The word “gather” has its roots in Old English from two words: geador (together) and gaed (good and/or fellowship). In July, 20 teacher educators from across the U.S. gathered for a weekend to talk about the ways in which we could support each other in teaching, researching, and living out the core principles of connected learning. Much like the root meaning of the word, this weekend was both about being together, and engendering positivity and possibility in our work.
As a member of the planning team for the event, I found that there were several tensions that we had to work through in creating a “good togetherness.” and space for the work. In this post, I share those tensions, and how we attempted to address them through our collaborative process.
First, was the tension of making and reflecting. At the center of much Connected Learning work are three concepts: production (making), equity (social justice), and relationships. What this meant for us is that we had to work at the crossroads of making and reflection about identity and participation- constantly cycling back and forth: we are what we make, we make who we are. We had to create a space in which we truly lived in praxis (action/reflection).
We addressed this tension both structurally, through the agenda, and through roles played by members of the group. Structurally, we designed an agenda that cycled between making and reflecting. These cycles built upon each other, and were threaded by the key categories that the participants had said brought them to the space: Pedagogy, Research, Public Engagement, and Sustainability. We also designed a role that members could take on that fostered a meta-perspective on our work: Ethnographers of interactions and work. People at the gathering signed up to work as Ethnographers in time slots, and then reported back to the group throughout the weekend about how they observed the ways in which we interacted with each other, moved through the room, and engaged in work.
The second tension was related to the Connected Learning principle of openly networked learning, and more specifically, inclusion and diversity. We wanted others that were interested in this work to be invited to participate and contribute, even if they could not make it there in person. Also, we were a group of mainly White women, and we wanted to be intentional in building and inviting greater diversity in the group. Finally, there is the core issue of inclusion – if you are a ‘group’ that means you have a shared identity and value system – which some people don’t share, and are thus excluded. How can a group be both open, and yet also center on a core set of work and values?
We attempted to address this tension through connected technologies, intentional invitations, and additional roles played by participants at the gathering. With technologies, we stuck to simple – a bare-bones google sites website, shared google docs of notes on the sessions, and a google form sign-up for folks that wanted to be “virtual participants.” We also held a live-streamed panel of recent graduates of Arcadia’s Connected Learning program. This served two purposes: invited in new people and perspectives (and greater diversity), and provided a window in to our event for virtual participants.
Yet, we knew that these technologies alone would not foster a continuous, open conversation and room for feedback. Therefore, we created another kind of role: Virtual Facilitators. Like the Ethnographers, people signed up in session slots to be Virtual Facilitators. In this role, the not only shared out what was happening during the gathering to the virtual participants, but they also shared in – bringing in comments or conversation that virtual participants shared (full disclosure: there was not a whole lot – but at least we tried! And we knew there were a number of ‘lurkers’).
Finally, the other main tension was our leadership participation and structure – would the CLinTE gathering result in the development of a network, or an organization? This was something we had to work through during the gathering. We held a session to explicitly explore our assumptions and beliefs about the work we needed to do as a group and to draw inspiration from existing networks and organizations that had sustainable structures.
What has emerged is a kind of hybrid structure. At the core of the structure is a true organization in a sense – people with specific roles, dedicated to take on tasks that keep the network running. Yet, layered on this structure is an interest-based network of nodes, which invites membership from anyone and everyone who is interested in transforming teacher education to reflect the principles of connected learning.
There is much more to come, and to write about regarding this effort. However, I learned so much just in the process of developing gathering, that I felt that it deserved its very own post. It would be remiss of me to not recognize and thank the other members of our CLinTE planning team: Christina Cantrill, Anna Smith, Lindy Johnson, Sarah Lohnes-Watulak, and Dan Roy – amazing teachers, scholars, and planners!
If you are interested in following or participating in the work of this amazing network, sign up at the website: https://sites.google.com/view/cl-in-te/get-involved