Four years in
As I look forward
Realizing more fully the tensions, the dualities, the uncertainties, the dissonance, the nuances that accompany the privilege of leading an online community remain constant—
Following year 1, these words described my first experience as a community leader for Powerful Learning Practice:
“On the side, in the middle, questioning, nudging, modeling, holding back sitting on my hands”
“Where I once might have suggested or pushed in a conversation, now others begin to take that lead. As an almost out of body experience, I hear my voice slowly morphing from that of leader as trust builds and the voices of the community grow and mature.” --Powerful Learning PracticeThese tensions, this dissonance—only compel my own stretching, my moving out of my comfort zone as I find my way as a community leader. At this point, it's messy, it’s exhilarating, it’s formidable and it’s stupefying – 21st century learning at its best!!! Learning that brings new meaning to being open to new ideas, to flexibility, to being nimble— challenging and demanding.
As I find my way, seeking tone that is most welcoming, and yet again true, I find myself on the side in private emails and comments to walls on the NING encouraging those who continue to find this environment daunting.
… asking questions of clarification, hoping to push folk deeper in thinking or in considering an alternate perspective. Composing these questions—again with attention to tone –does not come easily-- wanting just the right words, just the right phrase, in my own voice—Most challenging – sensing the right time to be quiet at the computer, just sitting on my hands, letting go -- allowing members of the community the opportunity for their own personal messy learning. I often feel like I’m on a roller coaster as passioned conversations take off and then suddenly few voices are raised-- I’m confident with my choice to step back and then I’m questioning the appropriateness—
Those words, those phrases, those thoughts-- they continue today.
Two years in
Two years in
One year ago—passioned, savoring my journey as a PLP community leader— Feeling exhilarated, bungling, practiced, ineffectual, poised, uncertain And finally thinking I was on the cusp of moving beyond the tensions, the dualities I found inherent in the role of community leader—
One year later—perhaps a little wiser Just a touch more widely read—
Arrogant in suggesting a year ago that the “perhaps less need for me to make those difficult choices” as the community evolved-- of what, and when and how to nudge, to cajole and to be silent—
Finding that wayfinding, always is fraught with tensions and dualities – jumping in, sitting on my hands, nudging, holding back, encouraging—
Finding that wayfinding continues to invoke inexplicable, disparate feelings – joy, insecurity, fervor, doubt, excitement, indecision, zeal, awe —
Learning, forever learning-- reveling in the messiness, the tensions, and the day to day need for nuanced silence or responses—
Those words, those phrases, those feelings, those thoughts-- they continue today.
And 6 months later:
‘Any serious learning will take you through a dark night of your identity’.
–Etienne Wenger via Jenny Mackness
..my wayfinding has been fruitful, though often fraught with frustration over my perceived inadequacies as I seek to become more competent in supporting sociability and participation in a community. Always asking how can I better help to support and build a sense of community and social relationships and trust, how can I better encourage different levels of participation, and how can I better add value to the community on the side out of the middle, always as a co-learner --for that is how I presently view this role.
Much learned, and so much to yet to learn, from this place in which I now find myself—
Helping build a sense of community
Taking the recommendation of Cothrel & Williams (1999) to heart --that community building is the key to success and developing a sense of community for its members is essential to achieve a high level of participation..
Helping to build social relationships and trust
With the building of relationships, collegiality and trust, members begin to feel a sense of community and with that arises sharing and learning from each other. Nichani & Hung (2002) point out that:
“trust is the glue that binds the members of a community to act in sharing and adapting manner. Without trust, members would hoard their knowledge and experience and would not go through the trouble of sharing with or learning from others”
In my desire to build trust, I’ve used member’s names, met virtually with teams, responded with affirmations and positive statements, attempted to be sure that every member received a response in a timely manner, pointed to responses that evidenced competence, and co created content with digital stories as we became acquainted with each other for I’ve learned that in communities that are perceived as friendly, honest, reliable and competent, members are more willing to participate. (Sharratt & Usoro, 2003) Although my sense is that I’ve been somewhat successful, I believe there is a need for me to model more often and more fully competence through transparency and sharing, making myself more vulnerable to others in order to develop that kind of trust.
Knowing and understanding the normal three levels of participation in community (a small core leadership group of active participants, about 10-15% of the whole community; a small active group (15-20%) that attend regularly participate in community forums occasionally; and large proportions of members are peripheral and rarely participate) (Wenger & his colleagues, 2002) and confidently encouraging the participation of those on the periphery are two very different things. ... it has been argued that with diverse members in terms of knowledge and expertise, allowing novices to the practice to acquire expertise through legitimate peripheral participation is important, as early criticism can lead to inactive community members. (Lave & Wenger, 1998)
On another level, nurturing the growth of others to become leaders and then knowing when to step back and sit on my hands as they emerge to lead others has been a dimension that has been somewhat effective for me and an area I’ll continue to tweak and adjust with the dynamics of a particular community as guides.
Helping to add value
To encourage participation, potential members have to be convinced that it is worth participating in the CoP. (Sharratt & Usoro, 2003). …With my previously stated commitment to model and demonstrate more fully transparency in learning and sharing through blogging, tweeting and more widespread reading, I hope to feel more confident that I do add more value to the community and that that confidence may shine through in the sharing and be a factor in persuading others to also add value to our collective learning.
Cothrel, J. & Williams, R.L. (1999) On-line communities: helping them form and grow. Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol.3, No.1, pp 54-60.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity: Cambridge University Press.
A bit more confident--
Nevertheless continuing to sense the tensions, the nuances, the extreme care needed for the emergence and growth of a real community--
Realizing even more fully (did I think that was possible?) how leading a community is an art--
In the building of relationships, in the right and powerful questions, in the appreciative inquiry, in the capacity building, in the value adding--
And yet learning more and eagerly anticipating the next opportunity to grow and learn more, to focus on what I've come to know--
I know now that it is when everyone is sharing and everyone is deciding where and what they will read, do, or reflect upon-- that is when the real action and learning takes place. I want to model myself out of a job and make things easy for natural leaders to emerge.
I want to focus on keeping the community together. I need to recognize more fully the community’s need for balance; need for change and a need for stability. Too much newness, and there is a danger of the community losing its sense of identity; too much stability can lead to a loss of intensity and vitality. I'm thinking obtaining more feedback from all members can be helpful in guiding the community. I need to be more open, willing to consider new thinking, to help the community continue to evolve and thrive (Stuckey & Smith, 2004). I need to focus more on nurturing new leadership (Lai et al., 2006). I need to reach out to core members to lead an activity; create occasions that by their organic nature leave opportunities for leaders to emerge. As well, I should be engaging in ongoing efforts to build community especially focusing on social interactions, deepening and extending collegial relationships. As important, if not more, should be my continuous nurturing of and creating conditions in which trust develops -- the trust that comes to underlie collegial relationships where risk taking and stretching are the norm (Rasberry & Mahajan, 2008).
I've come to know that wayfinding as a community leader:
is always fraught with tensions and dualities – jumping in, sitting on my hands, nudging, holding back, encouraging —
will evoke inexplicable, disparate feelings – joy, insecurity, fervor, doubt, excitement, indecision, zeal, awe —
is learning, forever learning-- reveling in the messiness, the tensions, and the day to day need for nuanced silence and responses —
Image: 'London Loop or Beeches Way'