Learning Communities…I already have one

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Today was a PD day for our school, with tomorrow being day two. I spent most of my day today learning about Critical Friends Groups (CFG), and being trained to be a leader of a CFG. According the the web site a CFG is:

….a professional learning community consisting of approximately 8-12 educators who come together voluntarily at least once a month for about 2 hours. Group members are committed to improving their practice through collaborative learning.

HHHMMM, a professional learning community of educators coming together voluntarily? As we went through the day talking about these learning communities I kept drawing parallels in my mind between CFGs and the Edublogosphere.

Characteristics of professional learning communities and parallels to blogging

Shared norms and values
—-Bloggers share norms and values in the way we use trackback and pingbacks. The norms and values come mostly from Creative Common licensing.

Collaboration—-By leaving comments, remixing ideas, and creating wikis to further ideas, edubloggers collaborate on many different issues. I’ve used this blog to collaborate on issues of creating a mission and vision, in designing new media centers, and helping to build lessons for the classroom.

Reflective dialogue—-The blog itself can be and most of the time is used to carry on a reflective dialogue…this post is a perfect example.

Deprivatization of practice—-Can you get any more open than a blog? As of today there are 1.086 billion Internet users…I think that qualifies as deprivatization.

Collective focus on student learning—-Edubloggers focus on student learning. Some more than others (like Clarence), but overall I believe we all do what we do because of our main goal of educating students.

Spirit of shared responsibility for the learning of all students Professional learning communities can develop when there is:
Time to meet and talk—-Bloggers meet and talk when they have time.

Physical proximity—-HHMM…maybe in a web 1.0 world physical proximity was needed. But with blogging and other communication tools (Skype for example) is this really necessary?

Interdependent teaching rolesBlogging can form bonds between teachers allowing for collaboration on projects that go beyond the boundaries of a school/district/state/country.

Active communication structuresDid someone say comments?

Teacher empowerment and autonomy
—-Do edubloggers feel empowered by blogging? By writing and contributing to the wealth of knowledge on the web? By adding to a global conversation? Is there a sense of independence that comes with blogging, with being able to reflect, write, and contribute to conversations that you want to?

I’m sure you will find more parallels. The edublogosphere is very much a professional learning community. Is it better than a CFG? Can it do more? Be more reflective, more powerful to the blogger? I think that depends on the blogger and his or her comfort level with being open and honest on the web. Being able to put your ideas out there…to feel safe enough or be reflective enough to allow others to criticize one’s work. To be able to take comments, even ones that are not positive as feedback, as a way to further one’s understanding is what professional learning communities are all about whether in person or in the blogosphere.

[tags]reflections, random thoughts[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Jeff,

    I agree with you completely on this. I’ve been involved in CFG and PLC work for the past four and a half years (and am also a trained CFG Coach) and I do believe that the online edublogging community is a form of CFG or PLC.

    Here are some additional thoughts that I have to expand on the points you made in this post:

    Deprivatization of Practice — CFG and PLC work is all about transparency of our work and I have found that blogging has caused me to become even more transparent in my work than when I was/am involved in face-to-face CFG and PLC groups.

    Physical Proximity — My experience has revealed to me that blogging can be just as effective (in developing deep, reflective learning) as face-to-face CFG or PLC meetings.

    However, I think you make the best point in your final paragraph — blogging can be as effective as a traditional CFG if the blogger is able to have a comfort level with being transparent on the web and with receiving “warm” and “cool” feedback on their posts.

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Pingback: Change Agency - Advocating a better education system for the 21st Century. » CFGs, PLCs, and Blogging

  3. I remember undergoing screeds of critical friend training as a school governor – I wonder if it’s the same sort of thing.

    Anyway, I agree! A while back George Siemens said he wasn’t interested in communities of practice. I know what he was getting at, but he was referring to closed circles. I reckon my blogroll is my CoP, and George is on it! The people I see as being part of my CoP might not necessarily see me as being part of theirs, and that’s fine. These are the people I learn from, whose posts I comment on, with whom I collaborate in the business of moving our craft forward. And how much richer is the range of experience than if I limited it to the four other people in my role at work?

    As I said in response to Tony Karrer’s big question of the month (should all learning professionals be blogging?) I have learnt more during my year as a blogger than in the several preceding years. I have been commended and slapped down, consulted and insulted, advised and chastised, welcomed and rebuffed. Some people have seemed more like critical enemies than friends, but it has all served to help me develop.

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  5. Well said Karyn…well said indeed…and a very nice job in the creation of the parallels to begin with Jeff. I’m fairly new at blogging, (end of Feb.) and have encountered very similar experiences. I even had one blogger create a post ABOUT me entitled; “Ancient Clown is NOT God”, in case people were wondering I guess. All in all, it’s been a journey of learning, teaching, and sharing like no other.
    your humble servant,
    Ancient Clown

  6. Dear Critical Friends,

    The CFG concept is about creating a structure for people who don’t already have one to analyse and reflect upon each others’ work. THIS is a critical friends group – right here. We take the time to reflect upon each others’ thoughts, but instead of working within a facilitation-based model, our topics for reflection evolve with the group. Jeff established the topic for reflection, and now we have a group who’ve had plenty of personal reflection time to pause and consider each other’s thoughts.

    The deprivitisation of practice occurs every time we click ‘publish,’ and make an active choice to RISK sharing our comments with one another. I have a question: why is CFG primarily aimed at teachers? Shouldn’t all of our learning community members become part of this kind of dialogue (including students)?

    As for physical proximity, what about ‘mental proximity?’ The only one of you I see physically is Jeff, but I know Karyn through her comments, feedback, and what I read of her work on her blog. I see this as a CFG that has a lot of potential to create great change, regardless of physical proximity. The ‘facilitators’ are the developers and the blog creators.

    A final note on the ‘deprivitisation’ of practice’ – how does a CFG achieve this within the privacy and protocol of the group? This is limited ‘deprivitisation,’ because it doesn’t extend beyond the boundaries of the CFG in order to publically share it with anyone else beyond the limits of the group. Transparency and a “2.0” model of CFG might just bring us closer to where we need to get as a body of educators who are really passionate about moving beyond the 90s. Are we seeking group therapy, or do we want to move towards a completely constructivist approach where ideas and expression move into the public domain?

    Time to move from the “safety net” to just… the net?

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