Corresponding to connect a self-organising group

I have just received a letter. It is the third Friday letter from Abbotstown. I like to think of Abbotstown as a place in a James Joyce novel but it is a real place too, in Dublin.

The letter is written by Denise Martin and to my delight she has posted it on Rob Carroll’s website. Link.

In her letter, Denise discusses meeting a coach for the first time as an analyst.

The aim of the Friday letters from Abbotstown is to connect a self-organising group of performance analysts in Ireland. It is an idea I suggested at #abbotsthon17 and is inspired by three drivers.

The first is the joy of receiving a letter that is addressed to you personally. I am old enough to remember waiting on my doorstep for important letters in the mail. In my small town, the postmen and women knew when you were expecting an important letter or card. They delivered it to you personally and often left their normal route to make sure you had it before school. This was in the 1950s and I think everyone in the town was trying to recover from those dreadful moments in the Second World War when a telegram arrived with the worst news about a member of your family you could ever receive.

The second comes from a section of Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It is from a section written by Frank Miceli about a teacher he met and whose classroom he observed for five months. He wrote of his observations:

The instructor began a ‘writing’ phase of the program by asking the students to write him a letter dealing with any questions or problems or things they felt strongly about. He told them he would write a letter back to them.
The students did not know how to react to the teacher. One girl raised her hand and asked if the teacher would read the letters aloud in class. He said he would not, that the letters would be personal communications between them, and that he would respond not with short notes, but with detailed replies.
‘Would you tell us in your letter about things that bother you)’ asked one student. The teacher said he would: ‘However, I’ll only write what bothers me if you promise not to correct my spelling.’ The students laughed. ‘Besides, if I write and ask you something, if I have a question for you, will you respond with a letter to me?’ The class laughed again, even louder. They thought he was kidding. Students always think ‘real stuff’ is not serious.

Frank noted that in the letters exchanged between the teacher and each pupil there was a remarkable flourishing of all pupils’ compositions.

The third driver is a project at Stanford University called The Republic of Letters. I was fascinated by the way the project mapped correspondence between leading thinkers of the Enlightenment and was intrigued by Voltaire’s prolific letter writing. The project notes:

Before email, faculty meetings, international colloquia, and professional associations, the world of scholarship relied on its own networks: networks of correspondence that stretched across countries and continents; the social networks created by scientific academies; and the physical networks brought about by travel. These networks were the lifelines of learning, from the age of Erasmus to the age of Franklin. They facilitated the dissemination and the criticism of ideas, the spread of political news, as well as the circulation of people and objects.

These drivers give me the optimism to believe that in an electronic age, correspondence has an enormous role to play in connecting a self-organising community of practice.

I am looking forward to receiving the fourth Abbotstown letter.