The Tortoise and the Hare Together: A Slow-Blogger Takes to Twitter, and Other Lessons Learned at Faculty Academy

lowereastsideshopwindowfromphone D&G Soho
Shop Windows in New York City

Lately I’ve been referring to myself as a slow-blogger, taking inspiration from the slow food movement. I’ve also made it no secret that I prefer face-to-face (un)conferences to online ones of any sort because of the same kind of slow unfolding of discovery through the dynamics of being together in the same room, looking at one another, eating together, laughing, commiserating over the course of a couple of days. But as the online world started to move on from blogs-as-reflective, centering spaces, as people’s posts seemed more and more quick thoughts on the run about other blogposts instead of syntheses of many and varied tendrils of theory and practice, I secretly wondered if I was just making excuses. Was I was a slow blogger because I was slow? Did I hate online conferences because I was bad at them? Was I not the tortoise at all, but the tree, rooted in place, stuck in the old mud?

University of Mary Washington’s outstanding Faculty Academy has me jazzed again, illuminating the value of my love of blogs and gatherings, while helping me to lighten up and be playful, to take risks again instead of being the person who once took risks, was noticed because of it and now spent her time talking about taking risks. Simply put, Faculty Academy was one of the best two-day events I have ever attended –and as fabulous as Alan’s talk was (and believe me, it was fabulous) and as rich as the many presentations and Karen Stephenson’s keynote were, and as much as I learned by pushing myself in my talk to find words to express my commitment to blogging as learning tool, the best part was the relaxed way the conversation deepened, grew more complex and interesting as the days unfolded. Laughter. Jokes. Arguments. Tips. Questions. Ideas–oh, the ideas. And more laughter. Alan and Martha and Laura and Jim, just to mention a few, have all captured pieces of this extraordinary gathering.

Now as the days rush by, and I prepare and give other talks, other workshops, and as life settles again after the excitement, I dream of ways to replicate Faculty Academy at Middlebury and vow to stay inspired by the FA magic, reminding myself of what Maxine Greene says:

“I believe that teachers willing to take the risk of coming in touch with themselves, of creating themselves, have to exists in a kind of tension; because it is always easier to fall back into indifference, into mere conformity, if not into bad faith.” (in “Teaching: The Question of Personal Reality” Sept 78 TC record, Vol 80, #1)

So I’ve been thinking about the source of their magic. Is it the magician himself, Gardner Campbell? Having an inspired senior member of the faculty leading the way certainly helps enormously in the world of undergraduate liberal arts teaching. Other faculty, such as Steve and Angela and Jeff, so willing to experiment as they sharpen their teaching practices? Or is it the sort of student in their midst–the Shannons and Joes of the place? The marvelous cast of ITS characters? …Absolutely amazing to have them together on a single campus– and to hear the faculty speak of them and to them as peers, as teachers and not somehow separate, apart. I think they all–faculty, ITS, students– should take their show on the road and hold workshops on how to develop a faculty and a learning culture of trust and risk-taking and humor. They know how to laugh at themselves. They delight in discovery and in collaboration. How they cheer one another on; how they welcome outsiders! They exemplify what Vera John-Steiner explains in Creative Collaboration:

“Through collaboration we transcend the constraints of biology, of time, of habit, and achieve a fuller self, beyond the limitations and the talents of the isolated individual.” ( p.188) and “…the achievement of productive collaborations requires sustained time and effort. It requires the shaping of a shared language, the pleasures and risks of honest dialogue, and the search for a common ground.” (p.204)

And what Miriam B. Raider Roth describes in her research: “Students’ construction of trustworthy knowledge in school depends heavily on the quality of their relationships with teachers and peers.” (in “Trusting What You Know: Negotiating the Relational Context of Classroom Life” 2005)

Or –and perhaps even more important–what Margaret Mead said (as quoted by my brother): “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

So, what in practical terms have I taken away from those two days?

1. Well, I am now Twittering and seeing that a little fun online is a good thing. I can see beyond the fun, too, as I am served links with my breakfast to posts I wouldn’t necessarily come across on my own, and 140-character snippets of experience or thoughts just percolating. I’m hooked. And while I know it is not microblogging proper, for a slowblogger, it is, it is. And I see how I can use it with my students to communicate to one another as they tackle a reading or a project, as they come across relevant sideshoots and first stirrings of thoughts to share with the group, titles, mini-abstracts, all while practicing the fine art of concision and threading through the absurd and funny moments of a day.

2. A must-read post for my students by a students about being a student engaged in reciprocal apprenticeships. Here’s a paragraph from Shannon that captures the discoveries I want my students to make about blogging within a community:

I understand now that small pieces loosely joined don’t only foster conversations about things I am interested in (as much as I would like to think the world revolves around me) but, chemistry majors could engage in deeper learning and with the possibility of ronco on the horizon those conversations can extend past our specific interests and majors and lead to conversations where we can all utilize what we know towards a better understanding of…whatever! So perhaps I don’t have to fear that super freshman who will take over my position at DTLT and then the world because there could be other conversations out there for him/her to engage in (and Jim is taking the world over anyway). Even if SuperFrosh did get involved in the dtlt conversation, I might even be ok with that. 😉 Everyone can contribute to the conversation and the more reflection the better the conversation gets. It isn’t about whether someone has better ideas than me or blogs better, it is about the conversation their ideas can generate. It is hard to admit when you are being self-centered and I’ve been guilty of some of that. What I really like about “this thing” (whatever this thing is) is it allows me to reflect individually and take time for myself but, also encourages me to share those thoughts and be open to conversation for a greater good.”

3. Remember to keep the pedagogy open the way Jim Groom is doing so brilliantly over at bavatuesdays. It’s as good as a serial to tune in to his teaching adventures.

4. Continue to focus on trust, to think about how trust plays out in departments as well as classrooms and other communities of practice.

5. Take the work but not myself too seriously–have I forgotten this? How I’ve blogged about it? Am I taking the passion, the urgency too far? After a couple of recent talks — here’s the Flickr slide set from WiAOC (I’ll post the Vermont State Colleges Academic Retreat set soon) –I felt as though I pushed too hard. Someone told me after he felt humbled by my talk. Aak! First it was a tsunami in Sweden and now this–time to lighten up. The discussion between Alan, Chris and Jim brings out both the value of a deep reflective practice but also the absurdity of jumping on a single bandwagon. I gotta get back into Second Life. Change my avatar a bit. Humor her up.

Heck, if I can move from snapping funky windows in the Lower East Side to Dolce & Gabbana’s over-the-top display (kind of Twittering with Flickr, perhaps?) I might even have to get off my high horse and head to McDonald’s, something I have never ever done.

So, between Faculty Academy, my new life on Twitter, and a dose of New York City this past weekend, I am finding a new balance. We’ll see how it asserts itself in my upcoming talks and in my classroom this fall… hey, maybe I’ll try out some short posts! 😉

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8 Responses

  1. Wow,

    Twitter, Second Life and McDonald’s all because of Faculty Academy? I don’t know whether the folks involved in this year’s event should be honored or penitent! You did, however, forget something essential about the experience of FA 2007: your mind blowing “call to arms” for the faculty and staff at UMW. The goose bumps ran up my back as you started your call with an impassioned plea for the blog (ad do once again as I type this while recalling that talk).

    I love the blog, and I may even prove to be one of those curmudgeonly holdouts who refuses to yield my “property” to the eminent domainers when the technology has been surpassed and the communities are all torn up. But what I discovered through your example was the deeply human sinews that hold these archival communities together and give them texture and meaning in relationship to the heartfelt history as well as the unimagined horizon. For the first time the blog was both a window upon immediate loved one’s of the past as well as uncrossed threshold for the unsuspecting student of the future.

    Thank you for making this event so powerful and transformative in so many ways. Can I count the ways: there were the inspiring drives with you and Alan, the passed donuts, your amazing workshop about creating deep connections between people, unparalleled conversations during dinner about everything from lit to eggs for dinner, and the final connection between slow blogging and slow food that took me so long to make…hence my fear about your overtones towards twitdonald’s:)

  2. I’ll treat for the first trip to McDonalds, even supersize it 😉

  3. Thanks, Jim, for your kind words, your vote of confidence, in fact! But you gotta know that I draw the line at Dunkin’ Donuts…(though I do love the image of the donut-eating guy married to a Northern Italian).

    And Alan, you’ve been on a Mcdonald’s binge lately between your blog and your talks–you gotta take a look at that!

    😉

  4. Barbara, I teach an “Ed Tech” course for future teachers and I’ve had a mostly wonderful struggle, working with a colleague, to find a balance between opening the eyes of our students to tools they might use, and trying to use our platform to turn their attention to issues related to kids and teaching (whether “tech related” or not). We’ve set up a loosely-structured set of blogs in which they write about their experiences and explorations, and so far the experiments with minimally-directed writing have been exciting.
    Reading your thoughts, though, has offered me a crucial reminder about the importance of my not “standing at the edge of the pool.” Your thoughtful reminders (and great example) that we need to take some risks if we want our students to be comfortable doing so have come at a great time.
    Thanks…Jeff Stanzler

  5. I continually find you to be a source of inspiration. When I first encountered your words of wisdom I was floored but, what is even more amazing is your ability continually question and reflect on what you are doing. Just because people tell you you have it right doesn’t mean you stop exploring. I’m honored that something I have written has made its way to your blog, now I just have to make sure I don’t let it go to my head 😉

  6. Thanks for the feedback, Jeff and Shannon!

    Jeff: It’s so helpful to hear that my open commentary on my teaching and learning practices have been of some use to you. Blogging helps me to think deeply but also to lift my head and gain perspective on the connection between what I say and what I do. It is so easy to fall into a rut, or to play things a little safe. I know I do it all the time. But as teachers in this time of such convulsive change, we cannot afford to fall into complacency–we have to think about how to steer our course through the new realities of globalism, shifting demographics, and explosive technological advances. This is the world in which our students will live their adult years. We cannot continue to prepare them for an earlier time. And that means we have to take risks in our teaching–this is all new ground. James Martin of the 21st Century School at Oxford University is a wonderful inspiration. He urges us to find 21st-century solutions to 21st-century problems.

    Shannon: It’s great to have you on bgblogging. I have a couple of students you would see as kindred blogging spirits, but yes, you are in the rather lonely position of leading the way. Your most recent blogpost articulates that feeling all of us, who believe in this new way of learning, share. You go girl!

    ~Barbara

  7. A good conversation is where you get to learn new ideas, people’s different point of views of the topic, and having to share your own opinion with them.

    Having interesting topics for a conversation makes you want to engage in it more. As the conversation deepens, and as the topic becomes hotter due to different views on the topic, the more you get involved in it. You will notice at the end of it how much you have learned from it and that your opinion may have changed or remained the same.

  8. A good conversation is where you get to learn new ideas, people’s different point of views of the topic, and having to share your own opinion with them.

    Having interesting topics for a conversation makes you want to engage in it more. As the conversation deepens, and as the topic becomes hotter due to different views on the topic, the more you get involved in it. You will notice at the end of it how much you have learned from it and that your opinion may have changed or remained the same.

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