As someone who believes in the importance of trying a task you set out to others (students or teachers), I would like to share my answers to the Discussion Forum Questions for CoP (Community of Practice) Group Leaders based in Libya. Each of them is an experienced teacher and trainer, passionate about CPD and eager to contribute to the community of teachers around them. My role in this pilot project is to help them gain skills and confidence in being the leaders of their own groups. Most of them have already started and even had several meetings, and some are still in the planning stage. (if I get a permission, I will share more information about this exciting project, I promise!)
In my answers I am focusing on our group in Ukraine which paused in 2020 (and is still on pause in this time of the war in Ukraine). One of my (secret?) goals for posting my answers here is to perhaps get us re-unite and re-start the group, in a new look and with a new(er) purpose. If I have the courage to share it with the group members in Dnipro, I will.
- What motivates (motivated) you to be a CoP Group Leader? > > My strong belief in the power of reflective, creative and critical thinking, and the idea that teachers can be autonomous in their development and growth, teaching their learners to become independent thinkers.
- If you have started your own group, tell us about the members. Who are the teachers? How many of them are in the group? Where do they work? > > In the meetings, we had about 4-10 teachers, and in our group on Messenger, there were about 20 people. Teachers came from very different contexts: some taught in private language schools, some were self-employed, or working in a specific company with employees. Here is an older post sharing more about the group.
- What motivates (motivated) the members to join your group? > > I think it was curiosity, desire to develop, the idea of having meaningful focused conversations with colleagues, and a desire to belong to a cool community.
- How do you see the aims/goals of your CoP Group? > > Actually, my answer is similar to what I said in #1. In other words, we were trying out a different (alternative) form of CPD, where teachers have more time and space to think about the ideas (as opposed to having more ideas or ‘content’)
- How do you imagine your CoP Group in a year from now (that is, in the summer of 2023)? > > This is a tough question for me now, as the Ukrainian educational context, or anything in Ukraine now, is very different during the war time. There is no certainty if the new academic year begins online or in person (although the big plan is to have kids back to school on 1 September), and many of our group members are abroad at the moment (saving their families, kids and parents from the war). Many (if not all?) keep teaching distantly, but most likely, they don’t have energy or space for the active professional development right now. For a lot of them, helping Ukraine is priority # 1. Having said all this, I wonder if the year ahead can be crucial for us all to see the role we can play in the Ukrainian education in these circumstances, and how (if at all) a group like this can be helpful. I imagine our group meeting again in the summer of next year, in an open-space cafe in our native city on the beautiful river Dnipro.
- How many meetings have you already had? What were the topics of those meetings? How did you come up with the meeting topics? > > We were meeting for 3 full school years once a month, and you can see a summary of all the topics on this page (scroll to Discussion Topics, linking to a more specific list in other posts). The topics were often suggested by the members, and we took turns in facilitating the meetings. The first year (about 10 meetings) I facilitated all of them myself.
- What have your successes as a CoP Group Leader been so far? > > Even though the project is on a pause, this experience was something I am genuinely proud of. We had amazing discussions, we bonded together as a community, and we ended up offering teacher gatherings for colleagues from our city and beyond. Most importantly, people keep in touch even now, even though many of us are in different parts of the country, or the world.
- What challenges have you faced working with your group? > > At first, it was harder to explain the idea of the group for someone who joined. It did not work for everyone, and sometimes, the attendance was not ‘perfect’. There is a summary of more obstacles in this post. Since the post was written before 2020, it does not mention the pandemic and the need/push to switch online. We only had a couple of online meetings, and realized it was hard to spend yet another hour in front of the screen. So this was one challenge which our group did not overcome.
- How can our CoP Community here help you overcome the challenges, learn to be a confident, successful CoP Group Leader, and bring your group to the vision you shared in question 4?* > > This question is very specific to the project. In 2016, I did not have a ‘formal’ community to work with, but had several colleagues who were leading similar groups in a different part of the world. They were kind to share the process of their meetings, the topics they came up with, and useful tips for getting started.
- (ask your question) > > I’d like to ask my blog readers if a similar initiative/community of practice (reflective practice group) is something they have tried in their contexts. What worked, and what did not? What advice would you give yourself if you were talking to yourself in the past and helping to create a group of this kind? And if you would like to share your answers to some or all the questions above, it would be an amazing learning for the wonderful colleagues I am starting to work with.
Thank you for reading!
P.S. Members of RP Dnipro, whenever you are reading this post, I am wishing you strength, resilience and energy. Ukraine will win. Слава Україні! (and big hugs!)
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Thank you for posing these questions – I jumped at the opportunity to sit down with a cup of tea and reflect on my experience leading a reflective group and being a member of one myself.
The group I am going to talk about started as a part of a mentoring project which I initiated in Ukraine in December of 2019. It was meant to be an offline project but when COVID happened we had to switch to online, which in fact worked out for the best as we could have people from all around the country join the group.
The idea was to create small groups – 5-6 people, including a mentor or a group leader. The group I am going to talk about met in October 2020 for the first time. We’ve had meetings every month since then. We missed only one meeting – and that was in March of 2022 when Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and all of us were more concerned with our safety and wellbeing rather than CPD.
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The members of the group are teachers who mostly work with adults and are either self-employed, work in a state or a private sector. In terms of professional experience we’re talking about from 5 to 20 years in the field. Some of us are CELTA and DELTA qualified, others aren’t. One thing that we all have in common is the desire to develop professionally and personally.
I think when people first joined it was more out of curiosity and, perhaps, to learn some new tricks to implement at work. But since then we’ve been together through a lot. Our meetings now aren’t the same as they were back in 2020. Back then the focus was more on learning rather than reflecting. We’ve grown professionally since then – we started reflecting, analyzing, challenging each other, supporting and guiding each other. We now talk not only about work, we’ve become friends, who chat about their families, hobbies, life.
We look forward to each meeting. Sometimes we create an agenda in advance, like we brainstorm and make a list of questions we’d like to discuss. Sometimes we watch a webinar or read a book prior to the meeting and then discuss those together. Sometimes the meetings are more about life rather than work. Sometimes those are Dogme meetings with no pre-defined agenda.
Speaking about the successes – having a group like that is a success in its own. At the moment I am running 3 groups and I am looking for teachers, teacher-trainers who are willing to join me as group leaders.
I’d like to spare a moment to talk about the group’s experience as the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. The first message in our Telegram channel was at 10:57 am, a few hours after everyone in the country was woken up by the sounds of bombs being dropped on our homes.
The message read – Are you and your loved ones safe? The group has become a place to share some news, to look for volunteers, to offer help and information that was crucial at that moment. We cried and mourned together; we laughed when the degree of tension was too high.
Another fascinating thing about the group is that all the communication is in English. However, when we talk about our safety, our country, or yet another attack of Russians, we often switch to Ukrainian. Some of the messages are as short as – Дівчата, всі в нормі? (Girls, everyone’s ok?), following Russian’s missile strike on Kyiv. It’s a fascinating example of code-switching. And when talk about work, we go back to English.
This group has become the source of motivation and inspiration for all of us. And the same is true for all the groups that have resumed their meetings in May-June.
Speaking about my plans, I’d like to ‘recruit’ more teachers and teacher-trainers to moderate the groups. I’d like to advertise the project to more teachers in Ukraine. And I am hoping that by the summer of 2023, there will be a number of groups working and a line of those, willing to join.
Yet, at the same time those are the challenges. It’s getting more time-consuming for me to run a few groups and it’s difficult to find volunteers who’d like to join me and become group mentors/facilitators. At the same time finding teachers to join our groups is an issue. There’s no certificate which means that there’s nothing to put on your wall of achievements. Participation in such groups takes a high level of self-awareness and determination. It’s about realizing that your CPD doesn’t always have to be ‘receptive’, like listening to a webinar. Sometimes it requires you to actively participate by analyzing, reflecting, challenging yourself and rethinking your teaching principles.
Nevertheless, I feel that our work is even more important now than ever before. All the teaching in Ukraine is now online, meaning that all the teachers are even more isolated than before. They’re all looking for a safe place to develop professionally and personally. So even though it’s war in Ukraine I am going to start advertising the project soon and recruiting teachers who are willing to join a group – to find a safe and comfortable place to share ideas, resources, materials, to reflect on their teaching and learning.
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Thank you for writing this. Thank you for doing what you are doing. Thank you for sharing this story with me, and all the readers here, as the time between now and 24 February is a very different time in the life of all Ukrainians.
I am humbled and inspired at the same time: how you managed to keep the group meeting in these hard months, and how responsive the teachers were. I have million of questions, but I will patiently wait till out chat later in the week.
Just to say that I am now even more convinced in the importance of reflective thinking, teaching, and living. As you said ‘our work is even more important now than ever before.’
One thing to ask about: can I share your comments as a separate post on this blog? I thought it needs to have a special and very different attention from the readers. AND I would love to share it with our Dnipro Group, as we are now planning a meetup in a couple of weeks from now. Your group will be our role model and inspiration!
Gratefully, and with a virtual hug,
P.S. I would be honored to join one of the online sessions with your group(s?) some time in the future, if you feel it is appropriate. And/or a face-to-face session after Ukraine’s Victory in this war!
Zhenya, feel free to share my response as a separate post and with your Dnipro Group. I am happy if I can be of any use. And I look forward to our meeting this week!
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Thank you very much Irene: I am sharing it right now! So grateful to you for the writing, and for what you are doing.
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