Community

So I’ve been thinking about community today. Like a lot of people, my brain spends a lot of time working in the background trying to connect seemingly unrelated things. Today, it didn’t take much to connect the dots.

Timestamp this one about 10:30 am. Just got back from a five-mile run. I’m training for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. Posted this to my online running group:

"You say 'VeggieTales" and everybody loses their mind."
“You say ‘VeggieTales” and everybody loses their mind.”

I hang out online in a wacky running group started by U of F professor and Runners World columnist Ted Spiker called the Sub-30 Club. The “Sub-30” refers to running a 5k race (or training run, or Zombie Apocalypse Escape, probably) in under 30 minutes. If you need a frame of reference, a decent high school cross country runner will take about 18 minutes to cover the 3.1 miles. Some members call that breakfast, others are straining mightily to achieve it, and others take creative license to consider “Sub-30” to mean “Sub-whatever goal I have”. Those are my people.  The online posts range from race reports to post-run breakfast photos to shoe porn to rampant silliness. Sometimes all in the same post. Thus, new shoes and Lime Cucumber Gatorade and VeggieTales. 10 hours and about 20 comments later, the thread is still cracking me up. Veggie quotes, Silly Songs on running playlists, even a woman who used “I Love My Lips” as intro music for a college research presentation on bacteria in lip balm.

The coolest thing about the group is how everyone supports each other, through Personal Best times, disastrous training runs, encounters with snakes, and yes, finally reaching that elusive goal, whatever it is.

They got my back.
They got my back.

So many of us want that kind of community when we walk through the doors at school every morning, or into the lunch room, or at a faculty meeting. I happen to have been blessed with a world-class Lunch Bunch the last few years. But I have also burned through a lot of bandwidth trying to find ways to do what I do better. I have had the singular pleasure of spending most of my career teaching students who are re-taking their algebra courses, sometimes for a fourth or fifth time. What am I gonna do? Same old Stand and Deliver? Take your book home, kiddies, and do this problem set? Talk louder? I needed a better way, and some years ago stumbled across a TED talk by this tall math teacher, with whom it turns out I shared a disdain for textbook word problems. If you’ve been to a math workshop or inservice in the last six years, you’ve probably seen it.

And thus my introduction to a rag-tag band of teachers who call themselves the MTBoS (“MathTwitterBlogosphere”). They’ve all got more teaching smarts in one fingernail than I have in my whole brain. And even better, they share an attitude of sharing – what works and what doesn’t – knowing that some other teacher can pick up and take off from there, maybe improving on their groundwork.

Fast-forward to this afternoon, scrolling through my timeline and I come across this:

Sums it up perfectly. An online community of teachers, trying things out, sharing, getting better. Exactly what we are all looking for. I spent a small sliver of my summer break working on a curriculum mapping project, collaborating with two other algebra teachers in my district to put together our plans for the Algebra 1 course. In addition to pacing, we were to include resources for each section. And the MTBoS spilled out of my head and into our Google Doc. My collaborator looked at me and said, “I don’t know where you come up with all that stuff. I mean, I look on line, but I don’t know where to go to find it.”

Been there, done that. So guess what? Now it’s my turn to share. I was offered a opportunity that afternoon to introduce a room full of grade 6-12 math teachers to my online community. I gave them a handful of places to start, some twitter accounts to follow, and let them all take it from there.

The same support I get from the Sub-30 Club, I get from the MTBoS. and like a lot of the recently converted, I want everyone else to have that experience too. I hashtag some of my tweets “#SundayNightPD”, which has pretty well killed the Sunday Night Blues for me. I’m learning tonight so my students can learn tomorrow.

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