Celebrating Connected Educator Month, for those of us involved in training-teaching-learning, is a bit like celebrating the existence of air: connections pump life into much of what we do, yet we often take them for granted rather than indulging in joyfully inclusive acknowledgement of what they produce.
What makes Connected Educator Month personal, furthermore, is the opportunity it provides to reflect on the connections that support and inspire us and those we serve, so here’s a challenge to colleagues near and far: post your own thoughts, in response to this article and Connected Educators Month in general, here on this blog as well as on your own blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and anywhere else that allows us to strengthen the connections that so effectively support us and make us so much better than we would be without them.
The multi-directional connectedness doesn’t even stop there; the more I look at each of these groups and opportunities, the more I realize how interconnected the various groups are. Participating in the #lrnchat session last night reminded me that #lrnchat includes members of the ASTD, #etmooc, and #xplrpln communities—and the frequent mention of the Personal Learning Networks course during the chat is leading more members of #lrnchat to join us in exploring what #xplrpln offers and is developing. Looking at the growing list of #xplrpln participants has introduced me to #etmooc participants I hadn’t met while #etmooc coursework was in progress. Looking at the list of colleagues in the Horizon Project in previous years brought the unexpectedly wonderful realization that it included a great colleague from the American Library Association. And diving into the current Horizon Project explorations of developments in personal learning networks obviously connects what I’m doing there and in the MOOC so that the learning opportunities flow both ways between those two communities.
There’s a distinct possibility that connectivism could become another of those buzz words that linger on the edge of our consciousness without ever developing into something tangible—at a human level—if we give it the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame/attention and then move on. Or it could become another element of an ever-increasing set of tools and resources that allow us to transcend geographic, occupational, and time-zone boundaries. In a world where we often bemoan the loss of community, we can just as easily celebrate its expansion. And that’s why Connected Educator Month seems, to me, to be a great opportunity to celebrate. Reflect. And grow.
Technology and library users come together very effectively in Media 21’s transformation of a school library into a first-rate social learning center and Orange County’s Shake It! Project. Media 21 makes at least some of us wish we were back in high school again—admittedly a major accomplishment in itself—and Shake It! appears to be so playfully addictive that it could easily make us want to read even more books than we already do just so we can shake our mobile devices again and see what reading recommendation the app will offer next.
But we’re talking about far more than diversions here. ALA Learning Round Table colleague Buffy Hamilton, who was founding librarian of that social learning center at Creekview High, sees the project as a setting in which “students are helping us create the library of the future,” she told her ALA audience yesterday. “I was struggling with two questions: how to create flexible and fluid learning spaces, and how to embed the library in the lives and learning spaces of students.”
“For these students to see that the library is a learning space…was very powerful for them,” she concluded.
The sense of fun for library users at Creekview is equally apparent in the Orange County Shake It! app, Library Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel told and showed her audience through a brief presentation that included videos documenting the playful approach to bringing books to library users. The most difficult part of developing the app, which works when the user shakes a mobile device with the app installed and causes three wheels to turn until they come to a rest displaying a book based on three elements: audience, genre, and preferred medium.
“We launched this in July 2010,” she told her audience. “There have been over 4,000 downloads of the app” and coverage of the popular innovation in the Orlando Sentinel and USA Today.
She also displayed a solid vision of where she expects the library to continue going: “We have a lot of fun things on our website [but]… we’re definitely going in the direction of mobile apps for as many things as we can think up. We think that is the next wave and that’s where we want to be.”
We were greeted and supported last night by colleagues who provided material we included in the book. We had a great time talking to readers who bought the book. We even were approached by a few people who thought we were part of the ALA Bookstore staff in the convention center here in New Orleans for the American Library Association’s2011 Annual Conference and who wanted us to help them find other writers’ works or tell them about a special edition of Curious George they had found. (I hope the bookstore staff didn’t mind that I told everyone the other books they were seeking were no longer in stock and that they probably would love ours.)
Lori and I looked up at the same time and were shocked as well as delighted to see a small crowd slowly walking past the book store—because this wasn’t just any crowd. There was an Imperial Storm Trooper. And Darth Vader was there. And a young woman in a very tight-fitting shirt that didn’t seem to have much to do with any of the movies but certainly was attracting more than her fair share of attention.
My kids are going to kill me if I don’t get a picture of myself with Darth Vader, Lori thought as soon as she realized what was passing by.
I’m going to kill myself if I don’t find a way to get them to join this book-signing, I was thinking.
So I leapt out of my chair. Ran out of the shop. Caught up to the group. Told them that we were signing copies of our book. And asked them whether they would join us for a few minutes.
“Of course,” they quickly replied, and the area was instantly transformed.
“You willing to hold these?” I asked as I put copies in their hands without waiting for a response.
And suddenly, people I’d never seen before were crowded around all of us, taking pictures at such breakneck speed that you would have thought a Presidential press conference was underway as we were bombarded by a barrage of flashing lights. Vader held the book; a storm trooper held the book; the woman with the distinctive shirt held the book and even posed repeatedly as if she were intently reading it. Maybe she actually was reading it. In fact, I was the only one without a book in my hands. Because I was holding a storm trooper’s gun and threatening to terminate a friend if everyone didn’t buy a copy of the book for signing. (Happy to report that the friend left safe and sound even if not everyone made a purchase.)
As quickly as it started, it came to an end.
We started to put the books away. I wandered away for a moment to check out that Curious George book. One of our colleagues at ALA Editions confirmed for me that we had managed to stage the first-ever ALA Editions book signing featuring the presence of Darth Vader. And now we’re wondering how we’re going to top that event tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon from 1:30 – 3:30 pm in Conference Center rooms 346-347 as part of the ALA Learning Round Table’s annual Training Showcase when we once again sign books.
Anyone have Harry Potter’s cell phone number? Or at least a spare owl?
–N.B.: Thanks to the Louisiana Chapters of both Star Wars Groups—the 501 (Empire) and the Rebel Legion—who, in coordination with Dark Horse Comics, provided the photograph by Samantha Hallenus and the entourage. More pictures are available at http://public.fotki.com/shallenus/ala-troop-nocc/page3.html.
For those of us whose attendance at conferences is an essential part of our teaching-training-learning, there is an unofficial game that keeps us coming back for more: the game of wondering how quickly we will first run into someone we know.
I have yet to top the time I boarded a shuttle for the ride from my home to San Francisco’s airport and, five minutes later, discovered that the next stop was at a colleague’s home. Which was almost as good as the time that another colleague was on the same flight out of San Francisco even though we were leaving a couple of days before that conference was scheduled to begin. And it began this time when another cherished colleague and I, on our way to the American Library Association’s2011 Annual Conference here in New Orleans, spotted each other on our way to a connecting flight that had us both in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and had nearly an hour to catch up on what we had been doing since our last encounter.
The extended game of Catching Up With Colleagues continued yesterday—the day before preconference activities were even underway. After conducting an orientation session for conference volunteers, I saw Peggy Barber, one of my favorite marketing colleagues, not far from the main conference registration desk. Because neither of us had any appointments scheduled—a rare occurrence at events where so much is offered in a relatively brief period of time—she and I were able to have a two-hour lunch that carried us far beyond our usual and all-too-infrequent hello-goodbye exchanges. There’s a level of magic that accompanies each of these unexpected encounters and reminds us why we go to all the expense and inconvenience of traveling all the way across the country. It’s what Frans Johansson describes so lovingly in The Medici Effect: when those of us who do not frequently see each other face to face have those concentrated bursts of face-to-face time, the exchange of information and ideas is as intense and rewarding as any well-run day-long workshop—and often far more productive. From her side of the table, there were thoughtful and thought-provoking observations about how many of us confuse advocacy with marketing and end up ineffectively promoting issues rather than taking to the time to listen long enough to determine what our clients and customers need from us. From my side, there were plenty of stories about what all of us are doing to promote effective learning opportunities in a variety of settings.
Even though I don’t have a smartphone and therefore am not constantly Big-C Connected at all times, I’ve learned enough from colleagues to check in for conference updates via Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media tools that can serve rather than enslave us if we use them effectively—at our moment of need. I also have learned to arrive onsite before activities are underway so I can see where the essential points of contact are: shuttle stops; information booths; meeting rooms; food courts; the onsite Internet cafés that mean we can leave our laptops behind; and those onsite lounge areas where tired colleagues tend to congregate and talk when they find themselves beyond the capacity to absorb even one more word from all the first-rate presenters we came to hear.
Much of it is serendipitous, and some of us comes from planning. After leaving my lunch-time colleague yesterday, I spent some time alone to absorb a little of what had already come my way. Then joined a small group of workplace learning and performance colleagues from libraries
all over the country. And once again, the magic was a product of the meeting: our conversations went far beyond the routines of our day-to-day work. We meandered through conversations about our more personal pursuits. Talking about the loss of colleagues, friends, and family members who have left us since the last time all of us gathered. The changes and innovations occurring on a daily basis in workplace learning and performance. Our own creative pursuits.
And as Johansson suggests, the rewards are immediate. Visceral. And moving. As I confirmed for myself this morning when I woke up at 5 am and had to move more words from mind to paper so I wouldn’t lose all that our gatherings inspired.
They may not be as heart-warming and engaging as the words “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy” are. And we’re certainly not giving out cigars. But the phrase “it’s (finally) a book” is tremendously satisfying and rewarding to those of us who have given birth to one.
And it’s far from being all about us. Workplace Learning & Leadership reflects the collaborations we established with acquisitions editor Christopher Rhodes and other colleagues at ALA Editions. It also is the result of collaborations with the trainer-teacher-learners—many of them active in the ALA Learning Round Table–who volunteered hours of their time for the interviews that are the heart of the book
Given the theme—that workplace learning and performance professionals are increasingly ineffectual if we don’t assume leadership roles within our organizations and foster the development of communities of learning—there’s little surprise in the acknowledgement that our colleagues helped create what ALA Editions published. It’s one thing for trainer-teacher-learners like Lori and me to try to pull together our own experiences in a way that helps others learn how to create effective training programs. It’s quite another to recognize that learning is at least partially fostered through effective storytelling, and that it takes a lot of great storytellers to create a book about effective learning.
Gathering some of the best storytellers we know, then taking a back seat to those storytellers so they could engage readers in a memorable and entertaining learning experience, reflects what we all know about learning: it has to be sticky. And stickiness is enhanced by a variety of voices.
The foundation for all of this, of course, is recognition that success in training-teaching-learning is rooted in a sense of humility. It’s not about any of us posing as the ultimate experts in our field. Nor is it about achieving a level of expertise and then resting on our laurels. Learning is continuous—as is the act of gathering and documenting practices that benefit all of us—so what we have done through Workplace Learning & Leadership and our ongoing attempts to stay ahead of those who rely on us to provide effective learning experiences is to celebrate.
We are celebrating the joys and benefits of collaboration. Of community. And the effective use of leadership to the benefit of all we serve. We are also celebrating the leadership skills all of us have developed as well as the leadership skills we see in others. Most importantly, we are celebrating the positive effects our efforts have on learners and the people whom they ultimately serve.
It’s all about providing something of lasting worth. Something that contributes to the workplace learning and performance endeavors we all adore. And something that will reach and touch members of our community we otherwise might not have the chance to meet.
Projects on view during a two-hour poster session held on Friday, June 25 in the Washington Convention Center showed a great amount of planning, creativity, and practical application. Among the topics were web-based leadership development; a free-links project “to identify and select free web-based tutorials and professional development information for librarians in other countries to access via the Internet,” with the links being posted on a wiki; a survey of ALA members to determine how interested they were in having the Association adapt Web 2.0 tools into its new content management system; and revising and updating an online staff development resource center so that individuals and organizations can “share policies, manuals, materials, and other information related to library staff development,” according to printed material distributed by members of the Emerging Leaders group that completed that project.
There really wasn’t a bad project among the more than 20 that were on display, and it’s a credit to those who each year facilitate this dynamic project for library staff members who are either under 35 years old or who have fewer than five years of experience working at a professional or paraprofessional level within libraries.
What was somewhat surprising to me was how few of the sponsoring ALA divisions and round tables actually had members onsite to work alongside the Emerging Leaders during their presentations. Discussions with program participants provided food for thought: although they were tremendously grateful for the opportunities they had under the Emerging Leaders program, many of them said they had not been approached about becoming members of the groups, were not sure whether they would continue their relationships with the groups which sponsored their projects, and wished they had been able to work alongside members of those sponsoring organizations during the two-hour session on June 25—a clear call to action for those of us who want to support the efforts of these and the other emerging leaders in our lives.
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert earlier this week wrote about how those who helped cause the worst financial crisis we’ve faced since the Great Depression remain “unfazed by reality” and are attempting to make it worse. They are, he suggested, creating reductions in the state and local services that are instrumental to building the economy.
He quotes a Northern California school district chief who, rather than seeking creative solutions to a terrible situation, is trying to balance a budget by laying off teachers and health aids, increasing the number of students within classrooms, decreasing the number of days students spend in school each year, and closing school libraries.
“Similar decisions, potentially devastating to the lives of individuals and families and poisonous to the effort to rebuild the economy, are being made by state and local officials from one coast to the other, “ Herbert writes. “For the federal government to stand by like a disinterested onlooker as this carnage plays out would be crazy.”
That’s all too familiar to those of us watching vacancies in businesses and nonprofit agencies go unfilled; watching first-rate trainer-teacher-learners losing their jobs or struggling to find work when the organizations for which they work lose their funding; and watching those who remain behind, employed and overwhelmed by increasing workloads and decreases in pay and benefits.
If the companies, agencies, and groups we serve can no longer afford to hire outside instructors to meet our colleagues’ learning needs, we need to find innovative, inexpensive ways to draw from the expertise of those already within our organizations. If organizations continue to struggle to free up employees to attend training sessions with “release time”—an awful term when you think of it; it implies that learning is a perk, something less than essential to every employee’s efforts—then we need to find ways to provide learning opportunities which are stimulating, rewarding, productive, easy to deliver and attend, and offered in ways which keep our colleagues growing in ways that serve themselves as well as the organizations for which they are working.
There’s nothing magic about trying to incorporate learning opportunities into meetings which have already been scheduled for entire work groups, nor is there anything tremendously challenging about setting up optional learning opportunities during pre- and post-work hours as well as during (staggered) lunch breaks—something as simple as a series of “lessons at lunch” in which colleagues share valuable tricks and tips on how to better function in our ever-changing workplaces or view and discuss podcasts (webcasts) and other online offerings. Let’s set up LinkedIn discussion groups to allow for the sharing of learning opportunities when learners are ready to take advantage of those opportunities, not just when we are available to provide them face-to-face or in synchronous online learning sessions. Let’s use Skype and Google Chat and other innovative online resources to quickly reach those who are not geographically accessible. And let’s draw from the expertise available from organizations including the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and blogs such as ALA Learning.
Workplace learning and development remains as important as ever. We are in a position to make a difference even in the worst of times. For us to stand by as onlookers would, as Herbert said in the context of his recent column, be nothing short of crazy.
Having informal communities of learning in place is certainly not a prerequisite for attending conferences, but it certainly helps. The wonderfully fruitful encounters, as mentioned in an earlier posting, can be as numerous as they are unplanned.
One example makes the point: Infopeoplewebinar presenter Kelli Ham and I, having always worked online together rather than ever meeting face-to-face before traveling to an American Library Association (ALA) conference in 2008, decided to get away from the crowd one night, so drove to a Thai restaurant just on the periphery of where the conference activities were scheduled. We walked into a nondescript pizzeria and found we were the only two people in the place. Within five minutes, three other people came in—one of them being a colleague from the ALA training group (now the ALA Learning Round Table; formerly CLENE)—and the five of us spent the rest of the evening continuing a somewhat raucous conversation on the training-teaching-learning themes we had been exploring ever since arriving at the conference a few days earlier.
It’s all about the sort of continuing collaboration which helps us nurture what already is in place: connections between those of us who are actively involved in ALA, ASTD, and other first-rate organizations. You can’t always plan the sort of community-building and community-nurturing which I’m describing here, and you certainly can’t stop it once the seeds are planted for a process of continuous learning in which everyone is a trainer-teacher-learner. Where every place is a meeting place, a classroom, and a learning lab all at the same time. Where ideas fly faster than they can be captured on paper or in blogs. And where some of them are spreading informally through viral learning—their informal transmission in the form of conversations which continue in other settings, with other interested members of our community. Which, of course, is comprised of anyone who is a trainer-teacher-learner.
N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.
While Risley writes much of his publication for those interested in making money from blogging, he offers a first-rate blogger’s primer that hits its stride with a “deciding what to blog about (market selection)” section starting on page 13 of the document. His initial question takes us back to basic principles: “Can you help your reader solve real problems that exist in the real world?” We’ve seen this principle at work recently on ALA Learning through postings by Peter Bromberg, Stephanie Zimmerman, Jay Turner, Marianne Lenox, and others; faithful readers of others blogs written by and for staff of libraries and nonprofit organizations can confirm that they are drawn to those that help them solve problems they are facing or are about to face.
“Focus on how your information is going to benefit the lives of your readers,” Risley continues, and his admonition serves as a great reminder to all writers that the difference between a well read, helpful blog and one that collects virtual dust for lack of readers is that critically important attention given to readers rather than to the writer’s ego. If we remember that it’s not all about us—although, in the best of worlds, our own writer’s voice becomes part of the value we provide—we take our blogging to a level which attracts and serves readers well and builds connections between them and the organizations we serve.
Risley does a great job of addressing the mechanics of effective blogging, and he includes suggestions to help inexperienced writers overcome writer’s block. Reminding his audience members that they attract and serve readers by posting on a consistent and predictable basis, he suggests writing in batches—preparing several postings in one sitting so that we are writing ahead of deadline rather than on deadline; maintaining an idea file which keeps the flow of articles going; and avoiding the trap of overthinking—“this is a blog post we’re talking about here, not a novel!”
His “step-by-step blog launch plan and roadmap” (beginning on p. 41) reminds all of us to stay focused on our blog’s target audience; set a cohesive blog theme; create a few very valuable articles at the beginning to lay the foundations for a successful blog; and use social networking tools to effectively extend the reach of all you do. And above all, keep writing.
“The idea is that you use a blog to build up an audience and build relationships with your readers,” he reminds us (p. 33), and that’s a theme that resonates loudly and clearly with all workplace learning and performance professionals as we strive to create effective communities of learning and provide measurable results for the organizations with which we work.
The key remains engagement. Participating even at a rudimentary level in the various online activities available through these resources, the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), and other groups and organizations supportive of face-to-face and online learning soon leads to contacts which are only an e-mail, a Skype exchange, or a phone call away. And that’s the real pleasure and benefit of the brief moments we give to these exchanges: they remind us of how much we gain while working with and for each other.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.