Communities of Interest
How to Start a Movement
The other day I attended professional development day at my day job and one of the seminars was on how to motivate people. In much of this session we discussed Communities of Interest and how we could form a better sense of community among our peers.
Wikipedia defines community of interest as
A community of people who share a common interest or passion. These people exchange ideas and thoughts about the given passion, but may know (or care) little about each other outside this area. Participation in a community of interest can be compelling, entertaining and create a community where people return frequently and remain for extended periods. Frequently, they cannot be easily defined by a particular geographical area.
In other words, “a community of interest is a gathering of people assembled around a topic of common interest. Its members take part in the community to exchange information, to obtain answers to personal questions or problems, to improve their understanding of a subject, to share common passions or to play.
Of course the conversation moved to how we could “lead” these teachers and motivate them to form interest groups. It was then proposed that they may had missed the point of community. Generally when management of an organization wants to form a group of teachers they do it under the label of Working Group. The whole idea of a working group is for the participants to get together and formulate a shared opinion on something, or make some sort of determination. For example, you might be asked to get together and decide on a new textbook, or a new learning management system. This working group is then expected to supply the results of their discussions to management to come to some sort of decision. This is not, by pure definition a community.
So how is a community different? Well, for starters true communities aren’t create; they just kind of happen. It is true that eventually you will have community leaders, especially as that community grows. But initially communities just spring up because a large enough group of people have accumulated to start up meaningful conversations.
There’s an interesting TED Talk by Derek Sivers in which he points out that the group doesn’t form to follow a leader, rather they follow the first follower of that leader and emulate them – not the leader. Check out the video, he probably explains it better.
So, if no one joins the leader, then he is just “one lone nut” dancing in public. How often are our leaders that one lone nut? Have you ever had a principal or administrator who came to the teachers with a recommendation that no one really liked, or weren’t all that excited about? How likely were you to follow that recommendation? If you did finally come around was it because he or she convinced you? Probably not. It’s more likely because a colleague decided to follow the recommendation and everyone else eventually followed.
One of the main reasons I am even blogging about this is that my mind went back to my own classroom. How do I get my students’ buy-in? After all, I am asking them to accept my guidance and assignments every day. I teach adult military students and its just standard practice for me to pick one or two of the more experienced officers in the class and make them mentors to the younger less experienced ones. In a way I am designating my first couple of followers. Because of their experience and maturity they usually rise to the occasion and the others follow their example. I guess what I am getting at here is that your classroom works best if it is a community, rather than a group of people who are required to be there to “learn”.
Way back when I was in high school (I won’t say how long ago) one of my teachers approached me because I had a noticeable change of attitude in her class. I was usually the one who would ask the questions everyone was thinking, but usually as a snide comment, or jokingly. I really liked this class and as I became more engaged in it my sidelong comments has become fewer and fewer. The teacher pulled me aside to find out why. I told her it was because I respected her, liked her class, and really had nothing sarcastic to say. What she said next kind of shocked me. She told me that she needed me to continue making comments from the back of the class because it made the others engage the lessons more. I was getting their questions answered and providing a little entertainment to boot. I was setting the tone of the class. I was her follower.
I have since learned as a teacher that every class has that one person just like me. They may not be making snide comments. It might be that student who always has their hand up ready with an answer to the teachers questions. Or, it could be that student who can bring relevant information into a discussion. There are all types, really. But there is always that one student that the others are paying attention to, for whatever reason. It’s kind of humbling to realize that student is really the one who controls the class.
Have you ever had a class you just couldn’t control? Think back – did any of the students step up to follow, or did they all just sit there and pretend you weren’t there? If so, you lacked that first follower. Next time pick a follower, pull them aside and encourage them to do something that engages the others (ask questions, heckle the teacher, or something anyway).
How does this apply to One World Classroom? Honestly, I just recently started this site back up about a five year hiatus. The topic of the site has changed as well to be more focused on educational technology. The site has existed in its current form for just over two months, so I am still building my community of practice. As I said before, I don’t believe I can build a community – that has to happen on its own. I can provide the tools, the space, and the theme, but I need those first few followers to get up and dance with me.
Don’t be surprised if I approach you and ask you to be my first follower.
Charles “One Lone Nut” Rich
One World Classroom