Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner defines a community of practice as follows.
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.1
My communities of practice
In light of the definition above and the diversity of my role (see below), it implies that I am part of three communities of practice.
- Using technology: This group shares a concern for the pedagofically-sound use of technology in teaching and learning. Members include all staff who interact with students in a teaching and learning capacity at school.
- Teaching technology: This group shares a concern for teaching and learning in the “technology” learning area. Presently, members include staff members who teach technology at our school as well as members of the “Computer Science Field Guide Teachers’ Group” that I belong to.
- Teaching Christian Living: This group shares a concern for “health and physical education”, specifically focusing on Christian Living (an important component of our special character). Members include all staff members who teach Christian Living at our school.
My interaction with my communities of practice are greatly influenced by the the core values of my profession.
The core values of my profession
In New Zealand, the core values of my profession are best described by the four fundamental principles in the “Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers”3, i.e.
- Autonomy to treat people with rights that are to be honoured and defended
- Justice to share power and prevent the abuse of power
- Responsible care to do good and minimise harm to others
- Truth to be honest with others and self.
Our school’s special character makes an additional contribution to these core values with, what we call, the ARISE framework4, i.e.
- Achievement – I will achieve my best
- Responsibility – I will be responsible
- Inspiration – I will be an inspired thinker
- Skills – I will use my skills to serve
- Elim Special Character – I will be an example of Christ
One of the fundamental principles of the Christian worldview is to “love your neighbour as yourself”5 and love is described in the Scriptures as follows:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
As a teacher at Elim Christian College I aim to treat staff, students and their whãnau from this point of view since it upholds the principles of the Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers. Over the years it has developed in me the willingness to be open to criticism and to give the members of the school community permission to disagree with me. I have found that in most relationships where I treat the other person with honour and respect, the honour and respect are returned as the relationship develops.
This approach to relationships does require a level of transparency and vulnerability that has left me a little shaken at times, especially in highly confrontational situations. I have learned not to take criticism (whether it is positive or negative) personal but to reflect on whether it is reasonable or not.
Lastly, “love” (as it is defined above) inspires me to create an educational experience for my students that will motivate them to be lifelong learners who will be responsible agents of justice that make positive contributions to humanity’s interaction with each other and the environment.
It may be helpful to briefly discuss my specialist area of practice and how its function and purpose impact my communities of practice.
My specialist area of practice and its function and purpose
Elim Christian College is a state-integrated school with a designated special character. My role has two distinct functions, i.e. working with teachers on expanding their “technological knowledge” as defined by the TPACK model2, and teaching year 5 to 8 and year 11 to 13 students in the “technology” learning area and year 12 students in the “health and physical education” learning area.
I have had a keen interest in the interaction of teaching, learning and digital technology for years. I have spent most of teaching career in international school education. International schools and their stakeholders tend to use digital technology for two reasons, i.e. to keep in touch with family and friends and to increase access to teaching and learning resources (since the education system that the international school follows is often different to the education system of the host country). I have often found myself under-resourced but digital technology tools and resources on the Internet have enabled me to provide my students with a richer teaching and learning experience. As a consequence I have become the person staff members go to when they are looking for ideas on how to utilise digital technology in their teaching and learning.
Later in my career I have been trained as an online teacher and I have taught asynchronous online classes for a couple of years. This has enabled me to help teachers with the implementation of blended learning7 strategies, sometimes helpful in differentiating learning for students. I have run workshops on blended learning at a number of conferences (check the Conferences link in the navigation bar at the top of the page).
In a previous post I mentioned that the challenge with digital technology is that it is constantly changing, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do and you are never sure what exactly it is capable of. It is “neither neutral nor unbiased”2. Over the years I have become involved in leading this conversation as the members of my communities of practice and I try to consider how digital technology may enhance what we do. This has become my specialist area of practice.
It will be interesting to see where this journey leads in 2016. To lifelong learning and beyond!
References and notes:
1. Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses. Retrieved from http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/07-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf
2. Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.
3. Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers. Retrieved from http://educationcouncil.org.nz/content/code-of-ethics-certificated-teachers-0
4. Elim Christian College Junior Campus. Retrieved from http://www.elim.school.nz/about-elim/junior-campus
5. Matthew 22:39, NIVUK. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A39&version=NIVUK
6. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NIVUK. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13%3A4-6&version=NIVUK
7. Blended Learning. Retrieved from http://www.christenseninstitute.org/key-concepts/blended-learning-2/
Photo credit: Bob Dass via Foter.com / CC BY