I have been thinking a lot about community. When I was a kid growing up in the 70’s, community was my small town in west-metro Minnesota. It was comprised of the families in my neighborhood, kids in my classroom, the guys on my hockey team, and the people in my church. My community was close, intimate, and a comfort. It provided me with a sense of belonging.
In a recent class, my professor asked, “What is community?” Social media has rewritten our definition. Today my “community” seems to expand exponentially each day I hop on to the world wide web. And then I pause. Is this really community? It behaves nothing like my community of old. It is not close, intimate. Certainly not comforting. And then I realize the online community is not a community at all. Rather, it is a network. Cold word, that. Network. Harkens images of machines, read-outs, wires, and all things unfeeling.
Don’t get me wrong. Social networks are amazing tools. Tools that I don’t know what I’d do without. Today, with the help of technology, our “community” is far reaching. Unlimited. You can enter at will. No need to move, apply, or commit. Sounds lovely. And sarcasm aside, it is. Social networks like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter make it easy to access an unlimited number of people and topics. Through these sites one is able to play, learn, and explore. You can dabble, or you can throw yourself in full-on. You can be the village idiot or Mayor-elect in any one of these virtual “communities”. The choice is yours to make.
Ultimately, I feel a true community needs a face, a heart, and a soul. As a classroom teacher, I aspire to build an environment in which everyone is safe, respected, and valued. This is community. We share and care. We connect in human ways. We interact genuinely. Our interactions are immediate and intimate. The same can be said of the greater school community. In that true community, you belong. You just don’t get that from a Facebook status update, or a Twitter tweet.
I know I am talking about semantics, but I have been pondering this notion of community and have come to realize that real community is about people. So while participating in #edchat or #techchat might give you some great ideas, it is the students in your classroom and the teachers down the hall who will teach you the most about teaching and learning. You just need to actively participate in the community.
UPDATE: After posting I came across this quote by Eric Utne, Editor and Founder of Utne Magazine. “Some people suggested that Utne presaged the idea of social media. I have a rant about that. Online clusters of people are not communities. Communities, for me, is not a bunch of people who simply share the same point of view and agree. A real community has diversity.” source: Scott, Gregory. “So Long, Utne. It’s been real.” Minnesota Monthly, March 2012