Cookies, crumbs, community

When I was in my PhD program, I had the opportunity to teach several courses at the UNC-Chapel Hill MSW program, as well as a course in their “triangle” MSW program (though they may call it something different now). One semester I was teaching a course that students typically dreaded (Research I) and I was talking with my dissertation advisor about it. Wise and wonderful in so many ways, she gave me great advice here as well, which was to find a way to build community in the classroom so that students had some connection with each other. I can’t remember what specific strategies I attempted, but her advice made a difference in the classroom each week, and I have since woven that idea of “building classroom community” into my overall pedagogy.

And yet….I think I have taken it for granted sometimes recently, especially post-2020, and have just assumed that of course I am building community. This week, in a class that only meets once a week, I had this sense of needing to do something intentionally for community connection. Because we only meet once a week, and because we have a lot of content to cover, I often feel pretty rushed in there. But this week I brought cookies and at the beginning of class I told them we were going to spend a few minutes just giving them time to connect with each other. I told them the only “rule” was that they had to get out of their seat for their visiting, and make an effort to talk to people that maybe they hadn’t connected with in awhile. I loved observing it (and being a part of some of their connections).

When I was ready for them I shared with them the Mary Oliver work “Don’t Hesitate” which is beautiful through and through, and which ends with the phrase “Joy is not made to be a crumb”.

When all was said and done, this only took about 20 minutes out of class, + the cost of cookies. When class was over, several said some version of “thank you for today” on the way out. It was a good reminder for me that while much of the time we build community and make connections with people during our usual work and routines, but that sometimes we have to be really intentional about it. Community, like joy, is not made to be a crumb.

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