Sunday, February 22, 2015

Joy As Connection

 'Joy is connection,' simple as that. Joy is very different from the kind of pleasure one gets from pursuing excitement or satisfying a drive. Those pleasures tend to be intense and ephemeral. They're fun, but also solitary. They're very different from joy, which is almost impossible to experience alone. The first turns the individual inward, while the second turns the individual outward, toward others.
- From All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior

I had just returned from the Minnesota Science Teachers Association annual conference (MnCOSE) this weekend when I finished the last chapter of Senior's book and read the passage above. All of the sudden it hit me that this is what I had been experiencing during the conference: Joy as Connection. Educators talk about the "power of a PLN" quite often, and I certainly agree that building a PLN has elevated my creativity and knowledge over the last two years. It has helped me to feel more connected. But I would argue that simply having online conversations via Twitter chats, Google+ Communities, or Voxer only begins to build relationships. For me, the "joy" of being an educator is most vivid for me when we are together. 

Here are some experiences from this weekend that illustrated this "Joy as Connection" idea for me: 

  • Attending the session on Argument-Driven Inquiry facilitated by Marlene Schoeneck, (@maschoeneck) a passionate, creative fellow #Biochat-er. Meeting another SBG Biology teacher (Kelly Schuette) at this session for the first time.
  • Presenting about SBL with Mark Peterson (@dassel) in an electric, intense, and excited group of educators. We wanted to make sure this presentation was an interactive conversation, so we were thoughtful in its design and even rearranged the room to make sure people were talking to each other. It worked.
  • Having Paul Anderson (@paulanderson) join a group to share and listen for a good hour at our SBL session. Later being able to have more conversations with him and other excellent teachers at dinner. Sure we talked a lot of "shop," but we also dabbled in topics like aphids and podcasts.
  • Being approached by Doug Paulson (@DPaulsonSTEM), the MN Department of Ed STEM Specialist to talk about the Anatomy collaboration Trish Shelton (@tdishelton) and I have been working on this year.
  • Later meeting up with Kelly to build rockets and "fliers" for the wind tunnel at the local children's museum. Having fun and unleashing creativity!

  • Building a champion spaghetti tower with Mark and my school colleague Elizabeth Madsen (@5Madsen). Problem-solving and cooperation!
  • Long conversations with Elizabeth at night in our hotel room, as well as during the drive to and from the conference. Of course we talked about education, but I also learned more about her family and how she loves to repurpose old furniture.

Despite the fact that I am surrounded by a staff of teachers every day, there's something special - something joyful - about being able to leave all the baggage of your home district and spend time with your PLN. You know what I mean here, right? I don't dislike the colleagues in my building, but there's all that other stuff that gets in the way of those relationships: old grievances, politics, administrative tension. When you have the chance to be removed from that environment and offered the luxury of time for a discussion about the complexity of grading or an impromptu session of play, for me there's no other way to explain it except as "joyful." Now not every conference I have been to has offered this same experience, and I think there were some key reasons this one was different. 

First, I've been cultivating these relationships over the past two years. If I didn't spend the time previous to this conference to reach out to others in asking questions and sharing ideas on social media, I'd still be pretty lonely as I plodded from session to session. Secondly, I made a conscious decision to reach out to others at the conference, introducing myself to the people I sat with, choosing to sit by others who were sitting alone, and intentionally creating a space for conversations in our presentation. Finally, I was determined to take social risks at this conference. There are rockets to build and launch? Let's do it! Paul Anderson came into our session? Go and talk with him! I don't know the person I'm sitting next to? Ask some questions and strike up a conversation! 

So I will continue to tend to and cultivate my online relationships. I will keep blogging, tweeting, voxing, and GHOing not only because the interactions make me a better teacher, but also because I am human. And being human, I crave the face-to-face opportunities those relationships make possible. It's not just about becoming a better educator, but simply becoming a more joyful person. 

"Ultra Concentrated Joy" image from Traci Lawson on Flickr, available via Creative Commons.