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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Defining Practice





Thinking about my practice as an educator, and defining it, is an interesting thing to reflect upon.   I thought it would be easy, after all, I should know what it is, because I ‘do it’ everyday, sometimes 24/7 according to those close to me!   

On the surface, I am a leader, a teacher, and an educator.  

Scratch that surface and it is a little more complex.   

Communities of Practice 

To understand my practice, it is helpful to place it within the context of a community of practice  (Wenger & Trayner-Wenger, 2015).  In my case, I belong to a number of communities of practice, both within my school and through my professional networks.  The focus of this post, is my practice as it relates to what I do within my school.  

Within my own school, teaching and learning is our key area of focus.  It is what brings our community together and it is what drives us forward as we 'engage in a process of collective learning'.  There are three key characteristics a community of practice must have (a domain, the actual community and the practice) and these characteristics are helpful in defining and understanding what my own practice is within my school.  

The Domain 

The domain is the collegial network in our school - our teachers and our support staff.  As the leader, my practice involves navigating the collective commitment we have to our school community, supporting and growing staff, developing leaders and ensuring our capabilities and capacities are focussed on ongoing improvement in teaching and learning.  It is not something I do on my own, but as part of a team, and together we have a shared interest and vision in ensuring the best outcomes for our students.  The domain is what we are about as a community.

The Community 

In our pursuit to work towards our shared vision, we create our community.  Our commitment to improve outcomes for our students brings us together.  My practice within our community is about ensuring our team has the tools, time, resources, support, professional development and opportunities that allow them to grow and improve.  Within our bigger community we have smaller communities of practice, where our teachers and support staff come together to collaborate and improve their own practice.  In essence, it is a collective efficacy that brings our community together.  The community is the way we function as a group. 

The Practice

This is our actual practice as educators.  It is not merely our shared vision but our actual abilities to bring about the improvement in student outcomes through our skills, techniques and professional practice.  In this aspect, my practice is to enhance the professional capabilities and capacity across our school by supporting and developing its practitioners.  It is a process that is strategic, and when collaborative, grows us all to be a stronger professional group.  Our practice is the capabilities that we hone and refine over time.  

Wenger & Trayner-Wenger (who define themselves as pioneers in social learning) point out that what makes a community, a community of practice, is the cultivation and development of the characteristics above.  As a school leader, my practice is crucial in ensuring our community of practice continues to grow and thrive.  A key aspect of this is my role as coach.  Introducing educational coaching into our school has been a process that has been able to tie in all the three aspects outlined above in an authentic, solutions focused way that is owned by the staff.  Another critical role that coaching plays in bringing together the three elements of our community, is how effective it is at fostering a reflective culture of self improvement.  Educational coaching is a powerful tool that assists our community to engage in reflective practice, and that includes me.

Why Reflect on Practice?  


I like to think I am a fairly reflective practitioner with a number of reflective outlets I access on a regular basis – some formal (such as my critical friend, coaching, and my appraisal process) and some not so formal (such as my blog, and my collegial catch ups). 

I am a regular blogger (well usually when not preoccupied with important postgraduate study tasks!), and I use this format to consolidate my thinking.  In many respects, it serves to keep my brain from keeping me awake all night with the ‘what ifs’, ‘if onlys’, ‘I wonder what would have happened ifs’  and 'did I really do thats'.  All scenarios from a busy day in the life of a leader, scenarios that like to be rehashed at 2am in the morning when I should be asleep!   In terms of blogging as a reflective practice, I am reluctant to say that it follows any particular model.  Perhaps, if I was to align it to fit a process, it would be part iterative model (Rolfe) with touches of the vertical model (Mezirow).  

However, sometimes my blog is not the best place to articulate my wonderings, given its open nature.   For the more private reflections that require a trusted, and impartial collegial sounding board, I meet up with another leader or educator within my professional network outside the school, and together we look at what the current reality of the situation is, what influences are impacting on the situation, what possible responses might be applicable, pathways forward, and any areas that may be problematic.  For this, it is more closely aligned to a coaching model.  It is not coaching as such, but it does have elements of coaching (in particular looking at the current reality vs desired new reality).   

It is in this respect that you can see how using coaching to reflect on practice within our community is a powerful tool that can be both formal and informal.  

It has been an interesting exercise to look at my practice from the lens of the communities of practice model.  It has helped to consolidate my thinking about the value of coaching as a tool to navigate the domain, community and practice, and helped me look at the many roles I 'pratice' in a new light.  

For me, leadership is very much like holding many balloons.  It is colourful, uplifting, and if you are not careful you could easily be carried away by the sheer overwhelmingness (it is a word - I checked) of it all.  Here perhaps, is where reflective practice really comes into its own because being reflective helps you put things into perspective, review what you do, and find pathways forward when the path seems blocked.  

Finally, to reflect or not to reflect - that is your question! 

References: 

Wenger, E., & Trayner-Wenger, B. (2015). Communities of practice: a brief introduction. April 2015, 1–8. http://doi.org/10.2277/0521663636

Dawson, P. Reflective Practice. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1aYWbLj0U8


8 comments:

  1. Hi. Enjoyed reading your blog. You explained reflective practice and your community involvement very well.

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  2. Thanks Stephanie. I agree about the blog not always being appropriate for reflection. I always need to reread my posts to make sure I'm not unknowingly hurting someone - or myself. So often what we do is about the relationships we have with other people in our communities of practice.

    I like the analogy of coloured balloons. So often I use the one of being the person at the circus who keeps the plates spinning. Not quite as uplifting as yours and usually there is broken crockery at the end.

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  3. I think the issue with writing about leadership is that, often, we are unable to share the burden of some of the things we deal with because they are quite personal and as you have rightly stated, could be hurtful. I think there is also the shame we feel when things do not go as well as we would like. I was talking about this with some colleagues the other day, and the irony is that we basically all said that one of the reasons we are anxious to talk about some of the heavy load we shoulder is because we don't think anyone else would have that kind of issue (you know the ones) and we think the principal down the road would think less of us if we shared because 'they always seem to have it together' and 'I bet they have never had a situation like this before'. Unfortunately, chances are, they have experienced the same things. A good reflective process helps put things into perspective, because without it, leadership is lonely. I have blogged about leadership loneliness before in an effort to articulate what my thinking is on it and ways to overcome that feeling of isolation.
    https://fourseasonsinonekiwi.blogspot.co.nz/2014/06/leadership-loneliness.html
    As for spinning of plates - I can very much relate!! I can also relate to the circus - but I am getting much better at making sure other peoples circus clowns and monkeys do not come to cause havoc in my circus!!

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  4. Kia ora Stephanie, I enjoyed reading your post and how you reflected on your CoP within your own school. One thing that is evident in your post is that you value your role of being a coach and realised the power it holds to assist your whole community to engage in reflective practice.

    I too think that coaching is a powerful tool and some of the key points I took away from a workshop I attended were:
    - Coaching is about transforming good intentions into great results, it is a significant conversation
    - It is a significant conversation to unlock a person's potential to maximise their performance
    - When a leader coaches a colleague, you encouraged them to be self-directed.
    - Good coaching leads to Actions, Clarity and Energy
    Therefore it is my perception that the impact of coaching should not be underestimated and as you've said it is effective at fostering a reflective culture of self improvement.

    Byron & Catherine Pulsifer said: "Coaching is an action, not a title and actions result in successes!" This [I think] is one thing we should always keep in mind.

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    1. Thank you Marnel, the ability of Coaching to assist teachers to reflect, personalize their pd/journey, and take responsibility for their growth has shown itself to an extraordinary and transformative tool. It is quite different to mentoring and you have outlined above some of the benefits well - particularly in terms of turning intentions into actions. I like how it promotes self responsibility and ownership - the power of a purposeful conversation! An added bonus is how the educators who are trained as coaches use it across their educational domains - in class, with other colleagues and during moments of reflective pondering!

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  5. Thanks Stephanie for the insight. I am interested to delve further into your blog to see how you use it for reflection. I am not yet at the point where I make my reflection public may be brave enough would be a better term to use. I like how you have a outside professional that you can turn to. As leaders I think we all need that level of support. You have lead me to think about who I could turn to a develop that kind of relationship with. Thank you

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    1. Kia ora Rochelle, it's really important we have a trusted professional to talk to, one we can bounce ideas off, and help lift the weight that rests on our shoulders! Even if the lessening is momentary. I have an active brain that likes to pester me with wonderings, and I love writing. It seemed smart to combine the two - if what I share in my blog is useful to others (I often post resources pertinent to leadership) then that is an added bonus.

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