Category Archives: community

Building Community Around Reading

I attended the book group at the local library today. Today’s group was fun! A welcoming group of women who had smart and intriguing ideas about the book. One woman, in particular, had several interesting ideas about characters and their motives that I simply hadn’t considered. I am looking forward to next month.

I was in a book group before I moved to the farm but that requires a long country drive and a ferry ride so I had to give it up.  Until today, for the past five years, my reading community has been virtual, mostly tied to Library Thing.

I started as a lurker who mostly used the site to keep track of my reading. Over the past three or four years, I have been participating in one of their online groups and have about ten people that I follow on a regular basis. Three of them I was able to meet face to face last year so I will admit to feeling a bit closer to them. But, I have also built a strong relationships with two women I have only met in the online group.

This year, I am committed to be more involved. In the past, I have checked in only when I have finished a book and I went to update my thread, often just once a week. But this community is active on a daily basis and my weekly checkins simply weren’t enough. I was overwhelmed by all the posts and often left without posting at all.

This year, I’ve checked in every other day and sometimes even daily. I update my own thread with comments about my current reading or other items of bookish interest so people have a reason to visit my thread. I take time to reply to commenters as well. I also get caught up on the threads of my friends. I don’t feel like I always have to comment but I try to get involved at least once or twice a week, commenting on something they posted or getting involved a discussion with them and others on their threads. I’ve tried to keep my list of friends short so I can be more thoughtful and focused.  As with so many things in life, the key to success is knowing how much you can commit to and then committing to it.

What Would You Add to the List?

The National Park Service has just announced 24 new national historic landmarks.  They include sites related to some more recent path including the Civil Rights movement (Medgar and Myrlie Evers House) and the Vietnam War protests (Kent State shootings site). One quirky addition is the Davis-Ferris Organ, which can be found in Round Lake, NY, where it was used as part of a Methodist camp meeting.  The organ was added as an example of mid-18th century organ technology.

The criteria for being named a National Landmark is described by the NPS on their website:

National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.

I poked around the National Park Service site but their database is down and the records that I can access are static pdfs. Thank goodness for Wikipedia! Here’s the list of national landmarks in Virginia. I think they meet the mission of “illustrating or interpreting” the heritage of Virginia. Historic homes range from Monticello to the Maggie Lena Walker house. There are Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields. There are slave quarters, seaside cottages and schools where the desegregation fight took hold.

The locations provide a guided tour of Virginia history and could spawn a lifetime of learning, finding interesting and odd connections. For instance, Richard Quiney, who bought Brandon Plantation in 1635 was brother-in-law to Judith, the daughter of Shakespeare. Wonder if he helped write the plays?

For younger students, identifying new national landmarks might make an interesting exercise. For older students, the discussion could go more in depth about the process of choosing the landmarks. Are there any groups or historical periods that might be underrepresented? What landmarks in their community help tell the story of their town or county?

What Does It Mean to Succeed at Blogging?

Back at the desk after a holiday break that included lots of crocheting, binge watching and then a lovely visit with old friends. The snow storm sent me home a day early and we have been settled in our den for the past three days, warmed by the wood burning stove and watching football and the birds.

I browsed my RSS feed this morning and got stuck on this post from Tim Stahmer about the importance of independent blogging.  In blogging years, I’m very late in replying to his post, but that’s one of the barriers I face in my blogging practice so I’m not going to let the fact that my reply is a month late stand in my way of publishing this post.

That sense of immediacy is just one of my personal barriers to blogging. The other is the pressure to say something profound, and that’s obviously a bigger hurdle to tackle. What can I add to the conversations around me? What insights do I bring from my own experiences? I think I set the profundity bar too high. Better to just write it and send it out there sometimes. A simple share with a brief comment highlighting an important point or idea can spark a conversation as well as a long read.

For instance, I can highly recommend listening to How Silicon Valley Can Help You Get Unstuck from the Hidden Brain podcast. It focuses on applying design thinking to your own life, featuring the work of Burnett and Evans. I was fascinated with the idea of prototyping your life, particularly the idea that failure is to be expected, maybe even welcome. That isn’t the message we send our students, outside of a makerspace perhaps.

The title of this post also came out of the podcast. I have blogged on and off for a very long time in various spaces. Right now, I have two “active” blogs but do not have any schedule or plan for updating them so they are pretty sporadic. Am I failing at blogging? If not, I live at the very fringes of success. Completely failing would be to give it up and since I’m not ready to do that, I need to identify and pursue some definition of success that makes me feel less like a failure, I suppose.

I’m not ready to give it up because I agree with Tim that blogging continues to be a powerful way to share our stories and ideas. Getting beyond our personal barriers is an important first step in beginning a blogging practice. And, like any routine, it needs to become part of our schedule. Some people benefit from a good challenge: Jon Becker, for instance, is moving right along with his own Tweet of the Day blog entries.  This all help generate content.

From there, as Tim points out, the community becomes essential:

We also need to help each other build an audience and build communities around those educators who are willing to share in the open. And, on the other end, to teach our colleagues, parents, and even students why reading blogs is important, where to find the good ones, and how to easily build them into their routines (RSS still lives!).

And that is the biggest barrier of all. I wonder if a blogging challenge tied to a tweet chat would be a good start. It gets some content generated around a similar topic and as part of an already existing community.  There is always plenty more to say after a tweet chat.


Finding the Flow

Inspired by Donna Donner’s post 12 Month Human at Four O’Clock Faculty which I found on Twitter via Tamara Letter:

I write a fair amount about living a life outside the traditional workforce. One lesson I continue to learn about living this life is that it flows and living in rather than fighting the flow is the way to move smoothly and calmly even through the rapids.

I was the road warrior in June: just take a look at my reading log. I hit a high of 13 books because I discovered The 39 Clues series on Audible. Each book takes about 4-1/2 hours of listening, which just happened to be the average length of each of my car trips. Every day was planned to the minute as each task had to be completed on time if events and trips were going to be successful. There was no time for procrastination. Within that strict regimen there was “work” and “life” as even my garden was part of the to do list. Weeding had to be done before I was gone for ten days. That meant a daylong marathon with shovel and cart. My husband shepherded me inside at dusk, handing me two ibuprofen as I walked up the steps.

And now…it’s July, and for the first time in many years, I am home. No traveling, no training, even very little “work.” My mother was worried that I was going to be bored and suggested I could use the free time to house clean. I’m thinking more Scratch programming and Raspberry Pi exploration along with early morning hours in the garden and long afternoons floating in the pool with a book.

Donna Donna got to the heart of my life when she wrote that her teaching life is “entwined with all the other cycles of my life.” She goes on:

As my summer rolls on I will honor my love of learning, my love for my family, my love for my profession and my curiosity of the world. My life cycle flows with this balance all year long. You see, I am a 12-month mother. I am a 12-month wife. I am a 12-month friend.  I am a 12-month teacher. I am a 12-month human. I never take a vacation from any of those parts of me. Some parts just come out a little stronger at times but all contribute to balancing me as a whole.

I think the struggle is figuring out which part is stronger at any time as I tend to want to always focus on the work I do for others first. I resonated with Donna sitting on the porch with her hummingbirds–mine are at their height right now, buzzing me as I head out to fill the feeders–reviewing her notes from a summer workshop. For me, it would be planning ahead for my fall courses and events.

Then, I sat down at the laptop this morning prepared to put in a full morning of work and realized I didn’t have to…I could browse Twitter and that led to Tamara’s tweet and Donna’s post and some writing. It’s a different kind of work this personal reflection and community connection, and who knows where it might lead. The emails will wait; the preparation for an October workshop will wait; it’s time for the focus to be on my own learning and growing and flowing.



What Do You Value Over Community?

This probably qualifies as a rant but I think there is a larger theme that is important for all of us who interact with others on the Internet.

I have belonged to one particular Internet community for more than a decade, a pleasant place where we talk about books. And, it continues to be a pleasant place, but today I am annoyed by a member who felt the need to publicly correct my use of the passive voice in a post, claiming it confused her and reassuring me that she only pointed it out because she was very interested in what I was trying to say. I apologized for the grammatical oversight and clarified the point I was making, only to be reminded in her follow up how much she “loathed” passive voice and that my sentence was a perfect example of how confusing it can be. (Honestly, I’ve reread the sentence several times, and I don’t think it was all that confusing in the first place.)

I’ve toyed with what to do: I edited out the passive voice from the post and drafted a witty, slightly sarcastic response. But, I don’t want to continue this silliness in a public forum so skipped the sarcasm. I could message the member privately to let her know that I was embarrassed, but I’m not sure I want to get that personal.

Ridiculously minor in the larger scheme of things, and I know I should let it go (or, as some of you are thinking, grow a thicker skin), but this post is something of an anomaly for this particular community. Plus,  I’m wondering how this might feel to a new member of the community. What if that had been my first post ever? And rather than getting some positive support, I am publicly taken to task for my grammar by a long time member? Not very welcoming and I certainly would not be encouraged to continue with active participation.

To her credit, the poster did call herself a “nitpicky pedant,” but it didn’t make me feel any better. I’m not convinced she was all that interested in my point. Instead, it was an opportunity not once but twice to demonstrate her superiority, putting us all on notice that, for today at least, grammar was more important than community.