Professional learning communities

I have the privilege in my work to be able to both facilitate and participate in a number of online communities of practice (CoP). It’s a great opportunity to learn from others as well as share my own experiences and what I have come across. Like many online communities, sometimes they seem to rocket along and at other times they appear to be rather quiet. This has got me thinking about the online communities I’m a part of and question what it is that brings people to them and engage in them.

I have been given the opportunity this year to undertake some research and have decided to focus it (broadly) on what fosters engagement or participation of educators in online communities of practice (particularly in the communities in which I facilitate). While still very much in the development phases, I would like to come away with a better understanding of where educators are accessing their professional learning from and why. It is also an opportunity for me to find out and hopefully trial different strategies to increase participation in the communities within which I facilitate.

I feel like my thoughts are still quite a jumble, which I think is okay at this stage. As I’m going through the process of thinking around why I want to undertake this research and just doing some general wondering around the topic, I’ve realised how the whole thing kind of aligns with the research I did for my MEd on online student engagement. While there are definitely differences (I’m working with adults rather than middle-school students; participation in the CoPs is completely voluntary), there are also similarities. For example, we still have those that are visibly active and those that are often called lurkers (I prefer the term ‘listener’ myself). We don’t know what impact is being had on those who don’t contribute but could still be reading/learning from the community. It’s also not clear how deep the engagement is going. For example, someone might be reading and commenting, but there is no impact back into their classroom. Understanding this could be useful in determining steps to encourage greater participation.

The expertise and knowledge held with an online CoP can be incredibly vast. Yet, it appears sometimes that we like to hold on to our own knowledge, or perhaps we don’t feel like what we have to share is worthwhile to others. Other times, looking at the various communities, it can appear like we’re just after a quick fix, or something to get us by, eg. “Does anyone have a resource/unit on…”. I’m not saying this is an issue. It is simply an observation. I’ve got quite a few other questions and thoughts at this stage as well, but won’t list them all here.

If you’ve read this far – well done on making it through my jumble of thoughts. Hopefully as the year progresses and I get further into my research things will start to become much clearer. I’m looking forward to developing a better understanding of what is going on in the online CoPs and further develop my facilitation skills as a result. I’ll try to remember to share my progress here as well.

Are we moving our students backwards?

My son’s kindergarten captures his learning through photos and stories on Storypark. A new story was published the other day about him publishing his first book. He drew pictures and told the story to the teacher. They then put a cover on the 7 pages and bound it with a binding machine. The teacher didn’t do it. My son did it. He learnt about the binding machine, how it worked and then he bound his story, guided by the teacher.

A few weeks ago he worked with his teacher to make a hat for kindy. I don’t know all the details, but he chose the fabric and helped the teacher operate the sewing machine to stitch it together.

He was given some responsibility in making his hat. He was given responsibility for putting his story book together. I also know that he gets to use a hammer and nails to build things. He gets to use scissors to cut things up. He’s 4.

When I was teaching in a face to face high school a few years ago, I was told that I need to store the exercise books of the Year 9 and 10 students. These are mostly 13-14 year olds. Has something happened between kindergarten and high school that has suddenly made these children less responsible? Or perhaps they are not actually less responsible? Could it just be a perception by some people? Do our students simply live up to the expectations we have of them? If we think they cannot be responsible for their own equipment, then perhaps they will stop being responsible.

I wonder if it’s the system? In kindergarten they are given some freedom, choice and guidance. In school (not all schools/classrooms) they are taught. I don’t think this is happening as much any more (but I may be wrong) but I believe there was a stage where before you got to do any of the interesting stuff, you had to do things like copy the instructions off the board. Why? Did it really matter if the instructions were written in your neatest handwriting in your exercise book? Did it affect what they were supposed to be learning? Why don’t we let our students learn by doing without having the mundane stuff get in the way?

We need to give responsibility back to our students. We need to encourage them to think, to question, to use their brain! We need to encourage them to be creative and if they come up with ideas, try to help them to bring those ideas to life!

What do parents want their children to know when they leave school?

My wife and I have 5 children and I asked her this question late last night. Do you know what she didn’t say? She didn’t say, “I want them to know lots of stuff”.

Why am I telling you what she didn’t say? Because the ‘stuff’ is still what our curriculum seems to be full of. The ‘stuff’ is what I still feel like I need to get into my students’ heads so that they can achieve this standard or that standard. At the end of the day, in order for our students/children to succeed by gaining a qualification, they need to know ‘stuff’. Yes, I realise they need to be able to apply it in different situations, but ultimately, we as teachers have all these things we need to teach our students before they finish the year or sit the final assessment/examination.

So what did she say that she wants our children to know when they leave school? Here is some of what she (and I – since we happen to fortunately be in agreement on this!) said:

  • we want our children to be confident and competent in basic literacy and numeracy
  • we want our children to be able to think for themselves
  • we want them to be able to work successfully both independently and collaboratively
  • we want them to be able to communicate confidently, clearly and effectively (this could be orally, or by pen or technology – text message, IM, facebook or similar etc)
  • we want our children to know how to learn
  • we want our children to be critical thinkers and to be able to ask effective questions
  • we want them to know how to search for answers to their questions

There was probably more and if I’ve missed anything crucial my wife will add to this list I’m sure.

I guess, if I was going to put it in one sentence:

When our children leave school we want them to be prepared for their future, having the skills to survive and succeed, and knowing how to think and learn in order to overcome challenges that may come their way.
What do you think? If you have any views or opinions on this, it would be great to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.