April’s Balance–Springing Forward While Hanging Back

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I’ve been busy, crazy busy, these past few weeks trying to balance old and deeply felt commitments to my classroom teaching and college work–the work of my pre-blogging life–with this new, and often surprising immersion in all manner of blog-related projects that have come my way. Looking outside at what feels like the moment teetering between winter and spring in Vermont–fresh snow on the mountains, blush of green in the copses; maple sugaring going on in the woods, college students on their bikes–reminds me of what’s going on in my life inside the office and classroom.

As I have mentioned here several times, I am not a techie—I am a teacher of writing, all kinds of writing, and of Irish literature (when I get the chance). I have more than twenty years of classroom teaching experience: on the high school and community-college levels and for the past sixteen years on the undergraduate college level here at Middlebury College. I love nothing better than to sit down with a group of students and crawl around with them inside a paragraph by Flannery O’Connor or Colum McCann, reveling in the lessons about point of view, characterization, and narrative arc (yesterday’s class), and then sitting back to see how these talented young writers will put the lessons to use in their own creative works. Twice a week the nineteen of us sit on comfy chairs in a tight circle in one of the college lounges, my favorite place to teach writing because we have no desks, no computers, just each other and a flimsy portable chalkboard. We talk writing and we do exercises. We move around into small groups and pairs and the full community. It’s what I love best about teaching–that time with the students.
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Not the place one expects to find the Barbara Ganley of bgblogging.

But then I walk back across campus, back to my office in the new college library, and many days I fire up my computer and plunge into a very different world of conversation and writing.
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I move from the intense interactions of my lively classroom to the intense interactions of a different, but just as lively classroom. And on days like today, as I read news of Bryan Alexander and me having our full-day seminar proposal accepted by Educause this coming October in Dallas, I marvel at how an English teacher like me found herself in a place like this. How is it that I am better known for skills and approaches I hadn’t even dreamed of five years ago–me who in many ways was a late-comer to technology–than I am for classroom teaching, where my formal training and years of experience lie? Ha.

I am getting a huge kick out of how remarkably multi-faceted and international in scope my days have become: how I move easily between talk with one student about how hard it is to end a short story and blogtalk with another student in Siberia or Antartica and reading news about a couple of conferences far from Vermont and virtually, a couple of meetings about digital storytelling, a project in Africa for which I have just agreed to serve as an advisor, and so on. And it occurs to me, that this feels an awful lot like like emergence at work (though some would say it looks like madness personified) within my own teaching realm (I usually write about emergence in the classroom, but not in my own growing online work). To think that these projects largely spring from a reflective practice related to my teaching of writing and how in my search for effective ways to bring the world to my students and my students to one another, I stumbled upon blogs some five years ago (thanks to Sarah Lohnes and Hector Vila) and then, a semester later, digital storytelling.

Who knew then that I’d be helping a couple of Australian teachers with their first classroom digital storytelling project this spring from across the planet, or that I’d be serving as an advisor to a project in children’s radio and storytelling in South Africa, or that early June will find me in London at one of the UK’s first edublogging conferences, giving one of the keynotes (to be on the same program as Stephen Downes has me both delighted and, well, nervous–he’s one of my heroes in this work, after all), or that a couple of days later I could well be participating virtually with a masterclass of teachers learning about technology in Australia, or that in July I will head to California to offer a session with Barbara Sawhill and Laura Blankenship at BlogHer, or that in August I would be participating in the Center for Digital Storytelling’s facilitators’ retreat in California? And now I hear that Bryan and I will head to Educause. I shake my head in wonder.

I am really looking forward to every one of these opportunities to talk with blogging & storytelling cohorts about how this work can shift perspective and balance in education and in communities–and how it has affected my students and their whole notion of what an education can be, and how it has affected me in and out of the classroom. (I used to blog about the blogging classroom pretty exclusively; now I also weave in conversations in the edublogosphere and also at workshops and conferences–more signs of emergence) I love the range of opportunities we have in this work–how talking alongside my two blogging buddies with BlogHer bloggers will be enormously interesting and valuable; how learning from other digital storytelling facilitators will help me grow my practice as teacher, artist and activist; how presenting with or on the same program with the likes of Bryan and Stephen will push me to have something worthwhile to say. I am blown away by the reach of this work and by how it has informed my teaching, and my teaching this work.

And so I’ll head back into my comfortable low-tech classroom tomorrow to discuss and play around with dialogue in short stories, listen to what the students have to say about capturing conversations on their iPods and transforming the snatches into scene fragments–probing the difference between real talk and story talk– and then I’ll come back here, probably take a look at the conversations on the creative writing blog, check the blog my daughter in India posts to from time to time, take a look at a student’s digital storytelling about road building in Laos and its effect on local communities, and then check in on what’s stirring in the blogosphere, and think about the difference between classroom talk and blogtalk, and how they influence one another. April’s a good month.

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