community building through technology
In my previous career, I prided myself on my ability to help build community. As a community artist, working with students in schools, kids in afterschool programs, and community members of all ages in drop-in situations and other venues, I thought a lot about using different artistic tools and media as bridges to bring diverse people together. My background in this work has biased me towards a collaborative form of working and learning, towards a certain openess and tendency to share. All that experience has been incredibly valuable in early learning contexts and the other educational contexts that my new field of early childhood education has put me in. It has also deeply informed my engagement with interpersonal dynamics.
However, it wasn’t really until I started studying my new field that I began to use technology as a means really build community, to look at technology in a critical and thoughtful way and choose to use it as another community building tool. I began a blog called the people garden in my first year of ECE here at Ryerson, and that’s where things changed for me.
I had kept blogs before, but they had been primarily archival and documentary in nature – a holding place for my work as an artist. While I was building the people garden, I set out one day to see if there were any other blogs out in the blogosphere that were by and about men working in early learning contexts. I was lucky, and found two key blogs that began a process of what’s now become a global community building project for me. I found Look at My Happy Rainbow, the blog of a male teacher reflecting on his surviving and enjoying his first year as a kindergarten teacher. His stories were warm and funny and interesting, and made me very excited to be a guy working with kids. I also found Teacher Tom’s blog – and felt like I fell down a rabbit hole. Teacher Tom’s writing about his work in a lab school in Seattle was a revelatory find, and I wrote him and told him so.
He responded, and we kept a loose dialogue going on each others blogs and via personal email messages. The more I read, and as I developed as an educator, I realized that Tom had become a mentor – a cyber-mentor – to me, and has inspired me on a continuous basis to be the best educator I can be.
Through Tom’s blog, I have connected with other bloggers working in our discipline, all over the world. I now am connected, professionally and personally, to educators in Australia, the US and Canada, to a Canadian teaching in Belgium for a year, and a host of others. I have been able to weave a virtual community, not dependent on geography or space, but instead on interest and passion and inspiration.
The profoundly transformative potential for community building using technology happened, and is still happening, to me. Before it did, I never even considered it as a possibility, and I’m pretty grateful for it.