Building a community takes effort. A LOT of effort. Moving overseas is enough evidence of this community building. I knew no one. So, I had to start somewhere. I began with work friends – because how else were you going to meet new people besides your coworkers? Sure I could have gone to a bar (although bars were hard to come by in Doha several years ago), but that’s not my scene. Soon after, I joined a community orchestra. I met musicians near and far, we performed concerts throughout the year and even went out for the occasional meal just to “hang out”. Finally, I joined a group of music teachers in Qatar. The realisation of this community building sunk in a bit when I attended my PD a weeks ago. Short story: I arrived early to register, have coffee and say hello to my fellow colleagues. Rachel, the organiser of the workshop, handed me the agenda for the day and asked if I wanted to make a name tag. Sure. Then she says, “Well, everyone knows you here so it’s not like you need it.” Hmm…
The fact that I no longer needed a name tag was a bit surreal. But looking back, it took YEARS of effort. It meant I went to every music workshop available. I played with various ensembles through the years. I braved Doha traffic to meet and greet and be social with “my people”. I had to be an active participant. I couldn’t be a lurker. See? I’ve grown a bunch since Course 1 (insert winky face).
Now you’re asking me to create an online community? Whoa. That’s a tall order. The State of Qatar is only roughly 2.7 million people. You’re talking about online. Like, THE WORLD. Nevertheless, I accept your challenge. I already had a few groups that I follow via Facebook: I am a member of a Band Directors group, General Music Teachers, IB PYP Music Teachers, American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA) and Music Teachers of Qatar. I would read people’s post and respond in my head. It’s a silly notion now that I think about it. Maybe that person was taking a poll and needed the numbers. My response could have helped them in one way or another. And so, I need to take the first step. . .
The one thing that really convinced me to take the plunge were the group norms. Huh? It seems ridiculous, but hear me out. For example, in my General Music Teachers group, rule three states,
"This is meant to be supportive group. Please keep it respectful."
In my AOSA group, the admin states,
"The purpose of this page is to encourage collegiality, collaboration, and creative thinking among AOSA members and music professionals. All posts and comments should be marked by respect, be on topic, and presume the good will of other posters."
In my Band Directors group, rule one states,
"Be respectful, civil, and professional in all postings and comments. Debate is an important part of coming to new understandings for our profession and is therefore welcomed, but please be sure your opinions are grounded in your actual teaching experiences rather than untested hypotheticals. Also remember that we are not here to point fingers at one another, but rather to put forth the best of our own teaching experiences from which we can learn. No politics."
These rules/norms gave me a level of comfort in knowing that no one was going to laugh at my questions or scoff at an idea that I wanted to share. It was a safe space. We all wanted to support each other, and we all wanted watch each other grow in our beloved profession.
And because of this, I found a sort of “mentor”. Stephanie is a member in my General Music Teachers group. Despite our distance (she’s in New York), she finds the time to share her wisdom. Interestingly, she calls it “nerding out.” I can ask her a question about a pitch sequence and she comes back with a Kodaly resource. We go back and forth about our approach to teaching recorders and her experience with a ukulele club. Now I, too, want to start a ukulele club next year!
My other groups have also been a successful space for networking and learning. My experience has been nothing but positive. People are genuine and they truly want to help. The idea of posting in these spaces isn’t so daunting after all.
And so I’ve learned so much about taking the plunge and making the effort to build my community. It really IS worth all the effort. At the end, we just want to root for each other and watch each other grow.