As part of the Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) programme, participants are required to undertake a quality improvement project.
SET’s Professional Status team reviewed all 60+ Quality Improvement Projects submitted as part of the October 2020 ATS cohort shortlisting to 12 using a scoring matrix, including the below from Chloë Hynes, teacher, ESOL practitioner and digital teacher trainer at ccConsultancy.
This editorial provides an overview of Chloë’s improvement project which focused on creating informal culinary (pedagogical) communities, increasing their sense of belonging within the cohort and the sector.
What could we do as an organisation to build a sense of belonging alongside peers, in our organisation, externally and within the FE sector?
Shopping for ingredients
I attended a variety of online CPD sessions; from didactic to holistic. I developed an online-training specific framework around which to base my post-session reflections. Some specific approaches helped to develop a sense of belonging within the community spaces I was in, and (I believe) this encouraged us to be more productive. These included:
Three ‘kitchens’, one ‘recipe’?
I facilitated three different online professional learning community spaces all with the aims of networking, keeping up to date and learning more about their collective and individual practice. The three cohorts represented three very different teacher groups, with their own professional learning needs:
Kitchen 1: ESOL teachers
a monthly get together by PDNorth on behalf of NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults)
Kitchen 2: teacher trainers and mentors
as part of the Shaping Success programme on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation (ETF)
Kitchen 3: screen industry trainers
as part of the train-the-trainer programme on behalf of ScreenSkills
I leaned into a culinary metaphor when sharing findings from the project as it allowed me to establish connections between the real and the theoretical, experiencing one thing in terms of another (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, p. 98). Therefore, this project uses the terminology: ‘kitchens’, ‘ingredients’, ‘recipes’ and ‘chefs’ to articulate the experiences of practitioners engaging in the research, as well as the research sites.
Through trials of activities based on pedagogical and paragogical (Herie 2013) approaches, I explored the development of a peer-to-peer community focussed space which encouraged practitioners to try out new ideas amongst likeminded people, all the while nurturing a feeling of belonging within the group.
Trials were carried out over two terms. Each term was punctuated by an intervention of conversation stimulus. The answers informed the activities I trialled in that particular group thereafter. Over the term I carried out, reflected and changed or adapted to find the most effective recipe for each kitchen.
Throughout the course of the research (two terms), there has been sustained positive attendance and retention (See Appendix 3). For example, in Kitchen 2: The space is completely optional yet attendance was averaged at 12/17 trainers and the retention rate was 188% (as more trainers attended as the sessions progressed). There were at least 2 people who were mostly unable to attend the sessions, who watched the recordings afterwards. One practitioner said that having this option “helped create an ‘in the moment’ and ‘on demand’ community of practice” (See appendix 5). Additionally, there were many trainers who couldn’t attend the whole meeting but still made the effort to drop in when they could. This all demonstrates the value the practitioners got out of the space that they were so committed to attend (or catch up later).
Having an awareness that most of the practitioners were working in an isolated manner (coupled with the nature of being freelance for kitchen 2 and 3) with the added challenge of having to take all their teaching, training and support online (which many of them were not comfortable with) during lockdown 2020, I was committed to providing a space for them to think about themselves so they were fit to help others (Travis and Ryan 2004). Nancy Kline (2020, p47) says that having the space to express your feelings can help us"...heal and to allow the mind to work less impeded. Unexpressed emotion, on the other hand, seems to block both thought and health." The wellbeing check-ins were a big part of this. It was a time and space for the practitioners to be asked genuinely (possibly for the first time that week): "How are you?" and with the generative and sustained attention from their peers that I hoped would “turn [them] towards each other” (Kline, 2020, p10) and give them a sense of belonging in the group. Practitioners’ fed back (See Appendix 5) saying the kitchens helped them feel part of a team, helped them feel heard and was something they looked forward to every fortnight/ month. For example, one practitioner said:
"It's also been really good for feeling like I've been part of a real community, especially through the lockdown. I've loved being part of the team and coming together every couple of weeks to, you know, catch up and share ideas." – Kitchen 2 practitioner
Since project-end, it has had a profound impact on the way we facilitate informal online spaces and nurture sector communities including the development of some new ‘kitchens’: #FEreadingCircle, #FEresearchCircle, OTLA Creative Writing Circle, ATS Staffroom.
“They have been particularly useful as a space to ‘sandpit’ and try things out, while supported by colleagues who are eager to share what they’ve learnt so we don’t go tripping up over the same things.” - Kitchen 2 practitioner
However, in the first term we struggled with keeping true to the Thinking Environment rules and components (specifically no interruptions, keeping to time and following the correct order) and it had ramifications for the rest of the session. I attended more thinking environment spaces hosted by others and did a lot of my own research and training to further my understanding of the approach; namely the importance of the 10 components and the need to feel comfortable ‘interrupting the interrupter’. As such, in the second term the thinking environments were far more effective as I was able to confidently lead a disciplined yet free and comfortable space, where the attendees worked together as a team to ensure everyone was given the opportunity to speak.
The other most successful approach used was digital sandpits; modelling a digital tool or task in authentic use with time and space in small groups to try it out themselves and reflect on its use. Additionally, in Kitchen 2 I invited other practitioners to present a tool and facilitate their own sandpit. The sandpits were an incredibly effective approach towards developing the digital resilience of practitioners in a safe and secure space amongst peers:
“I like that we get to actually use, for example, a website/app ourselves as 'students' and interact with tech things as a would-be learner. It gives me confidence to start exploring and experimenting further.” - Kitchen 1 practitioner
I found that:
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Content from ATS Academic Poster - Viva preparation – Chloë Hynes - 2022