Thursday, October 20, 2011

From a PLN to a Guild

by John T. Spencer

I had a lengthy Twitter instant message conversation with Russ Goerend.  We talked about hard issues of desires for teaching, reform in our classroom and burnout.  It was a time of vulnerability for both of us.  On other nights, we might have talked theory or exchanged instructional ideas.  But tonight we were both needing a conversation about the parts of teaching that aren't mentioned in the staff lounge or a PLC meeting.

A few nights ago, I "met" via Google chat with Gregory Hill.  Again, the conversation pingponged between teaching and life and the sense of hope and crushed hope that we both experience at different times.  On Saturday I met with Robert Greco.  We had had coffee and shared stories, geeked out about teaching and society and spoke honestly about what it's like to be a dad.  A few nights before that, I Skyped with Jeff Russell.  While the focus was on filming student documentaries, he had a chance to see my kids misbehave and my response to him.  I felt embarrassed, but he was gracious.

The day before that, I sent some books out to David Loitz, read an amazing post by Justin Stortz and heard some of the best push-back and compliments I've ever gotten by Chad Sansing.  That same day, I had a very geeky, intellectual, honest conversation with Shelly Blake-Plock and a long Twitter conversation with William Chamberlain and Michael Kaechele.

If you had caught me on a different week, I would have been interacting with David Wees, Jabiz Raisdana, Jerrid Kruse, Shelly Terrell, Michael Doyle, Angela Watson, Mary Beth Hertz, Stephen Davis or Jose Vilson.

At this point, my entire post could easily feel like a long list of names.  However, for me, these are the people who have kept me teaching, writing and thinking when I was nearing a place of burnout.  It's a bigger list than I had ever imagined.  I am, too a large extent, an introvert.  I tend to hang out with Javi the Hippie and Quinn the Business Bohemian.

I've written before about PLNs.  I've created sketchy videos to explain how a PLN works.

And yet . . .

I'm not looking for something that works.  Not when I have somewhere that I belong.  I have a loose band of online friends (many of whom are not mentioned in this post) who offer ideas, ask questions, share stories and, most of all, allow me to be myself.  I have a non-geographic place that transcends any medium and it is in this place that I can not only be transparent, but also vulnerable.

So, when I search for a metaphor regarding this space, I'm most likely to think of it as a guild.  It is a place where I am known as a whole person engaged in a challenging, meaningful vocation.  It is a place where I can share ideas on my craft, tell stories from the classroom and make sense out of my struggles.  It is a group that I trust who will fight for me against the forces of apathy, insecurity and standardization that so often derail me as a professional.

Ideally we would all live in a physical community.  Then again, ideally I would ride a unicorn to work and instead of a stress ball at work, Carol King and Samuel Beam would stand by my desk and each offer their own singer-songwriter melodies.  However, we live in an urbanized, fragmented, compartmentalized world. We can allow emerging technologies to push us toward amusement and fragmentations or we can form a guild and share our lives.

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Note: For the rest of this week and all of next week, you can buy any of my books for one dollar. You can get all five of them for a price of a venti latte. Oh, you'd rather have that venti latte? Okay, I don't blame you entirely.


  1. I like the idea of a "guild" rather than a PLN...and thanks for including me in yours, BTW.

    I've been reflecting on this topic myself, and trying to figure out why I value connections with people I've met in person so much more. A 30 second introduction at a conference somehow makes someone's Twitter feed a million times more interesting to me, even though I actually learn more about them from reading what they post online...hmm...

  2. John,

    This is a phenomenal bit. I love how you showed the different kinds of conversations that you have in social spaces and how they make a difference in who you are -- both as a person and an educator.

    Good stuff indeed. Thanks for making this transparent.



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