Week 4 #slowchatED Reflection: No Student Is An Island

Cross-posted at Strawn ED.

You know John Donne’s “Meditation XVII.” Here is an excerpt which I hope sounds somewhat familiar:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

This particular section influenced everyone from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton to the American novelist Ernest Hemingway. Now, the real question is this: what in the world does this have to do with summarizing this past week’s #slowchatED discussion focused on building community in the classroom?

I answer that question with a tweet from @jsbe333 in response to the first question last week: “Why? Why seek to build community in the classroom? What are the benefits and/or purposes of doing so?” She wrote the following:

This tweet (along with Donne’s quote) emphasizes the idea that we were created to grow together, to learn in community, to be fully human only as we realize our humanity by building relationships with others. We do not live to exist in a vacuum. As I see it, this one idea sums up everything about last week’s chat. We have to build community because that’s how we are meant to live. We live to live in community, the classroom being no exception. Indeed, it is not enough to say that it is not an exception; the classroom is one of the places in which the values and the practices of living in community are shaped.

Throughout last week, I was inspired by this tweet and countless others. I could probably go through and cite 25+ tweets from last week, detailing how each one illuminates some important facet of building community in the classroom. However, rather than attempting to cover everything, I will attempt to stress a couple others key ideas in addition to the ones above as my way of capturing the essence of last week’s discussion.

On the second day of the chat, @morgetron shared this beautiful quote:

Building community means establishing a culture of relationship. We can have all the knowledge in the world of our discipline, but if we don’t know how to reach students, we will not thrive as we should. The reason for this is simple. We do not teach a discipline; we teach students. We teach students with fears, hopes, struggles, desires, strengths, convictions, worries, doubts, anxieties, passions. We teach students through our disciplines. As an English teacher, I use the power of literature to connect with students and in so doing instruct them in the power and importance of literary analysis, of self-expression in writing and speaking, of intellectual growth, of openness to new ideas. The discipline is always secondary to the student.

Another powerful thing happened on day two last week. @TheWeirdTeacher suggested that we create a collaborative document to expand upon what was being said on Twitter:

Not only did this idea represent innovation, but it also created a new vehicle for collaboration. Thanks to @techishtrish@SLOlifeKevin, and others, the conversation did not have to be limited to Twitter. To me, this exemplified the simple fact that we can always do more to work together as teachers. Even as we are seeking to build community in the classroom, those of us participating in this chat on Twitter are building a community among ourselves. We come from diverse places–public and private schools, elementary, middle and high schools, schools from California, Texas, Oregon, and beyond–yet this diversity is no obstacle. Quite the contrary. We use this diversity to share unique viewpoints, to listen to the perspectives of others, and to inspire each other to grow just as we are inspired.

Ultimately, we are not on social media because of ego. We do not tweet in vain, waiting with bated breath for a retweet or a favorite. We use the medium of Twitter because we connect with others, because we are seeking a community of passionate educators who want to do what is best for students. We participate in these chats because we care enough to leave our schools and then continue talking about what we are doing, reflecting on our practice and doing our best each and every day to improve. We do not stop working when we drive away from campus. We are a community on Twitter that shares common values and comes together to inspire and be inspired, to challenge and be challenged. This to me captures the spirit of the chat. Beyond the individual tweets, the spirit of community evident over the six days of our discussion makes me see just how powerful it can be to use social media to reach out to peers and make those human connections we so consistently strive for in the classroom. Indeed, just as no student is an island, no teacher is an island either.

As I conclude this reflection, these are the key points I want to remember as I enter the classroom every day: I must build community because we were designed to live on community, because no student is an island. Moreover, students don’t care what I know until they know how much I care. I am teaching students through a discipline; I am not teaching a discipline to students. Additionally, all of us as teachers are a community, and the more we work with a common purpose as teachers trying to be the best we can be for our students, the more impact we will have and the more transformative our work in the classroom will become.

(Note: if you enjoyed these tweets, I highly suggest going back through the storify containing everything from the week. There’s too much there to capture in just one blog post.)

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