Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A new perspective on community

I had the privilege of attending a workshop last week of the Association of Independent Schools of New England. The workshop was geared to Heads of School and Board leadership. While the day was a fascinating day overall, I was most impressed by the two keynote speakers: Pat Bassett, the president of NAIS (the National Association of Independent Schools) and danah boyd (yes, this is how she types her name), a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, a Visting Researcher at Harvard Law School, and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales.

Mr. Bassett gave a wonderful presentation about schools of the 21st century and how schools need to change in order to remain competitive in the ever-changing marketplace. Mr. Bassett is a parent of students enrolled in independent schools and is a former Head of School. The biggest takeaway for me from the session was that our school is on the right track--even ahead of the game in the conversations we are having and the things that we are already doing in our school. That felt really great!

The other keynote, by danah boyd, was about social networking and community. Traditionally, many of us would define community by where live, who our friends are, which school our kids go to, etc. For our kids, particularly our teenagers, the notion of community goes well beyond these definitions, takes a more global perspective and casts a wider net, with social networking enabling relationships with friends who live in other geographic areas.

Based on this, kids often feel that social networking sites are the hang out places--that if they can't be together in person hanging out (which studies confirm they prefer), then they act and behave online AS IF they were together in person, hence the nature of some of the online conversations they have. Sociologically, our children desire to be together with their friends, but as the world has changed and they can't always make this happen, the virtual community has become the norm.

As parents and teachers we often struggle to understand how an online community really works, as it if foreign for most adults to think of our community in the virtual sense--we often prefer shmoozing at kiddush after shul or while hanging out on the soccer field watching our kids play. And I recognize that "different" often feels strange...

I am beginning to assimilate these notions and ideas into my thinking and what the changing landscape of community might look like for our children as they continue to grow. I also wonder what impact social networking sites will continue to have on our children's community as they get older and the technology becomes even more available than it is now.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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