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Cultivating Communities of Practice

Today’s classrooms are more complex and dynamic than ever before. The social, emotional, and academic scope which children bring with them requires teachers to do more than take on “fragmented techniques for managing instruction, keeping students on-task, and handling student behavior” (Larrivee, 2000). It requires that we can move in many directions – that we can be organic – that we are able to modify the skills we know to fit specific contexts.

Being a reflective teacher moves us beyond a knowledge base of discrete skills. It moves us to a place where we have enough self efficacy to create personal solutions to problems. Critical reflection brings commonly held beliefs to question. Examining our core beliefs is a critical aspect of self-reflection (Larrivee, 2000). The inner struggle which results is a necessary and important stage.

Belonging to communities of practice is a human tradition. Sharing cultural practices and reflecting on collective learning is part of human history.  “Communities of Practice grow out of a convergent interplay of competence and experience that involves mutual engagement”  (Wenger, 2000).

keepcalm

One community of practice I belong to is #BFC630NZ – in fact I am one of the founders of this community. The seed was sown for this community at the start of 2015 and we have been cultivating it now for two years. I started this community of practice out of a need for professional dialogue around our craft of teaching and learning. I was not having the depth of conversation and critical thinking I needed to reflect deeply on my practice. After having been on Twitter for a year and having involved myself with the American #BFC530 I decided this morning spark chat idea was the way to go. I was helping to cultivate a global community of practice and decided this was something which I knew could work here in New Zealand. The rest is history!

However as Wenger (2000) shares, although communities of practice rely on internal leadership it also requires multiple forms of leadership – a community which builds other leaders; where leadership is distributed.

Our shared domain of interest is future focused  education.

try

#BFC630NZ is a 15 minute *spark chat* which happens every weekday morning during term time. We have a team of educators who host a morning every fortnight. The beauty of this community is there is no hierarchy. We have educators from ALL levels of the system and we are all there for the same purpose – to connect, share, and learn from each other to make our classrooms places our learners want to be. We have cultivated a community of trust, critical friendship, and support. We are the #BFC630NZ whanau!

wonderfulwkend

Every weekday morning our hosts will tweet out a question or a provocation or a sentence starter or a topic or an idea for us to comment on. FotoFriday has been a great addition as we can share visually about a topic. The repertoire of resources shared in a 15 minute time slot are always valuable. Resources range from stories of own experiences, links to readings or articles, suggestions of other educators to connect with, images or photos sharing practice, tools and digital platforms to try to name a few.

Having started #BFC630NZ and for a period of time hosting alternate mornings, it was soon very clear that this community would not be sustainable without the support of others. Two years on we have cultivated a supportive group of educators who meet every weekday morning during term time for 15 minutes. So although my role began as a leader I feel I am now part of a community of many leaders who openly share their journeys.

My sense of connectedness is such that it has become part of my routine and my PLN at #BFC630NZ are the first people I turn to when I need advice, conversation, answers to questions, ideas, or thoughts. There is mutual respect in our community and we all recognise each other’s expertise. We all feel safe here to critically discuss provocations.

risebyliftingothers

 

 

References

Larrivee, B. (2000).Transforming teaching practice: becoming the critically reflective teacher. Reflective Practice, 1(3), 293-307.

Wenger, E.(2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization,7(2), 225-246.

 

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4 thoughts on “Cultivating Communities of Practice

  1. Do you still feel that the teachers and your colleagues that are not apart of the #BFC630NZ or do not participate in it are still apart of your community? How do you ensure that all communities are given adequate support if you are focusing specifically on #BFC630NZ?

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    • Thanks for your questions. I am a bit confused with exactly what you are meaning but I hope my reply answers your questions.

      #BFC630NZ is ONE community of practice I belong to. It is a community which educators CHOOSE to be a part of. Those teachers or colleagues who are not part of this community have a choice not to be.

      I am a part of a number of (online) communities of practice but I am also part of the community of practice within my school; so colleagues who are not on twitter and who do not participate in #BFC630NZ connect with me face to face or via our Google+ community of practice.

      “Ensuring that all communities are given adequate support” – um – #BFC630NZ is a 15 minute spark chat each morning. Other communities I support at other times.

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  2. #BFC630NZ is more than a CoP, as it allows practitioners to know that they are not alone and it provides an energy boost for the day ahead. But as a CoP, it provides a level of reflection which Zeichner and Liston (1996) would term ‘review reflection’ given that teachers write about some element of their teaching. I recall discussions around well-being, marking, education-outside-the-classroom as well as questions such as ‘How do you let every student know they matter?’ and ‘Why teach resilience?’ With enough hosts to provoke discussions every weekday, you can tell it is successfully evolving.

    When I first discovered this CoP, I really appreciated Kerri’s comment relaying the informal nature of the CoP: “When you can, when you need.” This is in keeping with one of Wenger, McDermott and Snyder’s (2002) design principles for creating not only effective but self-sustaining CoPs because #BFC630NZ encourages and accepts different levels of participation. The ‘core’ are the hosts who take on leading roles and post the topics each day as well as participate regularly. Then there are those, like me, who have a vested interest in following the majority of the discussions and contributing (even if it’s as a scheduled tweet). The remaining participants are less active, awaiting a topic that engages them fully before participating.

    I agree that “we all recognise each other’s expertise.” Value is immediately attributed to views with either a reply, retweet or heart as per the conventions of Twitter. I benefit from a community which includes practitioners of all backgrounds from beginning teachers to experienced classroom teachers and deputy principals with unique personal experiences and competencies (sometimes restricted or triggered by the schools that they work in). I am afforded different perspectives.

    Thank you for helping to build my PLN and for illustrating how a distributed leadership operates.

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    • Appreciate your in-depth reply Karen. I think a really sustainable aspect of #BFC630NZ comes from the meaning in our slogan *when you can when you need*. It removes any pressure to be there all the time. In a way it allows for personalisation of this CoP as participants can be there when and if a topic of interest arises.

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