We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change. (Berkana, Wheatley & Frieze)
In my work with PLP (Powerful Learning Practice), I find this thought resonates with me time and again. I find support in The Berkana Institute ‘s mission: Whatever the problem, community is the answer.
I’ve known this for a long time. Years ago, a colleague and I started a group at school called “Faculty Club.” We knew the idea of community would be the answer to some of our issues at school. At that time, I hadn’t done much research about community; it was more of a gut feeling. (I do tend to listen to my gut.) Without too much preparation, we began meeting with like-minded teachers from school–at lunch, after school, during breaks–to talk about and reflect upon our teaching and learning. We learned from one another, both experienced and novice teachers, in many ways. This valuable experience has helped shaped me as a teacher and community leader.
We can’t learn in isolation. The connections we create help strengthen us and give us power to do the work in schools we need to do. Systemic change happens in stages, according to Berkana.
Stage One: Networks. We live in a time when coalitions, alliances and networks are forming as the means to create societal change. There are ever more networks and now, networks of networks. These networks are essential for people finding likeminded others, the first stage in the lifecycle of emergence. It’s important to note that networks are only the beginning. They are based on self-interest–people usually network together for their own benefit and to develop their own work. Networks tend to have fluid membership; people move in and out of them based on how much they personally benefit from participating.
Stage Two: Communities of Practice. Networks make it possible for people to find others engaged in similar work. The second stage of emergence is the development of communities of practice (CoPs). Many such smaller, individuated communities can spring from a robust network. CoPs are also self-organized. People share a common work and realize there is great benefit to being in relationship. They use this community to share what they know, to support one another, and to intentionally create new knowledge for their field of practice. These CoPs differ from networks in significant ways. They are communities, which means that people make a commitment to be there for each other; they participate not only for their own needs, but to serve the needs of others.
In a community of practice, the focus extends beyond the needs of the group. There is an intentional commitment to advance the field of practice, and to share those discoveries with a wider audience. They make their resources and knowledge available to anyone, especially those doing related work.
The speed with which people learn and grow in a community of practice is noteworthy. Good ideas move rapidly amongst members. New knowledge and practices are implemented quickly. The speed at which knowledge development and exchange happens is crucial, because local regions and the world need this knowledge and wisdom now.
Stage Three: Systems of Influence. The third stage in emergence can never be predicted. It is the sudden appearance of a system that has real power and influence. Pioneering efforts that hovered at the periphery suddenly become the norm. The practices developed by courageous communities become the accepted standard. People no longer hesitate about adopting these approaches and methods and they learn them easily. Policy and funding debates now include the perspectives and experiences of these pioneers. They become leaders in the field and are acknowledged as the wisdom keepers for their particular issue. And critics who said it could never be done suddenly become chief supporters (often saying they knew it all along.)
Will you be a pioneer? Will you be courageous? Will you be intentional in your approach to teaching and learning?