"The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members." -- Coretta Scott King
It is hard to believe we are just days away from getting together for SIDLIT 2023, and only a few weeks later, the start of a new school year. I am honored and humbled to have served as Colleague 2 Colleague’s chairperson for the 2022-23 academic year. I have felt overwhelmed, at times, by the tremendous responsibilities of this position, and the worry of letting down our organization while simultaneously teaching students at multiple higher ed institutions and writing a doctoral dissertation. Nevertheless, it has been my goal, since beginning my year as chair, to grow C2C and build a greater sense of community throughout the year, between our annual SIDLIT conferences. Thanks to an amazing leadership team and dedicated volunteers willing to give their time and talents to serve on the C2C steering committee – indeed, it takes a village – we have accomplished that goal and have begun to shape what I hope will become part of the ongoing mission and vision for Colleague 2 Colleague. Given the current climate, we need connection and community more than ever.
"We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur." -- Peter Block
As I reflect on the importance of community and the desire to nurture it within C2C, I think about the significance of connection. Each day, it seems, we hear something more about the prevalence of loneliness and isolation in our society – a common pre-existing condition before COVID, and severely exacerbated by the pandemic (Demarinis, 2020; Morning Consult Survey, 2020; Office of the Surgeon General (OSG), 2023; Wang et al., 2023). These conditions have had wide-spread, significant effects on mental and physical health (Plangger et al., 2022; Witters, 2023;). U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy advises “Social connection is a fundamental human need, as essential to survival as food, water, and shelter” (OSG 2023, p. 8). When we lack these needs, our physical and mental health suffer. People connecting with people is the medicine needed to treat this condition, and it need not be manufactured by a pharmaceutical company at expensive costs to patients or hopefully covered by insurance. It does not cost us anything but our time and our ability to relate to each other on a basic human level.
We need to start with a foundation of authentic human connection (Block, 2018) before we can expect to build and grow strong communities. But how much and how well are we connecting when the majority of our communications are through digital channels and our messages are short, to-the-point, just the facts? We lead such busy lives that we think what matters is simply conveying the most important content so we can hurry on to the next text or email, the next item on our to-do lists. We have so much material to cover in an 8-week course, we worry about how to squeeze it all in. Yet, how much does that content matter if we never truly connect and engage with those to whom we communicate the content? Years ago, I heard a powerful phrase that resonated with me and has stayed stuck in the front of my mind ever since: connection before content.
Author, consultant, and activist Peter Block coined the phrase “connection before content” in his best-seller Community: The Structure of Belonging. In the second edition (2018), Block prophetically writes about the kind of isolation and absence of belonging that is receiving so much attention today, post-COVID. He describes what we think are the shrinking effects of globalization and the convenience and speed of electronic communications yet questions the ability of such advances to actually reduce our isolation and help create the sense of community and well-being we truly need.
These developments provide contact, diverse information, an infinite range of opinion. But they do not create the connection from which we can become grounded and experience the sense of safety that arises from a place where we are emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically a member. In addition to the changing features of modern culture, our isolation occurs because Western culture, our individualistic narrative, the inward attention of our institutions and our professions, and the messages from our media all serve to fragment us. We are broken into pieces. (Block, 2018, p. 25; italics added for emphasis)
What do you think and feel when you read this passage? I interpret it as a sort of call to action. Our challenge, then, is to figure out ways to put the pieces back together. What does connection before content mean to you? How can we make sure that we are putting connection before content – in our day-to-day interactions with others, in our classrooms, in our department and staff meetings, in our families, and in our communities? What do you do to engage your students, in the classroom and online? I invite you to reflect, connect, and engage in conversation with others and with our C2C Community about this challenge.
"Community offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we come to the right place and are affirmed for that choice." -- Peter Block
From Connection to Community
"As part of humanity, each of us is called to develop and share the unique gifts we are given." -- Mollie Marti
How, then, do we go from connecting and engaging with each other on a more meaningful level to building and strengthening entire communities? According to Block (2018), “the cost of our detachment and disconnection is not only our isolation, our loneliness, but also the fact that there are too many people in our communities whose gifts remain on the margin” (p. 26). How do we develop the kind of community in which we recognize and utilize the gifts of all our members? The mission and purpose of C2C is “to facilitate the exchange of information and expertise between faculty and staff”), and as an organization of volunteers, we accomplish that purpose by sharing our gifts amongst each other, within our community.
While our use of technology can have the effect of detaching and disengaging us if we allow it to, it can also be leveraged to create the kind of connection and community we seek, and the kind our students need to thrive. Brian Alexander, Chief Product Officer at Pathify, spoke at SXSW EDUCATION on the importance of “Building Community in a Digital World.”
“A sense of belonging and community remain critical hallmarks of higher ed success. With the right mindset technology will facilitate support, foster connections, and rebuild communities when and where they’re needed most – from prospective students all the way to alumni.” (https://pathify.com)
How will we create community in a digital world for our students? How will we connect and engage in our online classes? How do we foster community in HyFlex classes, when have a toe in multiple modalities at the same time, but our students are only seeing their world through one lens? How do we better understand what our students really need? Following the pandemic, Beauchamp et al. (2020) studied the strategies used to keep students engaged when primarily in-person institutions were forced to shift to online learning during COVID. From their research, they developed a set of six Recommended Practices for Institutions to Build Community and Student Belonging Virtually. Their results remind us of the importance of building community and fostering a sense of belonging not just inside the virtual classroom, but outside as well.
"Community is much more than belonging to something; it's about doing something together that makes belonging matter." -- Brian Solis
We are thrilled that we have the opportunity to experience connection and belonging at our 24th annual SIDLIT conference this summer. Whether attending in person or virtually, it is an occasion to renew our accountability and commitment to our C2C Community. What happens the rest of the year? How do we continue to connect, engage, share our gifts, and create a perpetual space for relatedness and belonging? Block – whose life’s work centers around “the restoration of the common good” and building and restoring abundant communities (peterblock.com/about) – offers that powerful questions and intentional conversations are the key to understanding, to overcoming fragmentation, creating a community environment in which people want to participate in change (Block, 2018). He outlines a set of six conversations that lead to transformation, based on the themes of invitation, possibility, ownership, dissent, commitment, and gifts. You can watch Block provide an overview of his ideas on community and the six conversations here.
Each of these conversations leads to the others. Any one held wholeheartedly takes us to and resolves all the others. When any of them are absent, it is just talk, no matter how urgent the cause, how important the plan, how elegant the answer. These are the conversations through which the community is transformed. (2018, p. 170)
"There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community." -- M. Scott Peck
What if we had the six conversations within the C2C Community? What if you had them in your organization, in your department, in your classrooms? In what ways might we experience transformation?
Although I will pass the torch to our next C2C Chairperson Dr. Greg Rose for the 2023-2024 academic year, I will remain committed to the goal of developing an abundant C2C Community that remains active and engaged throughout the year. We have a new online home for our C2C Community on a platform called Mighty Networks, and you will hear more about this at SIDLIT and in other messaging over the next several weeks as we transition to a new email service as well. We are proud to host this online community for our members, and as the outgoing C2C Chairperson, I would like to personally invite you to add your voice and your gifts to our community.
Here are all the ways you can stay connected and engaged in the C2C Community:
- Join the C2C Community on the Mighty Networks platform.
- Subscribe to emails from C2C, even if have subscribed to other C2C mailing lists in the past, as we will soon lose access to previous email services and lists, including email@example.com.
- Add the domain @Colleague2Colleague.org to your safe senders or whitelist so our communications don’t end up in your junk email folder.
- Bookmark our C2C website and visit often for information and updates.
- Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
- Join our professional development (PD) events on the 3rd and 4th Wednesdays of each month at 4 pm (CT), when we learn collaboratively from our Book Talk (BT) discussions and a PD workshop presented by a volunteer member of our community.
In his SXSW talk, Alexander references Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, in which he describes the Law of the Few (or what economists refer to as the 80/20 rule). Gladwell (2000) explains that social epidemics (for better or worse) are driven by the efforts, energy, and enthusiasm of a few exceptional people. Alexander (https://pathify.com) applies Gladwell’s Law of the Few to building connection and community in a digital world by suggesting if we “get the right 20% engaged, the other 80% will follow.” So, my question for each one of you is will you be part of the 20% or the 80%? Whichever you choose, ALL are welcome in the C2C community.
"My life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can." -- Robert Greenleaf
Again, I offer my sincerest thanks to the dedicated and gifted members of the C2C Leadership Team and the Steering Committee, whose support meant the world to me this past year. Any events, outcomes, accomplishments, and successes have been the result of their advice, collaboration, commitment, and hard work. As always, we welcome new members to the steering committee any time, if you are a servant leader willing to share your gifts and make a minimal time commitment (approximately one hour per month, most of the year). Remember there are many other ways to be a part of the C2C Community, so we hope you will connect and find a place where you belong.
Thank you and be well,
“As you discover what strength you can draw from your community in this world from which it stands apart, look outward as well as inward. Build bridges instead of walls.”
~ U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
“To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.”
~ bell hooks
Alexander, B. (n.d.). Building Community in a Digital World. Pathify.Com. https://pathify.com
Beauchamp, J., Schwartz, E., & Pisacreta, E. D. (2020). Seven practices for building community and student belonging virtually. https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.313740
Block, P. (2018). Community. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/community/9781576757734/
Demarinis, S. (2020). Loneliness at epidemic levels in America. Explore (New York, N.Y.), 16(5), 278–279. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2020.06.008
Gladwell, M. (2002). The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference (1st Back Bay pub. ed). Back Bay Books.
Morning Consult Survey. (2020). The Loneliness Epidemic Persists: A Post-Pandemic Look at the State of Loneliness among U.S. Adults. Cigna Corporation. https://newsroom.thecignagroup.com/loneliness-epidemic-persists-post-pandemic-look
Office of the Surgeon General (OSG). (2023). Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf
Plangger, B., Unterrainer, C., Kreh, A., Gatterer, G., & Juen, B. (2022). Psychological Effects of Social Isolation During the COVID-19 Pandemic 2020. GeroPsych. https://doi.org/10.1024/1662-9647/a000283
Wang, F., Gao, Y., Han, Z., Yu, Y., Long, Z., Jiang, X., Wu, Y., Pei, B., Cao, Y., Ye, J., Wang, M., & Zhao, Y. (2023). A systematic review and meta-analysis of 90 cohort studies of social isolation, loneliness and mortality. Nature Human Behaviour, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-023-01617-6
Witters, D. (2023, May 17). U.S. Depression Rates Reach New Highs. Gallup.Com. https://news.gallup.com/poll/505745/depression-rates-reach-new-highs.aspx
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- Children Holding Hands (from Pixabay)
- This diagram reads "Connected" (from Pixabay).
- Hands Connected (from Pixabay)
- Hand Shake (from Pixabay)
- Inclusive Community Means All (from Pixabay)
- People Bring Pieces of the Puzzle (from Pixabay)
- Smart Phone and the Social World (from Pixabay)
- Cheryl Zelle Signature
- The Six Conversations: One. The Proposition