23 November 2011

Grassroot Hubs

In September, when the new academic year was kicking off in many places around the world, I kept on reading in the blogosphere threads of frustration in regard to colleagues. These expressions of frustration reflected how challenging  it was to set up PD (professional development) sessions for teachers who were not using ICT/technology in their classrooms. At the same as I read these blogs, I too was initiating an internal network for colleagues at my own institution. 

Just as teachers create activities for new groups of students to know each other, these internal institutional communities need thoughtful considerations. 

Creating a strong class community, a class identity,  takes effort and needs to be done early in a course. Setting up a community for teachers requires the same amount of effort and dedication - if not more. 

One example for teachers within an institution to start an on-going community of professional development, is to create a group in a LMS (Learning Management System). These LMS-s are useful for both learners and teachers.

  For example, if you are using a system such as Edmodo, it is easy to create a group where teachers sign up. I would recommend that perhaps 1, 2 or 3 keener techie people take responsibility to organise PD sessions, keep posting interesting tools/platforms, news which may interest colleagues and any other piece of information which may be relevant and of interest to the community, in the group's stream. By giving examples, other group members are more easily encourage to participate too. 

Edmodo (for example) is very simple to navigate, almost resembling Facebook which makes learners and teachers take to it quite readily. Among other features, it is easy to create polls to encourage participation (e.g. when would colleagues have time to meet during the week, what tool would someone like to talk about/present, what ideas would someone like to share or even troubleshooting sessions).  I happen to use Edmodo as my LMS with students and colleagues, but there are other LMS to choose from. 

Nevertheless, there are other considerations to bear in mind. Teachers do have personal lives. Many have families themselves and there are only so many hours in a day. Professional development, developed by teachers for teachers, has to meet needs and understand teaching contexts - these vary tremendously. Because of the endless variations, often teachers are left puzzled or frustrated when trainers, who are not familiar with their teaching context, are flown in from abroad and proceed to tell them how to organise their classes and teaching approaches. Often there is no connection - let alone background knowledge of the cultural/social teaching context -  between the foreign trainer and the local context, leaving me to question the validity of these PD sessions. 

By encouraging a grassroot hub, a community of practice where teachers decide to share their practices, their questions, their problems among each other, seems to me, to be an excellent way to establish a more dynamic, on-going approach to professional development. Unlike PD courses or attending conferences,  this approach  is informal; teachers can attend when they have time and if not, also have the opportunity to have a space which is closed, protected and private; where they can ask for help, exchange ideas and professional information which is relevant to their context and shared with others in the same institution. 

As I look back now on this semester, one has also to bear in mind some other factors when encouraging the set up of a community:

1 - there will be times when teachers really do not have much spare time nor inclination for participating in PD (for example, when there are exams and an extra load of administrative work to carry out within tight deadlines);

2 - even if it may appear that some teachers are not that keen nor interested in developing their digital literacy skills, this is often a fallacy. In fact, they are when they feel a need or clearly see the benefits and how these ICT skills will add value to their teaching practices. 

3 - just because a teacher may not feel secure about using technology in the classroom, that does not mean that that particular individual does not have brilliant ideas to introduce - both in the group as well as when using a tool or platform. 

I am constantly surprised by the many talents my colleagues have and when given the opportunity, are willing to share with others.  These talents range from being able to recite poetry to musical and artistic talents. 

If this is not an inspiring, stimulating way to learn, to share and develop professionally, then what is?

If all fails, falls apart, there is always the magic button to press. 

How have you established communities of practice in your workplace recently?

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