Friday, 13 May 2016

My community of practice

I've been absent from my blog since February, instead posting in Google + in the Mind Lab Ed community, as part of a postgraduate qualification.  From tonight I'm returning to my blog with a series of posts aligned to the paper:“Applied Practice in Context.” 

Image result for lone nut
Creative Commons Image

Etienne Wenger first coined the concept of “communities of practice”, which are defined as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion or about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interaction on an ongoing basis” 

(Wenger, McDermott et al; Snyder, 2002, p.4 cited in Mind Lab class notes, Applied Practice in Context: Week 25).

I'm Annemarie and for thirty three years I've been Mrs Hyde, by marriage and by professional choice in the schools where I have been employed.  Since 2004, I've chosen to be “mrshyde” or “@mrs_hyde” online, because that’s what my students know me by - as do the online community I affiliate to.

My professional community of practice is the community of teachers, but as Wenger says, we also belong to sub-communities, and I can think of a few: the learning community of my school, the local association of assistant and deputy principals, Connected Rotorua, the Twitterati of the #edchatnz community and since November, the cohort of educators who are working together in Mind Lab on the post graduate certificate course.

Schools are interesting places.  In fact, I've paused to ponder whether they fit Wenger’s definition. Yes, we meet on an ongoing basis, and yes we are getting better at interacting to improve pedagogy rather than just talking about who organised the buses for the field trip or whether the everyone is meeting their duty obligations.  And yes, I think we are moving towards having that shared concern or passion for the learning of our students.  But we can all think of individuals in our staff rooms who aren't in that conversation.  We discuss fixed and growth mindsets because we experience this duality in our associates all the time.

I have to say, it feels good to hear teachers talking about maths ideas that make a difference, or teachers meeting to help each other out on the first day of the holidays, or sharing Google doc ideas any time of day or night. (It wasn't always like that where I am.)

It’s that word passion that pings out of Wenger’s definition. And the interacting on an ongoing basis.  For me the community of practice that I primarily identify with are the folk I fondly call the Twitterati.  I've written a post about them before. Not located in a particular place or time zone, these are the educators who swim in the Twitter stream. What they have in common, besides an online presence, is a deep concern and passion about education, which they discuss together on an ongoing basis, in formally organised chats or casually and ubiquitously as issues arise. It surprises me how much in common we have. For the most part they are the early adopters, the enthusiasts and sadly, the lone nuts. Or were. I've seen change as schools embrace cloud learning an innovative learning practice. Ideas seen as crazy and too hard suddenly make sense.

Fascinated by the possibilities of new technologies and how they could change my learning, I jumped into the stream at a conference in 2010, attracted by the back channel discussion about the ideas in the keynote.  I never looked back. I've met and associate with a large number of these edutweeps  nationally and internationally, because the learning and collegiality continues to meet my needs.  I think I've learned more from these people and their retweets than in any other forum.  I am a very active participant in the discussions, enjoying the debate and making long lasting connections.

Leadership fascinates me.  As a deputy principal I experience the dichotomy of leading and managing people everyday, and I constantly reflect on how to lead more effectively.  I share the concerns and ideas with other leaders in the local association and with those leaders I associate with in online forums, like #ldrchatnz tonight.  Leadership is about sharing a vision, and in this profession, it should be about improving the lot for learners.  Wenger talks about the necessity for communities of practice to engage, and to be able to imagine the place they want to be, in this case at a point where students - and teachers - are self regulated learners. I believe that the point of leadership is to facilitate this shared vision and create a desire to align practice so that the shared goal of student motivation and personal achievement is reached. I think too, that actually we all want to belong and feel part of a group with a common goal.

Wenger talks about organisations needing to design themselves as social learning systems.  It’s about building that mutuality of vision and the sense of belonging. No more lone nuts? Hmm, but maybe we need them...

Finlay, L. (2009) Reflecting on reflective practice. PBPL. Retrieved from

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