I’m back home in West Hollywood, enjoying coffee and recovering from a wonderful week at Twitter Math Camp 2017. What the hell is Twitter Math Camp (TMC)?
Well, it’s a get-together of kindred spirits who have connected over the years who have ambitious goals to help folks learn and love mathematics, The loosely connected group gave themselves the name the “MathTwitterBlogosphere (#MTBoS).” It’s one of the many communities of teachers that I identify with.
I have had the privilege of belonging to many different communities of teachers since I started teaching in 1995. Let me list some (with hashtags – some real some not):
- The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
- The Loomis Chaffee School (LC)
- The Loomis Chaffee Mathematics Department (LCMATH)
- The Harvard-Westlake School (H-DUB)
- The Harvard Westlake Mathematics Department (H-DUB Math)
- AP Statistics Teachers all over
- AP Statistics Exam Readers
- The Park City Mathematics Institute Teacher Leadership Program (PCMI)
- the Los Angeles Professional Development Outreach Group (LAPDOG)
- The Park City Mathematics Institute TLP Staff (PCMIStaff)
- Math for America Master Teaching Fellows Program (MFA-LA)
- AP Computer Science Principles Teachers Network (APCS-P)
- MTBoS: The Math Twitter Blogosphere (MTBoS)
- Twitter Math Camp Attendees and Presenters (TMC15, TMC17)
- The Real HouseTeachers of WestHollywood (Yes! This is a group I identify with during the summers when we are not crazed with appointments and events).
When I look at all of these communities, I think a lot about my feelings of belonging and my feelings of alienation. Within each community, above I have experienced feelings of both. Why? What made me feel like I belong? What made me feel like I don’t belong?
I do not know whether these are causes or effects of my feelings; maybe a bit of both.
- Things I associate with feeling like I belong:
- People’s eyes light up and their faces brighten when they see me, and I do the same.
- People say hello when I walk into the room.
- I don’t need to prove or defend myself when I share something.
- I may disagree with someone, but I can learn from them by listening and taking the time to understand them.
- I feel safe honestly sharing feelings – even when there is conflict or discomfort.
- I talk to members of my community, not about them.
- I stay longer than I need to. Time flies.
- We connect with each other “just because.”
- We are all working hard, together.
- I can be sad, or angry, or silly, or tired in front of them, and talk through it, and be okay.
- I feel light, happy, and joyous.
- I care about you, and you appreciate and respect me. So I want to give you my very best.
- I feel, in my heart: I am enough, and I am worthy of being here with these folks.
2. Things I associate with feeling like I do not belong:
- I walk into the room and it’s silent: no hello, no looking up.
- I feel like “I don’t want to bother them.”
- I feel like this person will present an obstacle to my goals.
- I am more concerned with “getting this done” than connecting.
- I assume there is a focus on “maintaining professionalism” and keeping conversations “focused and brief.”
- I/others want to talk about people, not with people.
- Ignoring, “cutting off,” “distance,” and “icing” are viable behaviors to manage feeling hurt or disappointed.
- Lots of whispering.
- I worry that you are going to judge me, because you don’t respect me. So I will work hard to prove to you I’m deserving of your respect. Or maybe not, if that hasn’t worked in the past. Maybe I’ll blow it off.
- “When are we done?”
- I feel like I want to get out of this room.
- I feel sad. It’s hard for it to go away.
- I feel the lies my brain is fixated on: that I am unworthy, not enough.
3. What does this have to do with Twitter Math Camp? I’ll start with what brought me here this year: This was the first time I had participated “fully” in Twitter Math Camp: I stayed at the host hotel (instead of commuting, and I did back in 2015) and prepared a three-day workshop with Peg Cagle and Cal Armstrong, two deeply cherished colleagues and friends. Many of you have some really strong bonds within MTBoS. We have cultivated ours over 10-15 years.
We forged these relationships together during some intense, emotional, and deeply thoughtful years writing the “Reflecting on Practice” curriculum as staff at the Park City Mathematics Institute from 2009-2012. Our work at PCMI is one of the things I am most proud of as an educator.
We applied to co-facilitate a three-day workshop at TMC2017 about implementing rich tasks. But for me, it was mostly to re-connect, work together, and re-experience the close connections we made over the years. They are two people I respect, admire, and love very much. We’ve each succeeded and failed each other in our own ways through the years, but we have steadfastly supported, appreciated, and cared for each other in ways that are tough to replicate. When the shit goes down, I want these people in my corner. I was able to feel safe implementing the workshop and to open up more to others at the conference. My sense of trust and belonging with them helped me take more risks and develop a stronger sense of trust and belonging with the MTBoS community.
4. OK – enough about you, dude. So what about TMC? I connected with a lot of folks who were also open, brilliant, willing, joyful, and interested in connecting with me. I saw some friends and colleagues I’ve known for a while (I’m thinking of Chris Luzniak, Sam Shah, Lisa Henry, Tina Cardone) emerge as true pioneers and leaders in the MTBoS community and the larger teaching community. I deeply admire their leadership, brilliance and bravery. And I got to meet others folks I only knew through tweets, or a single presentation I saw at a previous TMC, APStats, or NCTM event. But I was thrilled to connect, in some way with folks like Jed Butler, David Butler, Julie Reulbach, Hedge, Glenn Waddell, Brette Garner, Ben Walker and too many others I forget right now. All of us made connections, and said, at some level:
I want to cultivate a relationship with you.
“Whoa, dude… hold on there. I thought we were just playing Pandemic over IPA’s…”
This phrase is scary to write: it’s fraught with commitment and expectations that I am not sure I can meet. It’s fraught with uncertainty about the level of depth and connectedness that may develop. It’s fraught with being the stalker-y needy colleague.
Ultimately, however, I think this is what we are asking for as we forge our “tribe” of colleagues, friends, mentors, and comrades at TMC. When we open up to be vulnerable to people that (we hope) are nurturing, joyful, able and willing.
The details of how that relationship is formed, what it means, and whether it creates mutual joy is a function of developing our skills in relationship-building.
This wonderful synopsis of “How to Love” by Which That Nanh by Maria Popova from Brain Pickings does a great job describing some of the complex work that we all must practice in order to cultivate the kind of relationships that bring us sustained joy, value, and feelings of belonging. This one quote from the book is my favorite:
To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand, we need to listen.
… and listening takes time. So how have I seem this played out among the folks at TMC? It comes down to spending time with each other and making time and space to understand and appreciate each other. Meals. Games. Songs. Conversations. Conflicts (managed maturely and bravely). Shared work tasks. Shutting up and Listening. Resisting reactions and pausing until I can genuinely listen and understand.
5. Beyond TMC -: For many of you, these discoveries are not new. Recognizing their importance is new for me. I am leaving TMC with a stronger understanding of when I feel I “belong” to a community:
- How much time am I willing to spend being open, honest, myself, and vulnerable?
- How much time am I willing to spend to understand those I’m with?
When I take the time to understand, ask, share, and take risks, my community improves.
It’s easy for me to point to examples where others have, in my judgment failed to be loving, thoughtful, honest, warm, or kind. But that does not give me license to do the same to them. I have the ability and the responsibility to do something else.
I can be braver about being more assertively welcoming and take a stronger interest in who is in front of me.
I can remind myself that those I don’t particularly enjoy are on the same team with me, and are, like me, doing their very best they can today.
I can do more to not dismiss or cut off someone who did something I did not like.
I can do more to listen and understand.
I can do more to share when I have an issue or uneasy feeling about a friend or colleague within my community.
This is my “one thing” I will be thinking about this year as I begin new work with my colleagues and my students.