Reﬂections on Practice is a women’s leadership institute based on the concept of professional learning communities (PLCs). Forty female teachers from all over Ontario come together for four days in the summer and two days each in the fall and spring, to learn more about PLCs, to collaborate with each other, and to reﬁne their teaching practices. Each participant is expected to complete an action research project on a topic of her choice.
When I became a participant in the ﬁrst year the course was held, I had just completed my master of arts degree at OISE. After so much academic study, I needed a space where I could truly reﬂect. I needed to ﬁgure out how I was going to implement all the wonderful ideas I had learned about, and to decide which best practices really resonated with me. Reﬂections on Practice gave me the opportunity and the time to digest what I had been studying. To be honest, I had no idea at the time how much I would eventually learn about online communities, reﬂective practice, and facilitating skills as I moved from being a participant to being a facilitator.
One of the challenges of the institute is making the transition from interacting with a face-to- face community to interacting with an online one when the ﬁrst four-day session is over. By the end of the intense summer session, I experienced a genuine feeling of community. It is difﬁcult for teachers to maintain those positive and collaborative feelings once they return to the classroom in September. We quickly become swept away by the intensity of our classrooms, by the demands of our boards, and by the diverse needs of our students. These factors, combined with adapting to new school initiatives, can create feelings of stress and isolation.
But traditional face-to-face interaction is only one of two kinds of learning communities that the institute creates. The second is the online community that we are building through Internet-based networking. The participants commit to visiting the Reﬂections on Practice Internet site weekly, where they can share pictures, post messages/questions, do research (there is an e-library for referencing), and connect with people through discussion boards or emails. There are also two chat rooms, and the participants are required to meet there at least once a month, usually at a prearranged date and time, when they can discuss assignments and/or the progress of their research projects with their group in real time.