Several themes emerged in the World Cafe conversations about learning and an important one was community. The group used various connotations for community and qualities to describe community, but this theme resonated throughout the mindful and reflective conversations.
The concept of team often served as a corollary for community. Teams strive towards common goals in sports, business, or education. A component of successful teams is ‘shared vision.’ Rather than leadership being vested in a person or a small group of people in a hierarchical structure, successful teams have the anchor of a vision and share the values that support the vision. A critical first question in a learning environment would be “What vision and values energize learning?” The common goal and energy bring to life the acronym: Together Everyone Achieves More [TEAM]!
Humans share. It reveals who we are and what is important to us individually and allowing us to connect to the collective. We are affirmed as others listen. The World Cafe group suggested sharing was central to learning by revealing what is important and what is learned. The sharing may reveal gaps in learning or reveal more than one way to solve a problem and learn. Sharing in a safe environment, or community, focuses learning past the expert knowledge of one person, the teacher, and shifts it to the broader collective. Risks are more readily undertaken because there is support, and everyone can both teach and learn. We live in an increasingly complex world where the paradox of teacher and learner calls strongly for sharing.
The idea of connectivity arose several times. A complexity of today’s world is a burgeoning need to connect with others in both new and traditional ways. We face paradox as we seek community. Community is no longer defined solely by where we live, as in a digital world, connections are made across the globe and communities shaped in radical ways. This encourages different and emerging views of community: where we live, where we work, and, how we connect.
Community suggests paradox. The World Cafe group felt being face-to-face with others was essential at times, but suggested face-to-face might include digital platforms such as video conferencing or Skype. A benefit of on-line instruction is the ability to pause a video or audio file, reflect on material, take notes, and return to earlier points in the file. We cannot pause teachers in real-time to repeat exactly what was said, but we can in the digital world. Wise, prudent, and mindful use of technology serves learning if safely implemented. How do we use technology in traditional classrooms? What role can it or should it play in moving learning beyond the walls of the traditional and sometimes outmoded classroom?
Healthy, vibrant, and safe communities give time and space for solitude. A common criticism of school and classroom scheduling is the lack of reflection time for teachers and students. Busyness is the order of the day in schools and classrooms. Time is necessary for learners to process the reams of available information to connect it to subject matter and make it meaningful. We observed this in the four World Cafe sessions; there were times when the room was quiet, as people processed and reflected on the questions or comments. Community brings us together and, at the same time, paradoxically allows personal space and time.