I blogged recently offering several questions about a Community of Practice, and shared my answers about the Reflective Practice Group in Dnipro, Ukraine (operated in 2016-2020 and paused in the pandemic).
What motivates you to be a CoP Group Leader?
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?
What motivates the members to join your group?
How do you see the aims/goals of your CoP Group?
How do you imagine your CoP Group in a year from now (in the summer of 2023)?
How many meetings have you already had? What were the topics of those meetings? How did you come up with the meeting topics?
What have your successes as a Group Leader been so far?
What challenges have you faced working with your group?
What other question(s) would you like to be asked about your RP group?
I invited colleagues to share their answers to the questions if they have had experience of setting up and running a CoP (RP Group) in their region. The main motivation was to collect insights and ideas to inspire my colleagues from Libya working on getting their groups of teachers going.
And… you never know what kind of amazing answers you may get! Below I am sharing the story of a CoP Group based in Kyiv, Ukraine. The story is told by my friend and colleague and group leader Irene Sushko (I will add more about Irene and her group at the end of this post). The floor (or canvas) is yours, Irene!
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.
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, and 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 (Unplugged) 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 Russia’s missile strike on Kyiv. It’s a fascinating example of code-switching. And when we 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.
Irene, thank you for the time to write these answers, and for inspiring me (and most likely, the readers of this blog) with your story! My personal mantra since February has been ‘Reflective Practice and Critical Thinking skills are vital in the modern world’, and through your story, I see how much more such groups of teachers can do, for each other, for the students, for the bigger/wider society.
Irene Sushko is based in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is an English Language Teacher (TESOL, M.A.), Teacher Trainer, a Certified Business English Trainer (LCCI FTBE), and a founder and facilitator of her own ELT Swap Shop project.
ELT Swap Shop – is a group for English teachers in Ukraine. (Facebook Link). The group is created to bring together teachers of English from all over the country; to serve as a platform to swap teaching ideas and lesson plans; to reflect on one’s teaching and hear from peers; to involve teachers into peer teaching as a way to support rapid, just-in-time learning while strengthening the existing understanding of certain concepts; to make professional and personal connections; to offer guidance and support to novice and aspiring teachers.