I have been reflecting this morning on community and its place in my life and learning.
Communal Living and Community
"Utopian thought, as the basis of communal ideology, idealizes social unity and maintains that humanness exists only in intimate and collective life" (Kanter, 1972, p.32). While on the Farm, my thoughts on justice, sincerity, honesty, and humanity really started to take shape.The foundation was laid to rethink the status quo, respectfully question authority, and always stand up against unjust acts towards marginalized populations. The desire to become a voice for the voiceless was birthed.
It reminds me of Tennyson's poem Ulysses:
I continue to be molded and shaped by the relationships I form around the world .
Community of Practice
What I observed in terms of community in our large school district was what Richard Elmore (2002) describes as a buffer- a protective barrier that discourages and even punishes close, constructive scrutiny of instruction and the supervision of instruction. Its primary effect is to protect these two—the heart of schooling—“from outside inspection, interference, or disruption” (p. 6).
The buffer prevents true communities of practice from developing and from teachers and educational leaders being able to learn more about what is working within the classroom. It prevents teachers from knowing what or how well they or their colleagues (both local and global) teach. It deprives us all of any meaningful frame of reference and discourages us from learning from each other.
I remember my mentor Greg Anderson, who served as the principal of my school, warning me that I was using technology as a rebel would. That our district used a culture of equity- all schools were equally as good as the other- even if that perceived equity meant schools simply met and perpetuated the status quo. Greg, in spirit, supported my change efforts (when he felt they were in the best interest of children) although he didn't want a "loose cannon" causing him to lose his job in the process.
I pushed the teachers at my school to see technology as a communication and collaboration tool. As a way to connect with others and remove the barriers of isolation the four walls of the classroom created. I wanted technology to provide transparency, the same transparency I had experienced on the Farm and in my small school and in the Christian community. I wanted technology to help students and teachers connect with others around the world in an effort to make lasting change in the way we live and learn in schools.
Judith Little (1993) has often talked about the private, protected world of teaching:
She and others see this approach of non-interference, privacy, and harmony as part of the problem in that it prevents us from getting to the root of what needs to change in schools. This culture of privacy and non-interference is fertile soil for maintaining status quo. However, she goes on to say,
It was this kind of community, this kind of meaningful dialog I so fervently wanted to see happen. I wanted to break through the buffer so that collectively teachers could see the status quo for what it was and through the collective wisdom and strong relationships within the community, make a courageous commitment to challenge and change the status quo.
Teacher Leadership and Community
Bielaczyc & Collins (1999) describe a community of practice as:
The defining quality of a learning community is that there is a culture of learning, in which everyone is involved in a collective effort of understanding. There are four characteristics that such a culture must have: (1) diversity of expertise among its members, who are valued for their contributions and given support to develop, (2) a shared objective of continually advancing the collective knowledge and skills, (3) an emphasis on learning and how to learn, and (4) mechanisms for sharing what is learned. If a learning community is presented with a problem, then the learning community can bring its collective knowledge to bear on the problem. It is not necessary that each member assimilate everything the community knows, but each should know who within the community has relevant expertise to address any problem.
This is a radical departure from the traditional view of schooling, with its emphasis on individual knowledge and performance, and the expectation that students/teachers will acquire the same body of knowledge at the same time. Yet this is the model that not only provides systemic change, but holds the potential for a change initiative to push beyond the incremental culture of change expected in schools to one of exponential reform that produces results now- so that our kids get what they need now, not after they graduate or from their own efforts.
21st Century Community
Building Community Online
Hall and Hord (1987) emphasized, organizations do not change - individuals do. However, it is through the relationships that learning occurs. McDermott (in Murphy 1999, p.17) describes it this way:
According to Wenger (1998) not all communities are communities of practice. Three characteristics must be in place: 1) a common commitment to the same sphere of influence (you couldn’t be in someone's community and not know it 2) community- members are engaged in activity and discussions; they help one another, and share information. 3) active practice- members are not just united by interests but by practice.
Is Twitter a Community?
According to George Seimens, the principles of connectivism are:
Virtual Learning Communities
A burgeoning body of opinion and research suggests that virtual learning communities are becoming the venue through which agents for change operate (Palloff & Pratt, 1999: Johnson, 2001; Barab & Duffy, 1998; Dede, 2003). The potential is enormous, as knowledge capital is collected and the community becomes a sort of an online brain trust, representing a highly varied accumulation of expertise.
According to Dede (2003) the most important challenge for educational leaders today is fostering 21 st Century skills and knowledge in today's students so they will be prepared to participate in our global economy. This challenge requires that teachers understand what types of knowledge and skills are required in leading edge workplaces and future careers. Teachers will also need to become adept at higher order cognitive, affective, and social skills such as systems thinking, creativity, and collaboration. This will require transformational strategies for developing deeper core content, new models of pedagogy, and development of personal learning networks (Dede, 1998).
Virtual learning communities are one
way to provide the intellectual, emotional, and social support needed for
teachers to unlearn and relearn contextually in an effort to bring about the
needed behavior changes necessary to make way for the next generation of
classroom practices (Dede, 1999).
It is with great excitement that I look to 2008 to see how my understanding of community will grow and the new directions I will take in my own personal learning and the relationships I will develop along the way.