Our Communities of Practice have been an outstanding feature of the #APConnect programme over the past 2 years. Building on the excitement and energy of year one, the communities were further developed and extended in year two to become three ‘constellations’.
Constellation A – for aspiring APs
Constellation B – AP professional development i.e. the year one model
Constellation C – for ‘graduate’ or advanced APs
Of 172 applicants for the constellations, we ultimately recruited 106 APs across all three constellations, settling down to a constant 100 keen participants.
The constellations connected both remotely and face-to-face with a view to:
- collaborating on some form of small-scale quality improvement project
- learning together
- thinking together
- exchanging ideas and practice
- supporting one another
- amplifying the role of the AP
Little did we know when the Communities of Practice were first conceived how essential such working would become to the very lifeblood of the education system!
In year one of the programme, Constellations A and B communicated and supported each other through an AP CPD framework entitled The Wireframe, on the Canvas site.
In year two, all three constellations began communicating via Slack workspaces, which were pre-populated with critical questions and supported by core team members to develop momentum.
Action Learning Sets were also introduced particularly successfully in Constellation B, with all ALS leads issued with individual Zoom accounts.
As we now recognise all too starkly, sharing one physical space with others energises, comforts and empowers us. To provide impetus and stimulate inspiration in our APs, we held three physical events in 2019: 2 for Constellation B and 1 for Constellation C. More recently we provided additional opportunities to meet through two AP-led conferences – one in February in the North hosted by Sheffield College, and one in early March in the South hosted by South Essex College.
Canvas proved to be particularly supportive of APs in year one of the programme. Though now superseded by our use of Slack workspaces, it has nevertheless been the perfect on-line host for The Wireframe.
The Wireframe provided on-line support for APs’ development throughout the CoP strand and comprised of seven modules, each representing an aspect of AP development:
- M1: Knowing Us, Knowing You
- M2: Your QI project
- M3: Professional Standards
- M4: Action Learning Sets
- M5: Constellations
- M6: Reflections from #APConnect
- M7: Blue Shiny Things
Each module was introduced by various members of the team, using videos, images, and text. Canvas also enabled us to use a digital badge ‘reward’ participation and to track AP progress. Engagement was high with a total of 315 modules completed by CoP participants over the 2 years. Many are also still working through modules despite the official project end, and the good news is that participants will have access to their Canvas account until the end of July 2020 and can continue to engage with their online modules.
We introduced Slack as an on-line meeting space for APs and have been very pleased with how it enabled collaborative working for the Constellations and became a platform for sharing and amplification.
Action Learning Sets
These have proved to be an important feature of our collaborative work, particularly in Constellation B. Because Action Learning Sets are self-organised, they require participants to prioritise time and to approach the activity with a sense of purpose. This has clearly happened in many cases, especially in year two. In fact, forty-nine ALS have taken place from June 2019 to March 2020, with 50 APs engaged at multiple times.
ALS have been used by APs to share hints and tips, resources and effective practice on a range of areas e.g. stretch & challenge; developing softer skills; supporting practitioners with marking; observation models of teaching, learning & assessment; how to motivate practitioners; supporting learner and teacher mental health, linking initial assessment to inform learner plans; developing coaching and leadership skills of APs; sharing articles and writing blogs etc.
The ALS have also been the main vehicle for progressing APs’ small-scale quality improvement projects for constellation B, and there is now a commitment from many of the APs to continue to meet and collaborate with each other in this way, using Zoom as a key tool.
The APNorth event took place on 28th February 2020 at Sheffield College. Partnered with the newly formed Yorkshire and Humber AP Network, it drew 61 attendees. APs from Constellation C Constellation C, B and year 1 (including Stef Wilkinson, Sam Shepherd, Adam Ryding, Jo Daves, Gina Mayolin and Clare Jordan) disseminated findings from their QI projects and drew on the energy already evident in the Constellations, whereby many participants were already organising their own powerful networking events. Steff also interviewed participants including Matt Pearson from Chesterfield College who discussed his team’s culture leading work on using the Thinking Environment across the College – watch their video and presentation for more detail.
Sam Shepherd and Clare Jordan present the work done by Kirklees APs on developing a developmental observation model. All the team (circa 8 APs) attended a 3-day CPD in Year 1.
The APSouth event: Fostering a Culture of Collaboration was arranged in partnership with the East of England PEN (Professional Exchange Network) for 6th March 2020 and attracted 39 attendees. Dissemination workshops were led by APs and resulted in a wealth of artefacts housed on the shared Padlet.