I have recently completed writing feedback to my students on their individual efforts towards completing Module 5. The following are excerpts from my comments to my students. All of these comments were posted in a discussion board and so every student could see the feedback to every other student.
About Quality of work
This is a superb piece of work. I was intrigued to see how you blended in and built upon the ideas of cognitive dissonance and digital narratives to take those ideas further and action them with your PLC.
This is a fascinating account of how you created a PLC and then guided that group to some significant learning experiences.
About Process with PLCs
You have given a great overview of your process that translates into a very practical set of guidelines for creating a PLC to answer a specific question.
It may be that your groups can grow and shrink over time as the guiding questions for your community come and go. I think that with a core of teachers such as yourself, the PLC can move from question to question and bring in expertise and stakeholders as needed.
I can see that you have created and implemented processes that create the space, physical and cognitive, that will allow dissonance to enter the conversation. Some authors argue that learning only takes place as a result of transformation, which is the result of a profound change in our understanding of something and from which we do not regress. Sometimes such transformation comes in the form of an 'aha' moment, or a revelation of new knowledge. However, much more frequently it comes in the form of a dissonance with, or challenge to our understanding of the world.
Another student pointed out that collaborating asynchronously does not alleviate the need for timeliness in responding. Although we are not F2F, we still are waiting on each other. I feel this pressure every time I see a post or email from a student. I know that there is someone waiting on the other end of the communication.
I like the revelation that while you all thought that F2F would be the way to go, that format also has lots of issues, even if different ones, and that for busy people, technology offers some great solutions. Time is simply the most valuable resource anyone has.
A significant, if not the most significant element of this is the establishment of norms for the interactions. I think that while we want to be free to think what we want, we need guidelines to remove and 'flatten' the social structure so that we can more easily more towards epistemological freedom (a la Freire).
I like your focus on the importance of the facilitator. This is a crucial role and one that is actually a lot more difficult than many people realize. One important element is the power struggle between the facilitation and the members. Sometimes, leaders think they are great facilitators, but what they are really great at is simply getting their own way.
One aspect of having your own site that may not be obvious at first is the fact that it is yours and not institution bound. With CMS sites and so forth, the content is in someone else’s control. With your blog, you will be able to take it with you when you move again to a new school.
About creating focus with PLCs
Another thought that came to me quite strongly while reading your work was the idea of what is the point of classroom activities, or these ‘pro-social’ activities? As I noted to another student, we often think that the collaborative strategies are just a means to an end. They may be in the ‘real world’ where we need to solve problems to survive, but in the classroom, I think they are quite often the ‘end’ that we are seeking.
You comment that, “The two teachers that responded are quite adamant in the development of pro-social skills be a precursor in the learning environment”. Are they precursors, or are they the ultimate goal?
Ironically, in our knowledge age, actual knowledge is less important than the ability to find, dissect and work with that knowledge.
About Trust in PLCs
I think there is one element of trust that might not be the more conventional idea, but that is as significant as any other. In many cases, I have found that people are willing to accord people a measure of trust up front. "You are teacher, therefore I already trust you to a degree." However, there is also the question of reciprocity of effort. I like to think that my effort to respond to people are appreciated and sometimes I participate as much for my own benefit and the opportunity to articulate my thoughts and write them down. However, there is also an expectation that we will get rewarded for our efforts in that the other person will reciprocate with a significant response.
This reminds me of the concept of 'quality time'. Sometimes, quality time simply means quantity time.
I continue to work and teach in highly multi-cultural environments and the issue of culture is a common and constant item. I hesitate to say issue, because in our increasingly global world, I think it is important to recognize other cultures but then see how we can work together, not in spite of differences, but because of the differences. How do we stay true to ourselves, our family, our culture all the while respecting others and, in my case, living in someone else’s culture.
I am not sure about the alignment of culture. We celebrate our differences in Canada as opposed to the melting pot analogy of the US. We need common goals, but we may start from different sets of beliefs. In fact, in terms of the critical friend, we will need to be very critical if we already agree on most of what motivates us.
You have discovered that trust is a prime ingredient. I think that through the community of inquiry model, the notion of social presence, which is the first presence to establish, is often over looked by many and thought to be a side issue to the more important issue of cognitive presence. However, if we do not trust each other, then where will we go?
The power relationships are important anywhere, but I have found that in school settings, for one reason or another, they are critical. I think that many teachers spend their days being the masters of their domains and so become highly attuned to that power. When they are then subject to others’ power, they react oddly. I don’t’ think you find that situation in many other professions.
I thought your comment in the discussion board was even more telling than your report. You noted that you had some ideas about how to proceed but that “I'm not sure that the administration would welcome this knowledge.” That too is a question of trust. Can you trust them to accept your suggestions in the spirit of collaboration?
This too makes me thinking that we might do well to define some of the elements of trust. Many of your classmates have commented as well that trust is a crucial element, but I think that we are seeing a range of trust issues. For example, one of you classmates commented about trust to continue to work together – trust to not report comments to others, trust to do something, trust to not do something.
Where is the cognitive dissonance in that statement? Where is, what Kelchtermans (2009) called the “discomforting dialogues”?
Taking all of this seriously, means that the scholarship of teaching is a risky endeavour (see also Loughran, 2006). Finding oneself confronted with opinions and practices that differ from or even contradict one’s own opinions and deeply held beliefs. This can be very discomforting. Yet, without these discomforting experiences, deep reflection – in which the content of one’s personal interpretative framework is thoroughly challenged and questioned – will far less often be triggered. And without deep reflection, one’s personal scholarship cannot be developed, nor the scholarship of teaching in general (as a publicly reviewed set of knowledge to build on). In order to achieve this, teacher education as well as in-service training need to provide spaces to engage in discomforting dialogues. (Kelchtermans, 2009, p. 270)