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‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

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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.’

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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

‘Quality’ time…?

It has really hit home this weekend how important it is to stop, reflect, recharge the batteries and be kind to oneself. Even if it seems inwardly selfish. A sense of self-survival and self-nuturing is necessary. All too often we get caught up in life, in work, in school, in pressures…and all too often we forget to give ourselves the basics that will ensure we can keep aiming for quality.

Life has been busy for the last 3 months. Work has been busy. We haven’t forced blogs. We didn’t want to force ourselves into writing when we were tired. We didn’t want to ‘find something’ to write about – a ‘forced subject’. We didn’t want to take our focus away from the people we were working with to fit in time to ‘blog’. That would not have resonated with our souls.

We are currently doing lots of thinking about the world of ‘online’ connectivity. The potential 24/7. The potential of a tool for learning and connecting. The potential of it adding quality. The potential of it destroying quality. And striking that balance.

Quality is going to be the focus of the next few blogs. This blog begins with a recognition that we all need to give ourselves time to reflect and recharge our batteries in order to be able to aim for quality. We found a place to do that this weekend. And we valued it.

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Filed under Coaching, Creativity, Designing for Learning, Education, Formative Assessment, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Single Steps Learning, Values

Status Update: ‘What’s on your mind?’

Česky: Logo Facebooku English: Facebook logo E...

I once heard the blues guitarist Big Bill Broonzy talking on the radio about songwriting. “You can write a song about anything…for instance, a pocket knife. It can be used to cut food, to carve a piece of wood…or to kill a man!” 

No, this is not a blog about songwriting, the blues or pocket-knives. It is about social media. Like the knife, social media is a tool. Like the knife, it is not inherently ‘good or evil’ – that depends upon the intentionality of the ‘user’.

I have been a user of social media ever since I got my first online account in 1998. IMs, Chat rooms, icq, message boards, MySpace, Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn, MSN Messenger, Bebo, and ‘blogging’.

I have seen the power of the use, abuse, misuse and creativity of social media. Today, however, my attention has been caught by two articles – one via  Twitter and the other via the WordPress blog site. Both articles concern the recent practice of employers asking prospective employees for their Facebook login details.  

Google 的貼牌冰箱(Google refrigerator)

(Photo credit: Aray Chen)

So what is your first reaction to that statement? Mine was: ‘They can’t do that…that’s an invasion of privacy! It’s like someone asking to visit your house. Your personal lifestyle choices may have no relevance to how well you can do a job.’ However, on reflection…

Some people choose not to use (or are still unaware) of any privacy settings on Facebook. They are currently quite happy to bare their souls (and many other things) to anyone who wishes to view their page – the roller-coaster of their emotional states, public bickering, gross attention-seeking, and many, many photos of whatever constitutes ‘having a good time’ with their specific social group. Part of me finds the ‘openness’ refreshing. Another part despairs and worries.

Free twitter badge

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our training, we talk about the value of sharing and reflecting on experiences. However, the depth to which you share will depend upon the trust that has been established between individuals in a group. Why? Because we have learned from bitter experience that by being completely ‘open’, you also make yourself vulnerable to manipulation, prejudice and betrayal by the unscrupulous. We’ve all been there. Yes?

If I look at my personal Facebook page, I have nothing to hide. However, I do have a life and loved ones that I wish to protect. There is and always has been a parasitic strata of society who actually work very hard at ‘theft’ be it physical or virtual. They are creative, opportunistic and have no conscience. My  great fear is that there is a generation of social media users who may never recover from their blissful ignorance or naiveté. 

Back to employment…if you put it out there for all to see…that is your choice and you bear the consequences – positive or negative. You are Google-able… 

However, if you have chosen privacy settings…Hmmm

‘Application and interview’ is an imperfect process. Candidates may be ‘economical with the truth’, use manipulative language and personal charisma to improve their chances at selection. There are even books and online coaching advice about how to do this.

An employer who aspires to a certain set of values (such as sexual equality and multi-ethnicity) wants to know that, in the current world of instant mass communication, their reputation is not going to be besmirched (love that word!). They do not want to discover that the charismatic and knowledgeable flatterer, who said the right things at the interview, and is also highly qualified, turns out to be a misogynistic bigot with a penchant for ‘mooning’...and who had impeccable references (because the previous employer couldn’t wait to get rid of them…so they also also lied!). This happens!!!

The logo of the blogging software WordPress. D...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some questions to ponder…

Is it justifiable for an employer to invade personal privacy in order to protect its future reputation, in the same way I would want to protect my own?

…or, are we already creating a culture of social media savvy candidates who merely create multiple online personas – selecting which one they will reveal to their prospective employers?

Conversely, even if I have nothing to hide, why should I give access to my personal life to someone with whom I have not established a minimum level of trust – who may misuse information that is revealed.

We are aware that many (but thankfully not all!) educators are reluctant to comment on our own FB page, just in case their opinions, however valid and well-articulated, get them into ‘hot water’ with their setting/school/local authority. Unlike the TES forum threads, in which some extreme views are voiced but protected by anonymous usernames, we have ‘real’ people with ‘real’ names. We understand and accept your reluctance. 🙂

Despite the exponential advance in human technologies, the same human issues still remain. The instinct to survive / the instinct to protect oneself. When survival and protection are achieved ‘by any means necessary’, human values such as ‘trust’ are often a casualty, especially in times of economic hardship. If prospective employees will say/do anything to get a job, isn’t it reasonable to expect employers to say/do anything to protect themselves against employing the ‘wrong’ person? And, if employers use your personal information unscrupulously, isn’t it right that you should be able to protect yourself against disclosure?

Our learning for today… 

Why not take some time to reflect on your own social media pages. Check your own privacy settings or get someone to help you customise them – particularly if the format of the site has changed recently.  We make no judgements about content or lifestyle choices but think about what you are comfortable sharing and who can or might access your information now and in the future. Check who has ‘tagged’ you in any photographs and ‘untag’ them if you are not comfortable with them appearing on your pages. If you think that they could be potentially embarrassing ask for them to be removed – especially if they will come up in a Google search- a real friend will do this for you! Do a Google search on yourself and see what results you get – you may be surprised!

As for me, it’s time to fix the flux-capacitor and get back to the future. What will be the form and impact of social media in another 10 years…now that would be telling!

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Filed under Business, Education, Professional Development, Risk, Technology, Values

New favourite place to hang out…

Actually - this one is in NYC! But we have been there too!

It’s the Apple Store, St. David’s Centre, Cardiff! More CPD! More fun! More creativity! More help from Jason and Jack – our friendly One-to-One tutors! Thank you!!!! (A Starbucks flat white is always good for concentration too – and maybe hyperactivity!)

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Filed under Creativity, Education, Technology