Sunday, May 23, 2010


‘Any serious learning will take you through a dark night of your identity’.
–Etienne Wenger via Jenny Mackness

Well into my 6th decade and yet some of my most serious learning

Truly enjoying a second year in a role of community leader for PLP

Hoping to attain a greater sense of competency far sooner than occurred in my teaching practice

Realizing as Sheryl suggests that learning is not so much just doing but more reflecting transparently while doing, and thus this posting--

When the opportunity to act in the role of community leader with PLP opened, I welcomed the occasion to continue learning and the challenge of facilitating a diverse cohort of educators in a virtual learning community. My thought-- much of what I had learned in my many years as a classroom teacher and more recently in designing online PD for teachers, particularly my MOOM-ing experience, would translate easily into this role as well and be very helpful. While providing a sound foundation, what proved most valuable was my experience with full spectrum questioning from MOOM and the WRITE model (warm, responsive, inquisitive, tentative, and empathetic) for facilitation.

However, my understanding of learning in the social networking environment of PLP and my sophistication in applying my knowledge of concepts of community of practice was far from accomplished when I began. Thanks to the members of the Illinois-Ohio cohort, the Ohio Consortium, and the Elementary Virtual Institute of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Sheryl, Robin and Will, my wayfinding has been fruitful, though often fraught with frustration over my perceived inadequacies as I seek to become more competent in supporting socialibility 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—

That community, relationships and trust are essential to learning has long rung true to me and I always made a sincere effort to develop those in my classrooms. I treasure amazing and very special memories of students, events, and years in which we experienced incredible synergy and learning that arose from those relationships and trust that had developed. I’ve come to understand how much more critical these characteristics are to online communities.

Helping build a sense of community

Taking the recommendation of Cothrel and 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, I’ve worked hard to do that. I’m feeling some degree of confidence in building community through one-on-networking. My feeling is that one of my greatest strengths is the ability to allieve some of the fears of novice members and work with them to understand all levels of participation are welcome in the community, that they have something of value to add. In addition, although I make pretty extensive use of comments to member’s personal pages in the virtual learning community, as well as to videos and photos they publish. In addition, I try to increase the exposure of community members to each other with references to postings or comments by others. I need, with greater intention, to leave comments for all in the community in the initial stages of the cohort and over the course of time.

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 and 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 and 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. That willingness to be more vulnerable is not always easy for me-- I’ve long been a pretty private person and paradoxically a great sharer when approached—lots of life experiences reinforced those characteristics. However, to that end, I’m committed to reading more widely, blogging and reflecting more frequently and openly, and tweeting with more consistency and substance.

Helping to encourage different levels of participation.

Knowing when to invite folks in and how often has been an area that has challenged me. 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 and his colleagues, 2002) and confidently encouraging the participation of those on the periphery are two very different things. Lurking or legitimate peripheral participation has been the topic of member posts in the communities in which I’ve learned, and often there are members who want to push and do aggressively; I’d rather pull and invite, those lurking. I’ve been extremely gentle in these conversations and in the future will be a bit more assertive in sharing if the topic is raised early on now that I’ve learned that 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, 1991) I need to be more sensitive to content that will draw those on the periphery into the community.

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.

Lastly, with a deepened understanding of Tuckman’s stages of group development, I hope to develop a better sense of how to respond most appropriately to responses that clearly represent one stage in which a professional learning team may be operating. Sheryl’s modeling has been of such great value and I hope to be able to apply what I’ve learned from her more aptly.

Mentoring and offering assistance to the diverse membership of the communities has been an area of overall strength as I see it and has provided great joy to me as the community has flourished and learned together.

Helping to add value

To encourage participation, potential members have to be convinced that it is worth participating in the CoP. (Sharratt & Usoro, 2003). As evidenced by an evaluation, this is an area in which I am challenged. Although I believe that I have been particularly effective in helping members to clarify their thinking and deepen their understanding through good questions and very tentative “what if” scenarios, and I believe that has been instrumental to building collective knowledge, I realize that I’ve not been seen as one to add value. 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.

If that occurs, I hope that I might be more effective in encouraging more reflection in the community (I was totally unsuccessful in that area) and in sharing the potential I see in community for learning. Encouraging critical reflections at junctures of the journey through modeling may assist all of us in the community to take knowledge creation to the next level and demonstrate to members that despite how busy they may become, the virtual community of practice can lead to continued learning, collective action, and a sophisticated global practice. I am seriously considering how I can better do just that.

What has truly taken me through a dark night of my identity and continues to be more difficult for me is my nature to mull things over and my failure to become more comfortable in communicating without the customary visual and auditory cues afforded by face to face conversations.

I’m a “ponderer”; my brain doesn’t seem to be wired for quick immediate responses, but for ones for which I’ve had time to consider angles and perspectives and word use that best relays my meaning. In a fast paced virtual community and digital society, those are not always most valuable ways to guide and build community. And although I’ve made some progress in this respect, I need to work more diligently at getting beyond always needing just the right word or phrase.

More critical though, I think, is that in my lifetime, I’ve been a grand reader of eyes, of facial expressions, of gestures, of body language, and sophisticated listener of the nuances of word choice, tone and rhythm in speech. That’s been a strength, an important for me-- one that I can’t play to in a virtual environment. Without those cues, I’ve found myself less confident in replying, concerned (perhaps overly and yet again maybe not) about misinterpretation and the opportunity for misunderstanding that by the nature of the asynchronous environment, seems to me to have the potential to become amplified. That I’m finding learning to infer and imply the correct meaning from pure text and infrequent images, the complexities and nuances, in a manner in which I am comfortable and feel competent challenging is an understatement. Yet it is my impression that this will come with more years of experience; I hope sooner than later for I know a more sophisticated approach may help to better build community, encourage participation and add value. Now a passion—to help others recognize the power and potential of community to improve our practice and learning for our students.

This reflecting and the very process of bringing some sense of organization to my thoughts regarding my current place in wayfinding has been incredibly powerful learning-- For these opportunities and all the possibilities that abound from them, I am most grateful. A very special thanks to Sheryl for her generous, inspired sharing and the pathmarkers she has provided on this journey.

Deep and serious learning, through a dark night of identity, significant time to reflect meaningfully— might these same opportunities excite all learners, educators and students, as much as they have this aging, grey haired woman?


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.

Photo Credit


Lynn Ochs said...

As part of the PLP Ohio cohort I want to thank you for your facilitation of our yearlong PLP journey. In my eyes, you did succeed in deepening our thoughts, encouraging transparency, inspiring us to be a new kind of learner, and supporting us on our own personal journey.

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for leaving a comment here and for your feedback. It's so helpful to hear as I continue to learn--