Category Archives: Networking

‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

ny2 007

I grew up in a city in the 1960s. A network of terraced houses built in the 1800s to accommodate the local docks’ workers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived a few streets or a short bus ride away. Front doors were frequently left unlocked. There was a butcher’s at the end of the street, a bakery on the corner of the next. My great aunt and uncle owned the local grocery (one of the few family members who were self-employed). We had a Post Office, a pharmacy (‘chemist’s’), a fish’n’chip shop, a cafe, a newsagent’s, a sweet shop and one of those small shops that defies categorisation, selling an odd assortment of bric-a-brac, toys, ironmongery, and textiles. If it had been 19th century USA it would probably have been labelled the ‘General Store’. There was even a small ‘dairy’ – no cows, just a distribution point for the local milkman to collect full milk bottles and deposit the ‘empties’.  All this within five minutes walk of my house. It was a ‘village’ within a city. Half a mile away there was another ‘village’ replicating the variety of shops.

As a toddler, shopping with my mother or grandmother could be interminable. Progress from shop to shop could be slow, as neighbours, acquaintances, and family members randomly met and exchanged news and gossip. Shopping for a neighbour or family member was not unusual. If it rained while you were out shopping, a neighbour would take your washing off the line and put it inside your back door.

Many of my grandparents’ generation lacked formal education, having left school at 14 in order to assist or solely support their families. They valued education and its potential rewards, encouraging their children to aspire to careers beyond the skilled or unskilled manual labour of the docks.

Consequently, family members of my parents’ generation gained a few academic or specialised qualifications. Changing their ‘collar’ colour from blue to white. With greater earning capacity and a wider choice of job opportunities, they left the ‘village’ and began to populate suburbia or more distant population centres. Some emigrated to new continents.

The family homes which had seemed like a busy network of bee-hives, with their constant to-ing and fro-ing between them, became quiet except for ‘celebration’ days or holidays. The telephone became the substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I am a child of the ‘diaspora’. My first cousins are scattered around the globe. The nearest member of my family lives 25 miles away.

The ‘village’ had its negatives as well as its positives. Those that didn’t conform could be shunned, bullied and belittled. They were not necessarily undermining the community, they were often expressing their individuality. You could be gossiped about for wearing clothes that were ‘too loud’ or having ‘ideas above your station’. For some, leaving the ‘village’ was  a liberating experience, essential for their personal growth and well-being. Be assured, I am not idealising. The ‘village’ had its fair share of ‘ne’er-do-wells’, rogues and a criminal element. In addition, maintaining a degree of privacy could be viewed as suspiciously secretive or exclusive.

What’s my point? Where am I going with this?

OK. In the ‘village’, the process of building and maintaining community required a minimum of effort. You could avoid it if you really tried but otherwise it just ‘happened’. The historical/geographical context governed the degree of interaction. Families and neighbours facing similar ‘struggles’ could and would empathise with each other. They would offer support, share resources and seek solutions. If you destroyed trust, the repercussions could last a lifetime (or two)!

In the strive for individualism and independence, have we lost that real sense of interdependence and kinship? How much would you really sacrifice for a suburban neighbour or co-worker who may be there one moment and gone the next? As we have become more ‘mobile’, both work and personal relationships may have a greater sense of ‘impermanence’. Also, if someone destroys trust, they may not have to live with the consequences for too long.

Building classroom communities requires deliberate and sustained effort. The values, attitudes, skills and knowledge to build a healthy community have to be internalised by learners who may not have had the experience of growing up in a ‘village’. The ethos and climate of classrooms cannot be solely dependent on the charisma, mood swings or dictats of the teacher/educator. At the other extreme, empowering learners does not mean allowing ‘jungle law’ to develop.

In a world seemingly driven by mobility and material acquisition, there is an even greater need to acquire ‘values’ which value people and embrace diversity; which value skills needed to develop emotional intelligence and collaboration;  and values which build and maintain community.

While I abhor the abuse of social network media, from a personal point of view, the recent advances in this type of technology has enabled my family ‘diaspora’ to begin a process of reconnection and the rekindling of a sense of kinship. A virtual ‘village’.

We are social animals. We are interdependent. And, while we pursue political or educational policies which promote hierarchy and the selfish individualism of a dog-eat-dog society, we merely serve to widen divisions and ignore our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

Getting the balance right means that we not only provide opportunity for and tolerance of a diversity of individual aspirations and beliefs but also a sense of responsibility for and contribution to the community, which is dynamic and ever-changing. This is real lifelong learning. And, when individuals feel secure and valued, they develop greater motivation and confidence to take risks and explore their potential.

 

For more thoughts on building and maintaining community see  our previous post ‘All hours, all weathers.’

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Coaching, Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Experiential Learning, Explore, Learners, Learning, Networking, Potential, Practitioners, Primary, Problem-Based Learning, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Secondary, Single Steps Learning, Teaching, Technology, Values

All hours, all weathers.

UK roadworks sign. In other European countries...

M4 motorway. 8.30 p.m. Somewhere between Bristol and the Severn Crossing. We have been driving on motorways for three-and-a-half hours. There is another warning sign to reduce speed to 50 mph. Another long stretch of road works. There are average speed cameras looming at intervals. I am moving at exactly 50 mph and have another vehicle ‘tail-gating’ me, despite the fact that the passing lane is empty. 

Lynne commented, ‘They always seem to be working on this motorway. You never seem to be able to just drive it without road-works somewhere or other.’ That got me thinking…

The motorway is built to allow people to reach destinations as swiftly and safely as possible. However, it is subject to constant wear and tear from vehicles and the environment. 

It is alarming how quickly roads can become damaged. One short period of snow and ice can cause a rash of potholes to appear, which, left unchecked, become larger, causing accidents and/or vehicle damage. Underground watercourses can cause subsidence and the seasonal variation in temperature attacks the integrity of the road surface. Even roads built to the highest standards are subject to environmental attack. And the safety of the most well-constructed road is ultimately compromised by the individual or collective behaviour of its users.

The motorway regulations of the Highway Code are there for a purpose – safety. There are those motorists who flagrantly disregard them. You see them travelling at high speed, weaving in and out, ignoring lane priority, tail-gating, intimidating with total disregard for the safety of other road users or their own personal safety. Then there are those of us who, perhaps, just push the boundaries if we think there is a need…and we can get away with it…and then there are middle-lane drivers…don’t get me started!

Yes, road-works can be frustrating, especially when it is unexpected and a delay could have undesirable consequences. Yet without this vigilance and maintenance, the consequences could be fatal. So I had a paradigm shift as I was motoring at a constant 50 mph. ‘Hard hats’ off to the road workers, who are out at all hours in all weather.

A community ethos is a bit like that motorway. It is a ‘living’ thing, constantly changing as it interacts with its environment. You build it for a purpose, to carry your learners safely, swiftly, and as directly as possible, to their destinations. 

Learning communities will never be perfect. The ethos and infrastructure will always be and under attack from all sorts of environmental factors. That is nature’s way. And, no matter how comprehensive our class rules, charters and contracts may be, they are only as effective as the the ‘users’ decide they will be. There are those who will flout, those that will push, those that will comply and those who will be inflexible, unaware or unable to use appropriate judgement (middle-lane drivers…aaargh!).

To maintain a viable ethos in the learning community, we need to be attentive and proactive. Planning for ‘routine maintenance’ ‘seasonal repairs’ and dealing with the potholes as they occur, not waiting until the ‘accident rate’ triggers a response, by which time significant and possibly irreparable damage has been done.  Community building is not something that you do as a ‘one off’ at the beginning of an academic year. It requires constant vigilance and maintenance – reflection and discussion…and…it is the responsibility of all members. Sometimes, you need to be responsive and maintain or repair community when it is not convenient to do so. ‘All hours’ and ‘all weathers’. 

1 Comment

Filed under Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Embedded CPD, Experiential Learning, Explore, Learners, Learning, Networking, Practitioners, Primary, Problem-Based Learning, Professional Development, Reflective Learning, Risk, Secondary, Single Steps Learning, Values

Google: Getting Welsh Business Online

On opening an email from the Welsh Government last week, we noticed an invite to the Google Launch Event: Getting Welsh Business Online. Not being ones to miss out on an opportunity, we immediately signed up!

Tuesday 7th March arrived. At some point, we did wonder what the event would entail? How should we dress? Who would be there? What was the purpose? How would it be organised?

As we walked towards the Coal Exchange, Cardiff Bay, we smiled at the ‘Gingham Bunting’ and the signs pointing us in the right direction. Our first clue that the launch was going to be a bigger event than we first anticipated!

Conference badges in alphabetical order gave another clue. Followed by complimentary bottles of ‘juice’ – refreshing,  surprisingly tasty and supplied by Lovely Drinks of North SomersetRow upon row of seats in the main arena – each with a Google ‘goodie’ bag. Twitter users immediately began the ‘goodie’ bag banter. Why were some red and some blue? Did they contain different items? Some excitedly mentioned the free information books…others the sweets…and one ‘loving the lip balm’!

Google 'Goodie' Bags

A general buzz of excitement could be felt in the room. 

As the event was about to kick off, someone sitting directly behind us whispered,

“If I can learn one new thing, it will be worth it…”

And then Sian Lloyd, who was hosting the event, took to the stage… “Noswaith dda a croeso…”. 

It really wasn’t until this point that we understood what this was all about. Google had chosen Wales to launch their new ‘Getting British Business Online’ initiative. Along with the Welsh Assembly and Partners, Google will offer a programme of support to boost the online digital presence of Welsh business. 

Edwina Hartand Sian Lloyd

Edwina Hart, Business and Enterprise Minister, spoke about the digital skills needed for tomorrow’s market, the target to ensure faster broadband access across Wales by 2015, recognition of problem-solving skills and preparing young people for work in a technological age. 

Dan Cobley, MD, Google UK and Ireland, arrived on stage amidst polite applause. He expressed his delight at being in Cardiff and delivering the keynote speech.

  “We live in exponential times.”

Dan Cobley highlighted success stories in Welsh business and then attempted to engage the audience by testing their knowledge of Welsh success in history. A mixed response at this point. The audience yet to warm up and participate. Only a few responded. (Although alternative reasoning could point to the fact that  the audience lacked ‘general Welsh knowledge’!).

Dan Cobley, MD, Google UK and Ireland

“Let’s pick a word like sex…”

The demonstration of ‘Google Insights for Search‘ began with an initial intake of breath and a few nervous glances as Dan Cobley uttered the phrase, “Let’s pick a word like sex…”

He went on to show the ‘search trend’ for ‘sex’ on a global basis over the past 5-10 years. Audience participation then surged as he asked the question, “So, what if we put chocolate in as a term? Would chocolate be higher or lower than sex in Wales?”

Immediate laughter and the word ‘chocolate’ reverberated around the venue – although mainly from female voices noted Dan Cobley!

The audience finally warmed to Dan Cobley at the mention of ‘Rugby’ – especially when he commented that the Google Insights trend for the UK maybe suggested why Wales did so well in the Six Nations. 

“Chocolate…higher or lower than sex in Wales?”

On a more serious note, Dan Cobley spoke about the need to understand data and the link between understanding what the market ‘search terms’ really were so that these can be utilised within your own websites to optimise the performance and presence of your business.

This sparked an interest in us – what would the search trend for ‘education’ look like in the last 10 years?

Search Term: Education in Wales

Surprised?

I’m not sure if we were surprised, shocked, saddened or just resigned to reality. It is something we will definitely think about from multiple perspectives. 

Returning to Dan Cobley and the ‘facts’ he presented:

  • Businesses which embrace the digital online economy experience 4-8 times faster growth. These SMEs bring in custom from around the world and export their products globally – and they can do it without the support of big I.T. departments.

  • Everyone today is a broadcaster – 60 hours of YouTube footage is uploaded every minute.

  • Everyone is connected – 845 million people on facebook, 91% of 16-24 yr olds are active on social media.

  • Half of all new internet connections are now from mobile devices. In 2011 the sale of smartphones overtook the sale of PCs.

  • Make your website ‘mobile friendly’ – 79% of people use a smartphone during shopping.

  • ‘Mobile’ optimisation is a game changer for local businesses. 81% use a smartphone to look for local information, 31% make a purchase after looking.

  • 25% of all search queries come from mobile devices.

  • Take the first step and create an online presence…or improve what you already have

  • Become ‘greater with data’ – use tools like ‘Google Insights for Search

  • ‘Digital Basics’ – use images, tell people why you are different, use endorsements from clients, use a map plugin to publicise your location.

  • Make your business have a ‘multi-channel and multi-media’ presence

  • ‘Leap and learn’ – engage in the process. Try something out, analyse it, refine it.

Getting Welsh Business Online

 Local Salon Owner

Guy Christian, a local salon owner, joined Dan Cobley on stage to explain how an online presence has contributed to the success of his business. It was great to hear someone talk realistically about their experience – both the pitfalls and the success. Recognising the need to take a risk and learn from mistakes. 70% of new clients to the salon now come via the internet and they market their business exclusively online.

“Business only survived because of our web presence”

Sian Lloyd returned to the stage to bring the formal part of the event to a close. The reading aloud of ‘tweets’ was met with laughter – particularly the mention of Dan Cobley’s great hair and inspiring speech. The ‘roving microphone’ began moving around the audience – question time with Dan Cobley and Robert Lloyd Griffiths (Institute of Directors).

And the final surprise… 

As the informal networking began, delicious canapes were distributed by friendly staff. The bar opened…and, much to my surprise, I was given a complimentary glass of sauvignon blanc! How civilised. Maybe my surprise is due to a career in education – the only complimentary thing you are likely to receive is a pencil (and that’s if you are lucky!). 🙂 

Coal Exchange, Cardiff Bay

So – it was ‘goodbye’ to the Coal Exchange. A great evening. A great event.

And ‘hello’ to Google Juice Bar. But that’s another story…

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Learning, Networking, Potential, Professional Development, Single Steps Learning, Teaching, Technology