Chalk, Cheese, and a Connected Community of Learners.

ShareWriteEvery Friday evening, my working week ends on a high note. On Fridays, I chat with the GO Storymakers. This is an amazing group of young people, some of whom I have known for a number of years, despite having never met them. One of my puzzles of practice as a teacher is just why this group gels so well. I have chosen to write about this because creating online courses is now becoming commonplace, but I believe that creating real communities of online learners is still a rarity.

I have shared this group, more than any of my other online groups of students, with another teacher, Wendy. I am increasingly convinced that having done so is part of the key to this group’s success. Wendy and I, you see, manage to be kindred spirits as well as being chalk and cheese. Our strengths are different and complimentary, but our philosophy of education is very much the same. Our long-standing Storymakers have seen us pop in and out of each other’s chat sessions and have brief collegial conversations with each other.

In doing so, we have modelled online sharing of work and friendship, and being the people we are, we have each been open about the ways in which the other has inspired us, right there in chat with our students. When we acknowledged the inspiration of each other’s different approach, we found a very authentic way to give our students permission to think divergently and to value differences.

We modelled seeking feedback, too, by asking each other to check over work we had produced for the students. “Why is that good teaching?” you may ask. We showed that having a go, however imperfect, is a necessary first step to getting the job done on time, even when one’s brave first attempt is visible to a peer. We also showed that seeking feedback to allow refinement is a positive action, not a form of defeat, and is just as normal and natural online as it is face-to-face.

Even though Wendy is not currently working with the Storymakers, she is still part of the GO whanau, and we still benefit enormously from the collaborative culture created by the team teaching which included her wonderful work. Thank you, Wendy Van Belle!

The GO Storymakers also have a community of parents. Parents do not always attend chats, but there is a virtual “open door”, so if they are near their child at the computer, they don’t need to pretend not to be there. Their constant warm support, their creative contributions to our conversations, and the excellent questions they ask at times, all help to enrich our virtual community of learners. Thank you, parents!

However, the Storymakers themselves never cease to amaze me. As individuals, they are creative. They show sustained commitment to their creativity, with several having been with us for a number of years. They trust each other sufficiently to take risks in their writing (or their story creation in other media). They acknowledge each other freely as sources of inspiration. They are unfailingly welcoming to the efforts of others, whether young and inexperienced, or having a bad writer’s block day. But somehow the whole is even greater than the sum of the parts. They have a creative synergy together which is subtly different from the ways in which they are individually creative. I have the privilege, every week, of seeing the interplay of these two kinds of creativity, and I love it. Thank you, GO Storymakers!

Online community is important for the adults who nurture gifted children too, so I will finish by acknowledging the #gtchat community on Twitter and the members of my Facebook group, Mary’s Gifted Contacts. These groups have sometimes confirmed and sometimes challenged my understandings of creativity and giftedness. They have shared everything from personal accounts to informative new research, bringing ideas from different nations and different paradigms. They are my Personal Learning Network, and have modelled many aspects of virtual community to me, in ways which have in turn benefitted my students. Thank you, PLN!

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Image Credit: The connected learners image is my own work.

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About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
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1 Response to Chalk, Cheese, and a Connected Community of Learners.

  1. ljconrad says:

    Thank you for being a part of the #gtchat community and longtime supporter! It has been a joy to get to know you online and in person. It is nice to hear positive stories about teachers working together successfully.

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