External staff groups helped me change my classroom

28 Feb 2022, 6:00

Collaboration with staff outside of your own FE provider is very empowering, writes Stacey Salt

When I became a teacher I thought you had to be in a position of authority to drive change, and add creativity and innovation to the classroom and staff development.  

I have been an FE educator for six years. My subject specialism is business and I currently work as an advanced practitioner. For me, it’s really important that FE is a mutual learning ground for all, staff and students included.  

This has never been more true than since the pandemic.

The culture of our colleges was flipped on its head – “the way we do things” suddenly became a moment of panic, disruption and “how are we going to do things now?” 

As an advanced practitioner, my role is integral to supporting and developing others, so at this time the move from the classroom to online became a priority.

And wearing my business teacher hat, the question was also – how can I teach effectively to a group of business students?

How can I ensure the skills and knowledge required by industry can be effectively delivered on an alternative platform?  

Two years ago I knew I needed to find something to help me through the pandemic, in a highly pressurised sector.

So for the past couple of years I have participated in “external communities” in FE.  

These are groups of professionals who have not only informed my educational practice but given me confidence, helped develop my skills and shown me the power of collaboration and community.  

I particularly found comfort in two external communities ̶ the ‘JoyFE Collective’ and the ‘AP Connect’ community.

JoyFE connects up educators in order to bring joy in the remaking of education and professional practices. AP Connect is for advanced practitioners to participate in projects that drive change within organisations.

These communities are everywhere and filled with care, hope and compassion. These spaces have given me the courage to think deeper.

They have encouraged me to use my voice and drive change within the classroom. 

They have encouraged me to use my voice   

I was also inspired recently to co-create a new space for subject specialisms. The community exists so people can come together across the sector to share, collaborate and think together in a protected space.  

These external spaces are underpinned by values such as joy, care, trust, equality, empathy. These are what I put first before I take any action or implement change. 

During summer 2021 I took the idea of creating communities for subject specialists  to an ideas room run by JoyFE.

This is how the “vocational communities of practice” project was born.

The vision for this project was to connect subject specialists across the FE sector to share, learn and collaborate.

For example, sports tutors come together to discuss the issue of students attending practical lessons but not theory lessons.

After months of planning, our first event launched on the third of this month, and gained much interest. The launch itself was a success and we have further events planned.

You don’t have to be in senior leadership to bring in changes

The driving force within this community is that all the organisers work together, everyone is equal and there are no deadlines or pressures associated with it.  

I’ve never met some of the people face-to-face that I see on a weekly basis, but we are certainly working together, as activists to drive change in a sector we are passionate about. 

Now, I certainly came into the sector to share my industry knowledge with students.

But also, I am on a journey ̶ a willingness to develop and learn from others. Whether you are a student or an educator, lifelong learning is for us all, and FE is our mutual learning ground.

You don’t have to be in senior leadership to bring in changes. We can work together to do this, use your voice, share your ideas and be brave.

Beautiful change can happen and can become something impactful, valuable ̶ and joyful.

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