Tag Archives: blogs

Status [#MTBoS meta-commentary]

My electronic colleagues worked very hard this summer on issues of inclusiveness, welcoming and participation in our electronic staff lounge.

See, for example, the following people’s thoughts from recent months:

I kept quiet during this discussion because I didn’t have much to add to the conversation.

Now I do.

I think a lot about status in my classroom. As teacher, I have a lot of power to influence the status of my students. By encouraging, valuing and using student ideas, I can help each of my students to be seen by others as a valuable member of our classroom community. By making sure I spread opportunities to speak, and by differentiating the ways that students are able to contribute, I can help to spread status more equitably.

I do this imperfectly, but I do think about it a lot. I like to think that I get better each year.

When I notice that I am doing a poor job of it, I try to change my ways.

An important point is that status is conferred on others by social agreement, and that this agreement is often implicit. While I can influence the status of individuals in my classroom, I cannot impose it and neither can individual students.

Now, it seems that all social spheres have dynamics that involve status.

In any case, our sprawling electronic community of math (and other) teachers (and other interested parties) certainly does. I think that status is part of what my colleagues were sorting out this summer.

If we are concerned with welcoming new people, and with making people feel like valued members of the community, we would do well to make conscious decisions about this.

Here are a few things I do in this spirit:

  • Link to the work of others in my blog,
  • Comment on others’ blog posts,
  • Tweet interesting things others have said (I am more likely to tweet a quote with a link than to praise),
  • Engage publicly with new voices (e.g. the dreaded “.” before an @ mention on Twitter makes a response more public, especially if the person being mentioned has fewer or quite different followers from one’s own)

And here is something I no longer do:

  • Maintain a blogroll

Don’t get me wrong. If you maintain a blogroll, more power to you. It certainly is a way of conferring status on colleagues, and it certainly can be a helpful tool to those who are new to the world of blogs.

But I found that maintaining a blogroll meant that I was making more permanent judgments than I cared for. I didn’t edit it very often (too much work, and too low priority), and when I did edit, I didn’t like where my mind went as I decided which blogs to include. It felt too much like picking teams for kickball.

When I killed my blogroll a while back (a year maybe?), I pledged to more frequently link and tweet the interesting work of others. That has felt much more satisfying and effective to me.

In sum, you don’t need to do what I do. I don’t advocate that at all.

No, I advocate thinking about the ways in which all of us—high, medium and low status members of this community—can support positive social dynamics in this space. And I argue that paying attention to the ways we influence the status of our colleagues (and of ourselves) is one way to get better at this.

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Help some Minnesotans think something through, won’t you?

I spent some time on a conference call today as part of my duties as VP of math for MCTM. On the line were (mostly) elementary teachers and coaches. The fundamental problem at hand was beautifully stated by a participant:

If we want to grow wonderful, fabulous teachers, we have to make it easy for them to stay connected.

As the conversation proceeded, I found myself asking How does having organizations that are fixed in their physical location make sense in fostering these connections?

Several teachers described the kinds of connections and resources they would like to have access to, but that they do not (and hence why they are reaching out to MCTM and to the state department of education). These include (in no particular order):

  1. Both occasional synchronous and ongoing asynchronous communication among teachers and policy and content experts;
  2. Concrete resources for helping teachers move from a textbook-focused classroom to a standards-based classroom (especially a Minnesota standards-based classroom; we are not a Common Core state);
  3. A place to ask about something that happened in the classroom today and to get help with what to do tomorrow as a result;
  4. A way of promoting and organizing useful resources and filtering out the junk;
  5. A place to have longer conversations about bigger issues such as children’s long-term development of place value concepts or current research and curricular innovations relating to subtraction; and
  6. Video of classrooms in action—there seems to be a real hunger for seeing over reading classroom scenarios.

As I listened and thought about my own teaching, I became less and less convinced that a centralized resource is the answer to these needs. Indeed, the only need related to our particular state is number 2 above. But all of those other needs (and many of the general ideas underlying number 2) can be met by folks who have never set foot in our state.

I have built my own version of this support system online. Here’s how:

Blogs. Writing my own and reading those of others has generated tons of useful ideas for every aspect of my work. Just today, I took something from Chris Hunter’s blog to use with my College Algebra students, and I adapted Fawn Nguyen’s Google Form for my standards-based grading reassessment in all of my courses.

Twitter. Pretty much everyone whose blog I regularly read I also follow on Twitter. The reverse is not true, so Twitter expands my network. In the past week, I put out a general request with organizing my students’ reassessment requests and got reminded of Fawn’s system.

Also I have had several back-and-forth conversations with teachers on a range of topics. For example, I replied to the following…

Twitter facilitates a lovely combination of asynchronous resource-hunting and synchronous problem-solving. It can also be a tremendous time sink, so time management skills are essential.

Email. Back to asynchronous communication. Email for me remains a medium for having extended private conversations. I am not a fan of listservs, mailing lists or email conversations that attempt to involve more than about three people.

Experience. Having spent a couple of years in this space, I have developed a working knowledge of what’s available. I know who to ask about what’s happening at middle school, who to ask/read/recommend on assessment issues. I know who will give me a new perspective on social media use. I know who to talk to for questions about college teaching.

All of this reinforces the idea-for me-that the role MCTM could play in meeting this request from our members isn’t so much creating a space for interaction, as it could be facilitating teachers’ entry into this much larger space that already exists.

I have no idea what that would look like either, though.

How say, math-o-blog-o-Twitter-sphere?

Questions from middle school teachers: Blog etiquette

The following from an email conversation with a long-distance teacher friend:

I was wondering if you actually have met everyone who writes on your blog?  Or are some of them people who just found your blog and wrote to you?

No I have not. I look forward to someday meeting some folks, but definitely do not know them all. And I read and comment on the work of folks whom I have never met in person. It’s like a parallel universe to which I am a relative newcomer. I find it fascinating.

What is the appropriate math-teacher etiquette?  I don’t know if it is a “closed” community of people who all know each other (like if everyone who posts on your blog is a math professor and all of you go to conferences together and know each other really well).

No, no and no. Of course it is natural to feel more comfortable jumping in to a conversation when you know the participants personally, but there is no requirement or expectation at all. All are welcome and encouraged to participate. And of course, the places where that conversation is explicitly encouraged and nurtured will have higher rates of participation (viz. Dan Meyer’s blog).

I have spent precisely two hours in the physical presence of Dan Meyer (who is a grad student, not a professor), three or four with Karim Ani of Mathalicious (who is a teacher and entrepreneur, not a professor) and zero total hours with all of the other folks whose work I read regularly (very few of whom are professors). If you’re a fan of The Office, you’ll identify with my claim that There is no inner circle. Really.

Are professors who run blogs usually open to hearing from middle school teachers (people they don’t know I mean)?

Absolutely. That’s why we write. We hope to have an audience and we hope to hear from and learn from our readers. (And again, the whole ‘professor’ thing? It’s just not so.)

Finally, from another source (a smart and talented former student of mine, now a high school teacher in North Dakota), let’s dispel this misconception:

And for no other reason than my spying on your blog, I decided to drop you a line

If it’s on the blog, you’re not spying. You’re reading. If it’s only on my hard drive? That’s spying.

And consider this your invitation to jump into the conversation.