to bring back an important image for me this week. Then, as their feeling of ownership and comfort grew, they started using it to distribute information … using it as a megaphone, to bring back another important image. Only then were they comfortable enough to use it as a community.
There’s now an Edmodo group for the “Familia Latina” in the Local District, and several of Ms. H’s students have already joined. It seems they’d been wanting to create a wider community for several years, but the logistics of a face-to-face community had been too difficult. If things go well, the online community will probably encourage the development of face-to-face community.
I’m already seeing possibilities for an even wider online community … like one for learners around the world who use and create Tres Columnae materials. I’m very grateful for the outcome of those four hours on Tuesday morning!
As I think about it, though, I’m not surprised by that outcome. Ms. M, Ms. H, and I have known each other for many years, and even when I’ve “delivered” professional-development “content” to them, we’ve always taken time for community as well as megaphones and funnels. As the presenter, I guess I’ve been the megaphone, but sometimes I’m the funnel, receiving their messages (frustration about too much content and not enough application!) and delivering those, in turn, to Powers That Be who planned the next session. And sometimes they’ve taken on the megaphone role, of course. Over time, without even noticing it, we developed into a learning community, sometimes even a joyful one … and the megaphone and the funnel came into better and better alignment.
But apparently that’s unusual. I “just happened” to talk with a friend who’d been a presenter for Another Subject Area on Tuesday afternoon. “It was terrible, as usual,” he said. The material he “delivered” wasn’t dissimilar, but the group was angry and bitter. No community, no time to apply the megaphone material he’d “delivered,” and a very leaky, resentful funnel.
“And yet,” another friend said, “those very same teachers, the ones who were so rude and unprofessional, are the very same ones who would be all over their students for acting that way.”
As I listened to that conversation with fresh ears, I heard something I’d never heard before. That lack of alignment between what Ms. X says and what she does? That’s a symptom of losing sight of the why … or of never knowing why to begin with. when you know why, even a “stupid and boring” professional-development session can provide you with additional forms of how or what. But without a why, those strategies and concepts seem useless and disconnected. “There was a webinar,” someone once told me, “but we couldn’t participate, and we couldn’t actually hear what was going on. So naturally we all started talking about other stuff.”
Without a clear why, it’s hard to form a community. And without a community, the megaphone will buzz, the funnel will leak, and the message will be distorted and lost. Anger and frustration are natural results, but they only compound the problem, increasing the buzzing feedback in the megaphone, filtering out more and more in the funnel, and further distorting the message.
“Go into greater depth” … that was the short, simple, takeaway version of what I “delivered” on Tuesday. “Use the language of this framework, and help every student experience extended thinking as well as the recall, the skills and concepts, and the short-term strategic thinking.” Ms. H and I walked the talk as we created and adapted “stuff” for Ms. M’s students (and our own!) to do, and we’ve walked the talk for years as we built a community around the shared why of helping students love to learn Latin. But in the absence of such a community, and of the shared why that helps communities form, no wonder “those very same teachers” were frustrated and disrespectful!
It’s hard to give what you don’t have. And “those very same teachers” don’t have a community or a shared why.
I wonder what other insights and discoveries await in the days to come!