Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thoughts on the MTBoS - from a Relative Newbie

I think I've been composing parts of this post for a while. It finally came in for a landing this week. Let me say at the outset that I have the utmost respect for the people of the Global Math Meeting!

A couple of nights ago, at the weekly Global Math Meeting, there was a discussion about the Math Twitter Blogosphere (MTBoS), which seems to have set off a kind of virtual earthquake - tweets, posts, and probably emails have been rippling through the lines ever since - for some examples, read here, here, here, and here. The discussion at the meeting was supposed to be centered around how the MTBoS can grow, and be more welcoming for newbies. That discussion, and the resulting ones, really shook me up and to explain why, I have to go back to.....

My first GMM meeting:

I started attending this amazing weekly online gathering of math teachers near the end of 2012, when I was invited, by the superhero-like Megan Golding, to give a ten minute presentation about how I flip my math class. There were other presenters, which is why it was only a ten-minuter. I have to say that when I entered the virtual room, I was immediately intimidated, for many reasons. But the online environment was not one of those reasons, because I teach in exactly that kind of space, so I'm used to it. What got me was how many people showed up for the talk, plus WHO they were, I mean, there were some NAMES. People whose blogs I've been reading, and probably you've been reading forever, really, really brilliant, famous, brilliant people.  I should have been tipped off when I saw that it was Kate Nowak who gave Megan my name.....

Anyway, Megan, being the great moderator that she is, advised the presenters to ignore the chat window because it would be distracting, and that she would monitor it for questions etc, which I really appreciated. As an online teacher, I know how hard it can be to maintain focus, keep the flow AND keep your eye on the chat window. It's similar to when a brick-and-mortar classroom teacher reads the room - you want to be able to say what you want to say while you scan faces for reactions, but in the online environment, where there's no eye contact or body language to go on, it means having to split your brain into two halves - the one that's presenting and the one that's reading. So I prepared myself to forget about who was there, let Megan have my back, and to ignore the chat.

Bring it on.

That lasted about 2 seconds, because what showed up in this chat window was unlike anything I'd ever experienced in my class. I wasn't prepared for the banter. A lot of joking and cajoling went on between the audience members, and it was immediately clear that these people were long-time friends, had a high level of comfort with each other, were even smarter than I had imagined, and were here for socializing as much as they were for math stuff. Unnerving for a GMM newbie, but fascinating nevertheless.

But I have to say, this made me feel like nobody was actually listening to me. I'm sure it wasn't the case, and nobody intended to do that, but there it is. Some of the presenters seemed able to jump right in with their own portable comfort zone, but I don't have one of those. And me being me, I blamed myself - after all, if I were interesting enough, there wouldn't be any banter, would there?

You'd think I would never go back, right? Wrong. I put on my big-girl pants and kept going. (Megan alone was enough of a draw for me, for she is the nicest person in North America.)

I haven't missed more than 2 or 3 GMM's since then. My shaky experience as a presenter was way overpowered by the brilliance of the ideas I heard week after week - interactive notebooks, gaming, lesson bonfire - to name a few. Not to mention that these people could probably all be stand-up comedian/comediennes, and mostly not to mention that I have become friends with some really wonderful people there. The GMM seems like a group of friends who happen to be math teachers taking turns sharing their ideas and making each other laugh. I look forward to each one, even though I'm still pretty much lurking. Although this post would be the definition of not lurking.....

The Antichoir

At any rate, I was just getting comfortable when earlier this week I saw tweets from a few members about flipping, which had been my topic way back in December. Tweets that I felt were unkind, and not representative of the open-mindedness and sensitivity that teachers strive to model for their students. The thread eventually circled back to become fairer, but I thought back to that first meeting - is that why there had been all the banter? I had been preaching not to the choir, but the antichoir?

Then came the meeting about MTBoS, which was called Choose Your Lunch Table. The title reminded me of a particularly clique-y staff to which I used to belong, but I could not have been happier to read the intro:
The #MTBoS can be an intimidating place for newcomers. Many seasoned veterans of the MathTwitterBlogoSphere have developed friendships and professional working relationships over the course of its lifespan. How can newcomers become an integral part of this community and feel at home? Let's drive the #MTBoS forward!
Those words alone were the reassurance I needed that the GMM was NOT the antichoir, and not even a clique, but a group of people engaged in a genuine attempt at group self-assessment.

But during the GMM, the discussion wove in and out of things like - Why are we trying to grow, it's not about the numbers, how can we decide for others who aren't here, people have different expectations, some people feel intimidated to blog, some get more attention than others, etc etc.  It was a great discussion, but it continued on into subsequent posts and counterposts, of which this is one. Many feelings emerged that surprised me - I wasn't the only one who felt intimidated, for example. I guess hurt feelings happen all the time, to everyone, unintentionally and even unwittingly.

I realized that just like our students, we all need the relationship to come first, and the learning second.

My thoughts, FINALLY geez:
  • On welcoming: Before welcoming new people, make sure the ones that are already there feel it. I do now, but it took some time. And pants.
  • On blogging: Sure, we all have to be tough in the TwitterBlogoSphere. It's a daily chant for me: Blog for yourself and don't expect a million retweets or comments, because it's not about that. It's about reflecting on your practice, improving, and documenting your journey. I do it in public just on the off chance that someone else will be interested, but that's not the goal. I have to accept the fact that when I put myself out there in front of the world, I might be ignored by the world. It's okay, I'll still learn something.The flip side is that if and when I do get attention, it's the ultimate, most authentic tip of the hat. No one wants to change that, because no one wants a charity comment, or a pity tweet.
  • On communicating: The thing is, in the TwitterBlogoSphere, just like in the virtual classroom in which I teach everyday, all those tweets, posts, comments, in other words, WORDS, take the place of body language and eye contact.  The more evidence there is in those words that they come from a caring soul, who's more interested in being kind than in being right, the better and more long-lasting the impact. And there is no doubt in my mind that the MTBoS is a community of such people.
  • And they're also hilarious.


  1. great post! I am glad you came back to GMD. You brought up a valid point about sidebar convos during presentations. I don't think I was at your flipped learning prezi, but I've done that in others (and it was done to me) so consider my wrist slapped. Along with commenting on the blog (instead of just tweeting comments), I need to be more respectful during GMD presentations. Sometimes it takes observations like this to make me realize why people can be intimidated in the beginning. I know you weren't chastising me directly, but you did make me aware of things I need to change. So thank you!!
    I look forward to finally meeting you in person!

    1. Hedge, the last thing I wanted to do was slap anybody's wrists, especially yours! I only meant to suggest that we all, myself included, sometimes send messages that were never intended. And that underneath it all, we're all a bunch of lovely creampuffs. And please don't change anything, not on my behalf anyway, I'm fine, it's all good, just had to weigh in.

  2. 1) You jumped into presenting before lurking and scoping things out? Wow, good on you!! I'm not sure I could ever do that. Applaud your initiative, particularly in light of how you decided mostly to lurk after. Also applaud you for wearing pants.

    2) About the lack of body language and tone of voice. That, yes, so much that - for instance, no idea how you chose to interpret my last sentence up there. Interestingly, I usually forgive it in others, and second guess MYSELF more. For instance, I'll toss something out, and then an hour later... "I shouldn't have said that". (Use a Hagrid voice on that one.) Whereas for all I know everyone else was all "Meh".

    So, what I'm saying here is, good thoughts, good post. In the end, it seems you're staying true to yourself too, and I think that's the most important thing.

    1. Yes, I've done a few webinars, so a quick ten-minuter didn't seem too daunting. Pants - why is that word so funny? Makes me laugh every time. I love Harry Potter reference! I do that too, out loud even!

      I do try to say what's on my mind, but the hardest part is finding a way to say it so as not to damage the relationship. That, to me, is way more important than being right.

      Thanks as always Greg, for your support! You are one of the people I was thinking of when I said "I have become friends with some really wonderful people there."

    2. Bet you didn't see this post coming...

      "It is part of the mythology of actors and writers that the consonant plosives (so called because they start suddenly or "explosively") p, b, t, d, k, and g are the funniest sounds in the English language.[1]"

    3. J_For, I didn't see that coming, but thanks, very interesting theory.

  3. Hi Audrey! I love this post. Thanks sharing it and being honest.

    I'm just commenting to say that you described exactly how I first felt presenting at GMD, as well. Like no one was listening. It's unnerving, and you have to kind of roll with it and adjust to the norms. You really need to hang on to those pants.

    I'm so glad you stuck around! You always contribute really insightful and nuanced things, and great questions.

    1. Thanks so much Kate, I'm so relieved to read this, and I really appreciate your honesty too. No worries, I'm rolling along and and keeping the pants on. And I'm grateful to have found this virtual staff room that seems a unique intersection of great minds and genuinely caring humans!