Teachers are Community Managers

Sometimes, thinking outside the usual box lets you realize that your otherwise quite specialized training may have applications outside of your field.

Today’s example: teaching and community management.

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One job type I always end up looking at twice is community manager. I already blog a lot and write a ton of content as a self-employed writer. I love Twitter and Facebook and I do believe I understand how they work. My new friend Roch is a community manager himself, and I feel like I could be a great one, too. But without the communication or marketing degree, how do I show that I can do the job?

Yesterday, it hit me: teaching.

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School Desks

School Desks by DQMountaingirl on Flickr.

 

Teaching and content

The first thing you need in a good class is interesting content (or at least an interesting way of presenting boring content). Composition is especially challenging: universally hated by students and professors alike, “academic writing” courses always seems to be the one that students avoid taking until the very last minute. And don’t get me started about the remedial writing courses; it’s even worse.

Teachers have to develop original, engaging ways of presenting their material. We learn about learning styles to make sure that each student gets something that fits their way of engaging with the world. Not everyone engages through writing and reading; some need to listen, others to manipulate objects, and others to feel an emotional connection to the material.

Producing content follows the same principle: write for the readers, make podcasts and videos for the listeners, produce games for the manipulators and develop community ties for the emotional learner. A wide diversity of techniques ensures a wider audience.

Teaching and community building

It’s important to build a learning community that feels safe, especially in composition courses where people feel very protective or self-conscious about their writing. Students must feel like the teacher is on their side, not there to judge them but to help them along the way.

A safe community is one without sexism, racism, homophobia or classism. When such issues come up, teachers address them respectfully but swiftly; a good teacher never assumes that a racist or sexist comment was meant to hurt. Instead, as one of my teaching professor said, you “back out in theory”, you question the person and examine their assumptions without turning it into a personal attack.

Building an online community is also about building a safe space where people feel free to express their opinion without being judged. Users, customers and readers want to be heard and feel like they matter. This also means taking take of the trolls and other disruptors who might monopolize the conversation around useless things, but always with the utmost respect for the people with real grievances.

We all know how companies that have unilaterally deleted negative comments on Facebook, blogs and forums have received furious backlash from users and customers. By approaching these comments respectfully, like good teachers do, they would have avoided all of it. Good teachers, like good community managers, are honest and transparent and address issues when they come up.

Teaching, authority and participation

New models of teaching are centered less and less on authority and more and more on community. Yes, teachers know the subject matter, but students have opinions and knowledge that can enrich a classroom. Providing occasions for students to participate and teach each other is as valuable as the professor standing in front of the room and giving a lecture.

Community management also works on the same model: the manager (or company) isn’t omniscient. User feedback and crowdsourcing are amazing ways to involve people in your content or product. Give them an occasion to connect to each other, not only to you, and you’ll build a community with stronger ties and deeper involvement.

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Teachers are natural community managers–a rose by another name. Why do you think Raul Pacheco of Hummingbird604 has developed such an amazing community around his blog? Because he’s also an amazing teacher.

For the teachers: how do you feel your profession makes you understand community differently?
For the community managers: do you think that you could learn things from teachers?

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