Activity One, Week 25, NZ Mind Lab, PRACTICE paper
I love the word community. It has such brilliant connotations. You only have to google its definition to discover the beauty of its implications.
I once did a paper at University called “Community Theatre”. We had to engage with a community in the area and create a piece of theatre around that community. I loved the idea that theatre has aspects that allow for social change and engagement with real people. My husband worked with Te Rakau – a community-based theatre group that creates “socially significant theatre works which resonate culturally, therapeutically, and artistically for audience members and participants alike” (quote from the website).
Their name resonates with me in terms of the question of what a community of practice is. It was gifted to them by Ngati Toa iwi and means: “The blossoming fruit tree of our sacred grove.” I made a connection between this and what resonated with me in the video from Knox (2009). He compared communities of practice to the tending of a garden, where you foster it’s development, rather than forcing its creation. If we use this analogy, then the “blossoming fruit tree” is the shared practice or repertoire and the “sacred grove” is the domain or community itself (Wenger, 2000). A beautiful name.
I have attached Knox’s video here. It is a little long to watch, but the part I am referring to comes up at 2:30 if you are interested.
What I also love about communities, and particularly communities of practice, is their tendency to develop quite organically. If you sew the seeds of one it will often develop, but you can’t force one into being. It is the shared need and the development of mutual respect and relationships that make them strong.
In actual fact, I have first-hand experience with this. At a previous school, I set up a Google+ community to share interesting ideas or articles relevant to teaching and learning. In six months I remained the sole poster, with only two or three other teachers ever commenting on posts. This is not to criticise that school or those teachers, it is possible that that was not a need at the time, or it was not the right mode at the time. It may have developed further as relationships built.
As with all things educational (in my humble opinion that is), it is the relationships that are key in communities of practice. Wenger (2000) talks of mutual engagement by participants and that through interactions they become trusted partners. I liken this to finding your “tribe”. This image from Sylvia Duckworth sums that up well. (follow this link to get a better view of this great graphic)
So what is/are my Communities of Practice? Well, on reflection, I believe I have several quite active Communities of Practice. Two that I find very helpful in my professional practice are the #BFC630NZ whanau and the #NZReadaloud crew.
I have written about #BFC630NZ previously for the WellyEd blog here. Our shared domain of interest is teaching and learning in a New Zealand context. Our regular group of contributors is, I believe, particularly interested in modern learning pedagogy, the integration of technologies, and changes in education. We “meet” every weekday morning (6:30am, hence the name) during term time on twitter to chat one question. It inspires and invigorates us for the rest of our day. We are supportive of each other during the chats, but also beyond them. I know that I can rely on those #BFC630NZ folk to answer questions I put out, challenge my thinking in respectful ways, and to be supportive of anything I am doing in my professional (and also personal!) life. Ideas are shared, and often resources too. I am an active and frequent participant in this COP and occasionally have taken the lead with discussions. I feel like we in this group are “extended colleagues”.
The #NZReadaloud has become an old friend to me, as have many of its participants as well. You can find out more about it at this website: #NZReadaloud. Basically, it is a literacy programme that enables teachers and students to connect with others across New Zealand around a shared text. I have been a participant since Term 2, 2015, and it has changed my literacy teaching practice substantially. For the better, I might add. Our joint-enterprise is the Read Aloud, which runs Term 1 -3 and our shared domain of interest connected literacy – literacy beyond the boundaries of our own classroom walls. We engage online regularly via twitter and facebook, as well as in groups on Edmodo during the Read Aloud. There is a core group of people who are passionate about promoting the Read Aloud and getting it out to more and more NZ students. I believe it is the connections between students and the engagement with literacy in students that is what we produce. It also empowers teachers to change their teaching practice and to collaborate with others. I have lead many groups for the #NZReadaloud and am a passionate advocate for the initiative. I contribute as much as I can to ensure its success.
And, there you have it! Those are my top Communities of Practice. Both were things I stumbled upon by chance but are now integral parts of my professional network. Both adding to my reasoning for loving the word community.
Knox, B.(2009, December 4). Cultivating Communities of Practice: Making Them Grow.. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhMPRZnRFkk
Wenger, E.(2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems.Organization,7(2), 225-246 (Available in Unitec Library).
Oh, and here’s another reason to love it, the hilarious television programme, Community. This clip also shows an important element of Communities or Practice – learning people’s names!