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Teaching at its heart, has traditionally been a task undertaken by an individual professional in front of a class of learners. This system of teaching enabled the education of a workforce that best fitted the routines established in the workhouses of the industrial revolution.

However, in the last decade, there have been major shifts within the profession. Suddenly, no man was an island, and collaboration and team development began to improve and re-shape the way education and teaching has been traditionally done. These changes are forcing educators to discover new identities and those identities have formed a ‘crucial aspect of learning in organisations’ (Know, 2009). This search for identity has lead to the formation of professional communities that rely on peer to peer interaction to change teaching and learning culture across the board.

The benefits of peer-to-peer collaboration cannot be understated. I am almost positive that I have yet to come up with an original thought in the classroom, but because I have surrounded myself with more intelligent and experimental peers, my classroom delivery has developed in leaps and bounds. Moreover, as competent as I think I have become, new experiences with peers serve to continually broaden my horizons. Etienne Wenger (Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, 2000) explains that we develop competencies within our own workplaces that often aren’t challenged until we experience something new elsewhere. Suddenly, this new exchange of ideas opens our eyes and we suddenly bring that newly discovered dynamic back to our original peer group.

In this manner, communities of practice, or more aptly, areas where I can steal great ideas from great teachers, have been a boon to my pedagogy. Cambridge, Kaplan and Suter (2005) acknowledge that community practice allows professionals to connect, interact, and share resources and pedagogical practice.  The aim of this blog is to address some of these communities within the context of my own specialist areas.

As the current Director of Religious Studies at a Catholic Girls’ College, I am responsible for the special character of my college and ensuring that the students are exposed to leadership opportunities throughout their time at school. As a member of the school’s senior leadership team, I am also responsible for providing input on the future direction of the school. These positions have enabled membership in a range of communities of practice:

The Religious Studies Teachers’ Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (RSTAANZ *cough, cough*)

Despite its ridiculous acronym (seriously, what is it with education and bad acronyms?), the RSTAANZ aims to provide a range of resources to directly aid and assist teachers of religious studies across denominations and across the country. While in its infancy, the site has already been successful in promoting a lot of discussion on twitter and has also linked me with other professionals throughout New Zealand.

The New Zealand Directors of Religious Studies

This organisation runs an annual conference that includes keynote speakers, workshops and best practice seminars. Being exclusively focused on the delivery of Religious Education means that the content of the conference is directly applicable to my classroom practice. The networking opportunities made available at this seminar are also invaluable to me.

The Catholic Education Office (CEO) 

Having recently expanded to create a specialist secondary advisor, the CEO has worked hard within Canterbury to run specialist workshops to aid professional development across the board. Meetings are regularly convened among the Catholic Community of Learning where participants hear and see a range of techniques implemented across the various Catholic schools, both primary and secondary. This has the benefit of creating an environment where educators are free to share ideas and demonstrate aspects of their teaching that they are particularly proud of. Developmentally, I have found this organisation extremely rewarding as it has enabled me to learn from professionals who have vast experience in their respective areas and I have implemented a range of their ideas and resources directly into my own practice.

The New Zealand Flipped Learning Community

Having recently undertaken a post-graduate course in applied practice, I joined the flipped learning community to continue to expand my ability to provide technology-assisted learning tasks. This community, though relatively small, is extremely welcoming and its members are quick to share resources and advice. It operates through a blog site, occasional meetings in Christchurch, and through twitter where links to resources are often shared.

RE CHAT NZ

The hashtag #rechatnz has been promoted on twitter to encourage online collaboration between religious studies teachers. The twitter site allows teachers to be reflective in a community environment where shallow 140 character thoughts can be picked up by other teachers who may link the original question or statement to articles that may be of assistance.

The Catholic Community of Learning, Christchurch

The COL schools were originally signposted in 2014 but didn’t come into effect until recently. The goals of the COL are to work among all the contributing Catholic schools to:

  • Focus on the principle of the Common Good for all students by creating conditions which allow every person to reach fulfillment – academically, socially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • Work in partnership with students, parents, whānau and Parish to achieve our vision.
  • Provide learning environments that engage students.
  • Be culturally responsive to our bi-cultural heritage and the ethnic diversity of our school communities.

Faculty and Staff

Lastly, within my own faculty I am blessed to have a Head of Faculty who is experimental and a highly skilled practitioner of Microsoft enabled technologies within the classroom. She is very open to experimentation and is happy for staff to make mistakes in their search for better classroom practice. Accompanying the HoF, are a range of staff who, while being very hard working and professional, are still yet to embrace student centred learning. With the introduction of extended learning times, these teachers have struggled to maintain their chalk and talk teaching styles and are in need of professional development in these areas. With a supportive HoF and a leadership team determined to bring the college into the 21st Century, it will be interesting to see how these staff members are managed going forward.

References:

Cambridge,  D.,  Kaplan,  S.  & Suter,  V.  (2005). Community of practice design guide: A step by Step Guide for designing & cultivating. Retrieved  from:  https://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/NLI0531.pdf

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

6 thoughts on “My Communities of Practice

  1. Thomas.
    I feel your community of learning is missing the main component… the students. You have mentioned many groups and organisations that you work with and I think that as your investigation widens (into activity 2 and 3) you will need to acknowledge the school community and wider community that the students come from. I see your role in your school community is of special significance and hope that your Mindlab studies and conversations continue to inspire those around you. Peace.

    • Thanks Stephen,

      Good point. My students are all female and are educated within the school’s Roman Catholic tradition. The students are high achieving, often competing on par in NCEA with fully private girl’s colleges. There is an expectation among the school community that the students work hard and succeed to a high standard. Of course, this places a large amount of stress on the students and the teachers involved in their education. We also cater to students with special learning needs and those students who struggle academically, often finding them appropriate pathways that are not part of the traditional academic mold.

  2. The flipped learning community sounds interesting Have you put the flipped learning into practice at all and how has it been received by the students? This is an area I want to develop but on the brief times I have set tasks they were not completed. Would joining such a community enable or support through these kind of issues?

    • One of the eye opening aspects of being involved in the Flipped Community was the realisation that the concept of flipping the class was not as much about getting the students to watch a video at home, and more about what was happening within the classroom. At its heart, a flipped environment is literally a move away from a teacher centred environment, to a classroom where the teacher facilitates learning around the students’ needs and requirements. In this way, you don’t have to rely on educational experiences outside the class, and you can tailor specific times within the class for basic comprehension activities.
      So yes, making inroads with the community was massively beneficial to my understanding of the flipped classroom.

    • It’s hard to say Chris, I can be quite stubborn and will push on with changes if I think they will be beneficial in much the same way as some staff refuse to change their pedagogical approaches. Having a future focused HoF does provide support in that I have somebody to chew tobacco with and bounce ideas off. I think that going forward, being able to work as a team will create a better approach to my classroom practice at a faster pace. Plus, I can appropriate all her fantastic IT platforms into my own lessons!

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