Finding Kindred Spirits

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 Communities of Practiceneeds, 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.Systems of Influence 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?

Words that make me ….

Have you ever noticed how certain words elicit feelings in you? Have you ever tried to find a theme?

I’ve been paying attention to how I respond to words. Wisdom, reflection, curiosity, peace,  joy. These are words that make me sigh, breath deeply, and feel calm.

Reform, rank, sort, organize, smart, sports, mark, perform. These are words that make me uncomfortable, quiet, and almost give me a headache.

Just wondering these days if our attraction to words is a way to determine who we are and what we want to do in life.
What words are you drawn to? What themes do you see?

“Words are the voice of the heart.” Confucius

Myths: Can we move forward?

L&S Rules for Students 3photo © 2009 Michael Stout | more info (via: Wylio)I’ll have to give @pcwoessner credit for sending me to Allison Zmuda. I was not familiar with her work, but her latest book is something I wish I’d had in the classroom.

Breaking Free from Myths About Teaching and Learning takes her research from 2008, using her format of essential questions, to make us think about this:

Is fundamental change possible given the myths our culture holds related to schooling?

I like the way she thinks.

In this article (I haven’t gotten my hands on her book yet), Zmuda lists the myths and expounds upon them:

Myth #1: The rules of this classroom and subject area are determined by each teacher.

Myth #2: What the teacher wants me to say is more important than what I want to say.

Myth #3: The point of an assignment is to get it done so that it’s off the to-do list.

Myth #4: If I make a mistake, my job is only to replace it with the right answer.

Myth #5: I feel proud of myself only if I receive a good grade.

Myth #6: Speed is synonymous with intelligence.

Myth #7: If I get too far behind, I will never catch up.

Myth #8: The way I want to be seen by my classmates affects the way I conduct myself as a learner.

Myth #9: What I’m learning in school doesn’t have much to do with my life, but it isn’t supposed to —it’s school.

Please visit her article for the discussion on each point. Her conclusion echoes Carol Dweck’s research,

The discussion of the nine myths above calls attention to those ways of thinking that may be familiar, but still jeopardize the power and joy of learning for teacher and student alike. Change your thinking; change your experience.

She encourages us to look beyond the myths, to “be free to imagine a better way.”

I think it’s a rather  hopeful way to start the year. Don’t you?

Give Yourself a Break

Egg brokenphoto © 2009 Fredrik Bølstad | more info (via: Wylio)
A member of one of our PLP cohorts laments the lack of time she has to participate fully in our discussions and projects. She struggles with hours of papers to grade, her volunteer work at church, and a three-year-old who demands her attention the moment she walks in the door after school.

My advice? Be kind to yourself.

Our participating teachers want to learn. They want to understand recent research and reports that indicate our need to embrace change and shift our thinking. They know schools and classrooms need to change.

But we can’t do it overnight, as much as some folks would like. I also believe our personalities, life issues, and even predisposition to control affect our how much time we are willing and able to devote to sharing online.

My advice, especially during this time of year, is be kind to yourself.

Start your day being in the moment. Be sure to breathe deeply and smile often. Do the best you can with what you have.

Also, consider this: giving yourself time to participate might seem selfish. But taking time to grow and learn might give you just the energy you need to keep going.

My advice? Don’t be so hard on yourself. Figure out what matters right now. And do it.

There is just one life for each of us:  our own.  ~Euripides