Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Sheltering, Associating, and Thriving

April 17, 2020

One of the most stunningly impressive and inspiring displays of positive action coming out of the current sheltering in place efforts to fight the spread of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic is the display of flexibility and adaptability I’ve seen in a variety of sectors—not the least of which is the training-teaching-learning environment that is so much a part of my life.

I’ve seen firsthand, written about, and talked extensively and been involved in discussions about the way in which the mostly-onsite ShapingEDU 2020 Unconference moved, overnight, into being a completely online gathering of dreamer-doer-drivers committed to help shape the future of learning in the digital age. I’ve been observing (through news articles, blog posts, participation in webinars, and personal conversations) how rapidly and radically administrators, teachers, and students are moving from onsite to online environments—sometimes successfully, sometimes painfully much less so—in attempts to avoid a complete shutdown of our formal education systems globally. And I continue to be impressed, fascinated, and supported by associations—those wonderful groups that even in the least challenging of times, bring us together—through a shared interest—to commiserate, learn, play, survive, and thrive together.

My colleagues in local ATD (Association for Talent Development) chapters as well as in the parent organization, for example, have turned the very bitter lemon of having to cancel onsite gatherings into an incredible pitcher of lemonade in the form of highly interactive, engaging, and productive online gatherings—what I have consistently referred to as “face-to-face sessions online.” It’s a fairly straightforward—and hardly new—approach that is becoming more and more easy to implement through the use of an increasingly varied array of teleconferencing tools designed to pull us as near as possible to a sense of telepresence—the perception that we are sharing a physical space, side-by-side, regardless of the actual physical distance between us.

It’s as if we had formally decided to counteract the frustrations of social distancing by engaging in an updated version of virtual proximity—and we are, increasingly, seeing this virtual proximity become widespread through necessity. The ATD South Florida Chapter, for example, reacted magnificently to shelter-in-place by proposing and implementing, in less than a month, a series of online weekly gatherings that have all the spirit and camaraderie of the long-standing onsite chapter meetings that are a staple of ATD chapters throughout the United States. When chapter leaders decided to experiment with this face-to-face online approach through the use of Zoom, they immediately put out a request for proposals from chapter members interested in being part of this initiative. I saw the first request, via email, on Friday, March 27, 2020. A week later, I was in the virtual audience for the first session, led by longtime colleague and chapter member Jennifer Dow, on the topic of “Engaging Your Audience While Facilitating Virtually.” Two weeks after receiving that email message, I was in the audience for the second session, led by chapter member George Romagosa, on the topic of “Quick and Easy MicroLearning.” And this morning—three weeks after seeing the initial request for proposals, I was leading a session centered on a few case studies of organizations that were making the switch from onsite to online operations almost—if not virtually—overnight.

As we look at how my colleagues in that first-rate, highly innovative, and very playful chapter managed to create this new series so quickly, we would do well to begin with a glance at the cordial, transparent, collegial manner in which they invited participation while also creating awareness of what was in the works. Under a banner containing a simple message—“Let’s support one another at this time”—they quickly drew us in: “ATDSFL remains focused on supporting your professional needs. During this time, we are seeking talent development professionals who would like to share best practices, tips and strategies in virtual training delivery. Small and large organizations alike may be struggling with how to transition quickly to online or virtual training and we would like to equip our members with the skills to tackle this challenge! Please contact the Director of TD Talks Selen Turner at selenturner@comcast.net if you are interested in being a virtual speaker.”

It’s all there, and completely reflective of the tenor of all interactions with ATD South Florida Chapter members: the statement of need, the proposed action to be taken, a clear statement of what is being sought, and guidance on how to respond.”

As a rare chapter member whose interactions are all virtual except for those rare times when I’m actually in Florida (rather than San Francisco or other parts of the country) for a project, I was intrigued. And as a prospective session facilitator, I was as impressed as I always am by the quick response I received to my initial proposal. This is what makes an association thrive. This is what makes an association be seen as the place to be. And this is an association that, through its collaborative approach to implementing its mission, vision, and value statements, is there for us—and we for it—in the best and the worst of times.

The parent organization, at its best, is every bit as creative and responsive as its chapters are; no surprise there. Faced, for example, with the difficult decision so many associations are currently having to make—to go ahead with planning for large conferences that are routinely held on an annual basis or cancel them in acknowledgment that gathering large numbers of people together during a time of pandemic—ATD recently announced that its annual gathering (as usual, scheduled for May) is being cancelled, and that the Association would look forward to gathering onsite next year for its five-day conference and exposition—presumably when health and safety issues had been overcome. But it didn’t stop there. Several days later, a follow-up note went out to the thousands of us around the world who belong to ATD: an invitation to attend an ATD 2020 Virtual Conference to be held a couple of weeks later than the onsite conference would have been held. It’s still very early in the process of disseminating information about what specific sessions will be held, but signs are already promising that our Association colleagues are doing everything possible to recreate, virtually, what is being lost through that onsite cancellation: dozens of formal learning opportunities; networking opportunities in group and one-on-one situations; and an opportunity to “be a part of ATD’s history as we come together for a new learning experience.”

I have often reflected on and written about the value of associations—and association! I’ve documented the high regard in which I hold colleagues in the American Library Association, ATD (initially in those years when it was still ASTD, the American Society for Training & Development), ShapingEDU, the New Media Consortium before financial difficulties led its board members to make the decision to dissolve the organization, T is for Training, and others. And I was inspired to do so again today after coming across a prompt from ATD on its Facebook page: “What does being a member of ATD mean to you?”

The answer flowed effortlessly, without requiring much thought: It means the world to me. ATD is a magnificent community of learning. A large laboratory/sandbox for exploring and engaging in lifelong learning. A source of support in the best of times and the most challenging of times. A meeting place. A testing ground for new ideas and a place to improve what we have already developed. A professional family. A state of mind. A place we can call home. And because it is so good at what it does, it helps define the word “association” in numerous, varied, nuanced ways.

So, there we are: association in all its glory, even in times requiring us to shelter in place…while still offering us opportunities to nurture proximity in all the important ways.

–N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online.


ALA 2016 Midwinter Meeting: Associations and the Size of the Room

January 8, 2016

The power of association—and associations—is never more clear to me than when I’m participating in an association conference, so I’m in Association/Associations Heaven right now as the 2016 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting is blossoming here in Boston.

alamw16--logoWhile I often hear colleagues—generally those who opt out of participating in the professional associations that represent and bring together colleagues within their professions—cite all the reasons why they don’t see value in joining and being active in their industry’s association, I can’t imagine not being part of ALA, ATD, and others that facilitate the critically important connections and opportunities that the act of associating and associations themselves so effectively foster.

And even though I’m currently benefitting from being among thousands of colleagues arriving here in Boston, I also recognize that association is no longer something that is at all completely dependent on physical proximity. Anyone with Internet access quickly realizes that the size of our conference “room” is expansive, that the room is permeable, and that it is fairly inclusive; it includes the physical meeting spaces, as well as the extensive set of corridors in which so much important and rewarding associating occurs, and can extend to being a regional, national, and international association space if we’re a bit creative in the way we approach the act of associating.

The latest associating—via the very active #alamw16 hashtag that is bringing offsite and onsite colleagues together in a variety of ways—began for me several days before I arrived. It has also been facilitated through the use of a well-designed and highly-used conference app that allows us not only to browse schedules and access a treasure-trove of conference information and learning resources, but to locate and contact conference attendees through a list of those who registered.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

Those who care about associating and about this Association conference also are welcome participants in the conversations via their/our exchanges on what is increasingly an incorrectly-named hashtag (#alaleftbehind), for the very act of interacting via #alaleftbehind means they are not as far out of the loop as they may initially feel they are. I have, in fact, written extensively about being on both sides of the “left behind” equation—about participating virtually and about helping draw in participants who are not onsite. I remain excited by the many opportunities we can be exploring together in an effort to make sure no interested colleague is completely left behind. And, in the spirit of bringing onsite and offsite colleagues together, a couple of us, as I’m writing this piece, just finished our latest experiment in virtual conference engagement by having a conversation that started here in the conference Networking Uncommons and linked us to our T is for Training colleague Maurice Coleman via a phone call that brought the conference into the taping of Episode 176  of his long-running podcast series.

To give credit where credit is due, let’s not overlook the critically important role association management and staff play in fostering strong association through an association. ALA Marketing Director Mary Mackay, for instance, has done her usual first-rate job of reaching out to offsite Association members via LinkedIn and other social media platforms with a series of tips on how to keep up with the onsite activities via a variety of social media and Association resources (posted January 6, 2016). But much of it comes back to our own desire and longing for connection and the connections that come from being part of an association and contributing to the strength of that association through active participation.

If you haven’t yet engaged in this level of association, and want to try it, there are several easy steps to take. Identify the conference hashtag (in this case, #alamw16) and interact at a meaningful level; retweet interesting tweets you see from onsite colleagues and, more importantly, comment in a way that adds to the conversation, e.g., by adding a link to a resource that extends the conversation. (Don’t be surprised when onsite colleagues, seeing your comments, ask the inevitable question: “Are you here?” And revel in the idea that in a very significant way, you are here/there.)  Watch for links to blog posts from conference attendees, then post responses and share links to those posts so the conversations—and the learning—grow rhizomatically. If you read those posts days, week, or months after they are initially posted, remember that it’s never too late to join the very-extended synchronously asynchronous conversation by posting responses and/or sharing links. And if you have onsite colleagues who are willing to be among your conduits to the onsite action, don’t hesitate to “go onsite” with them via a Google Hangout, Skype, or even a phone call.

There’s a role for everyone in this process of associating and expanding the size of the room. If you’re reading this while you at the ALA Midwinter Conference (or any other conference), you can contribute by reaching out to those you know are interested. And, with any luck, you (and the rest of us) will expand the connections that already are at the heart of successful associations—and association.


Finding Our Place in the World, Part 1: The Strength of Association(s)

November 4, 2011

Traveling extensively, colleagues have suggested, can be a very lonely experience. But I don’t see that at all. In an onsite-online world that offers far more connective tools than any of us will ever be able to adequately explore, we’re never very far from what our varied associations can offer.

While earning an online Master of Library and Information Science degree through the first-rate program offered by the University of North Texas a few years ago and traveling extensively, I thrived on connections with my wonderfully supportive community of learners; all I had to do was log onto our course discussion boards if I wanted to keep up with the latest exchanges of ideas. When I’m on the road now and missing the stimulation of conversation with colleagues who are spread all over the country, I simply make a phone call, send an email, or catch up to those who are online via online chat functions, Skype, Twitter, live (or archived) online discussion sessions, and, as of a few days ago, via Google+.

And as an extended writing-training-consulting project kept me far from home over the past few months, I gained newfound appreciation for what my association with colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) means in terms of being part of a tightly knit professional family.

Shortly after arriving onsite in Florida’s Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area from San Francisco in early August, I took the two steps that immediately helped me remain connected with my local and extended community. I obtained my West Palm Beach Public Library card so I could start reading and learning about the local community I was briefly joining, and I asked Florida-based ASTD colleague Jennifer Tomarchio whether there was an active ASTD community there. Jennifer’s response was an invitation to the ASTD South Florida chapter’s upcoming Friday evening social event, and that’s where the fun and extended connections blossomed.

The initial greeting from ASTD members whom I was meeting for the first time was warm and welcoming; I knew I was among peers. But the real value of association in this case became obvious when I looked up and unexpectedly saw two familiar faces: Steve Feinstein and Steve Parkins, whom I had met at national conferences without realizing they were based in South Florida and are currently president and president-elect of the chapter. And it just kept getting better: at the next chapter meeting, I unexpectedly found myself face-to-face with Michael Sabbag, another colleague I absolutely adore from the national association and who, I learned that evening, remains quite active in the South Florida chapter. And when several of us were at ASTD’s Chapter Leaders Conference last month in Arlington (VA) and I was missing my ASTD Mount Diablo colleagues who couldn’t attend the conference this year, my newly established South Florida ASTD family agreed to adopt me (and we tormented the Mount Diablo branch of the family by tweeting the news and a photograph back to them).

I often hear comments about how acquaintances and colleagues can’t afford the cost of joining an association that operates at the level of an ASTD. And although I do, at a visceral level, understand how tightly squeezed the economy has left many of us, I have to agree with my ASTD colleague Ken Steiger, whose response to the comments is “I don’t see how I can afford to not join ASTD.” Whether we pay for our associations, seek them through different means, or, in the best of all worlds, seek them everywhere we can, there’s no denying that if we want to overcome the personal and professional isolation from which so many suffer, we need to take that first step of seeking association. And then becoming active contributors and collaborators within the communities we have joined.

Next: Place in an Onsite-Online World


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