Emergence, Curiosity, and Care in a Community of Practice on Access, Inclusion, and Place-Based Teaching and Learning

Over the past academic year, seven members of our UBC community came together as part of a Community of Practice (CoP) centered on “Access, Inclusion, and Place-Based Teaching and Learning”. We intentionally chose a model for our CoP that was focused on the practice of teaching, using a model known as “Teaching Squares” (Berry, 2008; Haave, 2014). 

Our CoP members were a highly diverse set of teaching-focused folks at UBC, including teaching faculty (both tenure-track and non-tenure track), and staff in diverse support roles. It also included individuals from both UBC campuses. To create our teaching squares, we split our group into two smaller sub-groups (one “square” of 4 and one “triangle” of 3 members), focusing towards maximizing role and disciplinary diversity in each sub-group. By using this format that pays careful attention to the ‘where’ and ‘whom’ of the communities we form, place-based approaches were at the forefront of our CoP. We developed both an understanding of “place” as a component of content and “place” as a component of practice. Indeed, centering on observation of teaching practice in this community of practice is itself a place-based approach!   

The members of the sub-groups committed to entering each other’s “teaching space” to observe, whether that be a physical space, on Zoom, or by taking a guided tour through a virtual teaching space on Canvas. When one entered the teaching space of another, it was an invitation for personal reflection and growth, not a request for feedback on what either the observee or observer were doing. We observed for our own benefit, to allow us to reflect on our current practices, and to create shared knowledge of what “teaching” looked like in each other’s spaces.  

Informed by ideas of “emergent strategy” as a theory of change (brown, 2017) and “critical friendship” as a practice aligning with feminist care ethics in academia (Baskerville & Goldblatt, 2009; Sotiropoulou & Cranston, 2020), we centered relationships and dialogue. Emergent and decentralized leadership and facilitation presented us with forms of connection and action that we found nourishing, hopeful, and impactful. According to one of our members, “our first small group meeting was important to help establish trust. In that meeting I feel one of my biggest take-aways was the desire to legitimize facilitation as teaching.” By embracing critical friendship, another community member noted that, “We are part of a network where we feel safe to learn together and support each other in our journeys”. 

We combined these small group interactions with periodic larger group meetings, to share what we had learned from each other. What we found was that each participant had a truly unique experience in the CoP, depending on who they were able to observe, and how that intersected with their own experience and practice. This turned out to be an essential narrative for the work that we did. The diversity in the group created space to cross many different boundaries (disciplinary, large versus small class, and teaching versus teaching support). Thus, we were able to safely observe new and different teaching practices “in action”, adding richness and lived experience to our understanding of them. One member noted that their “initial hope had been to ‘get ideas from others’ on teaching practice. The surprising thing that emerged was support and safety.” Another noted that, “We needed our colleagues’ teaching tools and strategies to be accessible and this community of practice provided that access”. 

This CoP emphasized to our members the breadth of work informing our teaching, encompassing curriculum design, disciplinary knowledge, responsive facilitation strategies, teaching and learning services and resources, critical friendships, and self-reflection. Effective work relies on mutual support and understanding.