Not A Clique — But a Cluster

I have spent the last few days reading through several ISTE 11 reflection posts.

Lee Kolbert:
Dean Shareski:
Angela Watson:
Tony Baldsaro:
Jessica V Allen:
Tracy Watanabe:

Plus many many more —

and I wandered through the FLICKR ISTE11 feed: and

And two commonalities came clearly into view:

1.  Everyone learned a great deal in MANY different ways.  Attending sessions was not the only place of learning at this conference.  Conversations were happening all over the place — some planned, some spontaneous, some in small groups, some in large, some structured, and some chaotic…..but learning was going on.  A LOT of learning!

But the second commonality is what this blog post is mostly about —

There have been several blog posts written about the “CLIQUES” of our community.  Snobbery has been mentioned, rudeness, shyness, closed, invitation only, etc.

I have to admit that I do enjoy seeing my “friends” at conferences.  Catching the eye of someone I respect and appreciate and giving a special “hey, we are friends” grin.  Eating a meal with someone I know both online and off and not only discussing education but also families and more.  Sitting in the front row, hearing the same session for the 5th time (or more) but being the “rah rah” and later the “reviewer” is important as well.

Clique is a harsh word — because it symbolizes an acceptance and also a “you do not belong”…and I do not believe that is the case in the Personal Learning Network I see.

I see us as clustering.

We travel in swarms or clusters from session to session.  Hearing people we have heard before, chatting with people we have chatted with before, dining with those we have dined before….and not dismissing anyone from joining in…..but not venturing out to invite others in either.

Look at the pictures and look at the reflections……and you will see we cluster.

If we honestly look at the (the group I consider) my EdTech PLN — at this past conference — even if 1,800 people congregated at the Blogger’s Cafe or Newbie’s Lounge — and gave it the stamp of “this is my watering hole — my safe place – where I am comfy — where I fit, etc” — that is only 10% of the entire conference.

Because we cluster — I believe we limit not only our influence but also the opportunity to be influenced by others.

There is 90% we are unaware of — who also might be unaware of us — that probably have ideas we should listen to, stories we can learn from, and situations we need to see.

As we continue to cluster……we start believing ourselves in what we believe to be true and sound and “The Only Way” – the RIGHT WAY perhaps.  Yet, when we venture out — hear other opinions — we are able to test our own ideas, share our own ideas, and learn from each others viewpoints.

I honestly don’t believe we are a clique……but I do believe we find comfort in the cluster.


Addendum:  Jon B has reminded me, via twitter, that my EdTechPLN might be different than yours.  This post is a reflection of what I saw displayed by those who I consider part of my PLN…an ever growing list of educators who I follow on blogs, twitter, in email, and meet at conferences.



  1. Ok, Jen, I’ve been reading these posts, too, and have tried to formulate a response to it all. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it here 🙂

    I was extremely excited about attending ISTE this year. Not only for the fantastic learning that I would encounter there, but to finally get to meet the educators that I watch and interact with sometimes on a daily basis.

    I took your advice and if I saw someone that I recognized, I went up and introduced myself and shook their hand. I agree that overall, this PLN of mine is a cluster of passionate educators that love to learn from one another. But, my human nature and insecurities I suppose, come into play when meeting these people face to face. I felt very accepted for the most part and comfortable with everyone that I met. But I can also relate to the comments that I have read about the cliques. I think that there may be a little bit of that, unfortunately. But again, I think that is human nature. We tend to make closer relationships with some than others. That’s fine, but at a conference of this size where many people are meeting for the first time, I think that some people can feel put off and excluded.

    Honestly, for me, it didn’t really bother me. If I got that feeling, I simply moved on. It’s very easy to feel like the “new kid” or the “unpopular kid”. My husband (who was just along for morale support) got frustrated with me. He said that I’m putting regular, everyday teachers on a pedestal and that we’re all the same and working in the trenches together. I guess there are some that I think of as exceptional because they share so much, but I have to take a step back and realize that we’re actually not that different at all.

    ISTE for me was an extremely positive experience overall. I met someone face to face from Twitter (finally) that I would consider a good friend. We went to lunch together on Tuesday and I loved getting to know her better. I also made other friendships with people that I didn’t even know on Twitter. These unexpected connections were wonderful and I’m sure will last a very long time.

    I think the idea of the clique comes in because we see some people on Twitter who have a very comfortable, everyday interaction and then seeing them at a conference always together in that same group, it’s very easy to feel like an outsider. I, for one, couldn’t care less if I’m part of the group as long as I can still benefit from their wisdom and learning from the outside 🙂

    I am thankful for people like you who I feel like truly reach out and make an effort to make everyone feel welcome and accepted. I think that’s YOUR human nature, but not necessarily everyone’s.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Hi Tamra
    Thanks for dropping by — and thank you for posting.
    I wished I had been at ISTE to say “HEY” and chat with you..

    I think your husband has a point when he says we “pedestal” people. I know I did — and sometimes still do — especially with those who I call the “KNOWNS”. The more vocal ones — the more visible ones….but I am realizing more and more — that visibility and vocalness does not always equal effectiveness and good ideas.

    And I — am really trying to level the playing field — as your husband suggests — TO remember we’re all the same and working in the trenches together.

    I am pleased that you had a good time at ISTE. Great group of people, great conversations…..and the more new voices we add…..the better it will become in the future.

    Thank you for dropping by.

  3. Jon Becker says:

    It’s not just that saying “*the* PLN” is nonsensical…” It’s also that *your* whole “EdTech PLN” was not at ISTE. That is, there were lots of people you know at ISTE and there were lots of people with whom you interact online at ISTE. But, “your PLN” (not the “whole thing” …whatever that is) was not at ISTE. I don’t want to sound all critical and professory, but, well, words matter. If you believe in this thing called a “PLN,” I believe the more precise you are about it, the more legitimacy the idea will take on.

  4. Hi Jen,

    I really like your perspective of it being a cluster rather than a clique. A clique has a negative connotation, and I didn’t notice anything negative. What I noticed was a group of people who were passionate about the same thing–learners.

    Not only was I new to going to ISTE, but I’ve only had my blog since October, and didn’t start looking at other blogs until closer to January. So, I consider myself a Newbie on all accounts… and felt welcomed wherever I was at ISTE and online.

    Thanks for putting a link to my reflection here on your post. To me, this is just another example of a cluster of people sharing with other clusters of people. =)

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

  5. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for stopping by. My blog is a reflection of my thoughts — and how I view MY PLN….and how I perceived the people from my PLN who were at ISTE.
    I truly appreciate that you push me to better my writing skills…and you did not sound critical and professory…but I am also not going to change my post. What I posted was my observation of the group I call part of my PLN which I followed — via tweets and posts and skype calls – at ISTE.

    Thank you —
    this post was not to be critical….in fact, I wanted to counter the thoughts regarding CLIQUE.
    And I sincerely believe the more we reach out — the more I reach out — the better we all will become.

    Thank you both for stopping by.
    I appreciate your thoughts and the conversation.

  6. Cliques are necessarily bad. I would suggest Jesus had one with 12 disciples.

    • Jennifer says:

      Ahhh WWJD? Good things to think.
      Perhaps Jesus did have what could have been perceived (from the outside) as a clique….though I prefer calling it a “cluster”. But it was not exclusive — others were welcomed in, invited in…some accepted (e.g: Mary, Martha, Lazarus) and some walked away (e.g: the Rich Young Ruler).
      I am taking 2 thoughts from your comment today –
      1. Personally, I do have a group I consider to be my “close cluster”.
      2. To practice Matthew 28:16-20 and go share with others and not just keep tight within the cluster might be something to consider.
      Thanks for stopping by Dean.
      I enjoyed where your comment took my thoughts.

  7. […] Cliques. Clusters. Cadres. Cohorts. Cavorting. Cackling. Keynotes. Abuse of alliteration. Cafes. Conversations. Contempt for Comic Sans. Connected Principals. Some sort of fancy dance. All of this and more, at ISTE 11! Many of the ISTE reflection posts have focused on the power of relationships, the importance of conversations, and the jr.-high-esque social mentalities that can ensue when you bring a whole bunch of people together. #sigh […]

  8. […] of the language that I used has at least been referenced out on the blogosphere a few times (here, here and here for example).  I want to clarify two […]

  9. I found myself connecting with people of all sorts at ISTE. Some were ones I assumed would be considered “big shots,” who took the time to talk to me in-depth. I was amazed at how non-cliquish it was. I was surprised by who knew me, who had read my blog and who wanted to engage in conversation. And this is coming from someone who rarely feels like an “insider.”

    However, if it felt cliquish to some, this is usually a sign that someone wants to connect. If they articulate a sense of loneliness, it might not be an attack. It might simply be that they want to be a part of something. They want to join the conversation. That’s not such a bad thing.

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