matryoShka | a nested Community

My son Alden is fascinated with a set of matryoshka dolls displayed on my school bookshelf. This tiny set of seven wooden dolls are nested inside each other, one-by-one. Alden knows the importance of each individual doll. The matryoshka set is out of proportion if one doll is missing. The dolls are only harmonized when all matryoshka pieces are nested together.


This tiny set of dolls on my bookshelf reflects a community of practice. As Lauren shared in her last post“a community of practice is a group of people who share a common passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, Communities of Practice: 2015). A community of practice builds into each other and strengthens spirits. A community of practice works collaboratively to support the heartbeat of the school building; the students. 

Last year, the staff of Stony Creek committed to learning together. The community participated in lab site experiences to notice and name, apply, and reflect upon our craft. We traveled into a classroom with a common focus and supported each other through application of specific instructional strategies. We reflected together and created goals to support the transference of our new understandings. Most importantly, we cultivated reading instruction across the building.

“The lab sites are helping me tremendously. I am going to take what I learned this week into my classroom and try it out.”

-Stony Creek Colleague

Our community of practice also nested together to create an instructional book of beliefs. Similar to belief statements within a company or organization, the beliefs in our book unify our community. These beliefs reflect our pedagogical understandings and values. These beliefs are our guarantees. These beliefs remind us daily that the heartbeat of Stony Creek is our students.

We value pedagogy.

We will create memorable learning experiences with our kids in mind.

-Samples from Stony Creek’s Instructional Book of Beliefs

Stony Creek has commenced its second year of kneading our community of practice. Through reflection and dialogue, our commitment to grow and even protect our community of practice is stronger. This year all colleagues will have an opportunity to participate in several differentiated lab site experiences. Colleagues will travel through a progression of facilitation and application. The community will collect evidence of student learning during our lab site experiences and create goals to cultivate student achievement across the building as well as reaffirm our instructional book of beliefs.

A community of practice, much like a set of matryoshka dolls, interacts and works together. Each interaction and learning experience builds the community.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

-Helen Keller-

Holly Gillam, Instructional Coach, Noblesville Schools

It Only Takes One Seed: Growing a Community of Practice

dandelion-2266558_1920Image Via Pixabay

Dandelions.  A homeowner’s nightmare, yet something full of possibility in the eyes of a child. Let me explain.   These yellow and vibrant plants can be found together in groups that eventually evolve into the form of puffy, white balls.  Throughout times in my childhood, my friends and I would scour the neighborhood, local park, or even schoolyard for these plants.  Seeing that ball of puff just beckoning to be blown would stop us in our tracks.  What we didn’t necessarily realize at the time is that each time we blew a dandelion puff, we were creating moments of spreading influence multiple directions. Each seed held the possibility of growing its own group of yellow dandelions and embarking on a cycle of growth.

At Noble Crossing, we are our own group of dandelions.  Each school year, through our collaborative work and actions, we grow new seeds full of purpose and possibility.  We have provided opportunities for continual growth through learning strands, inquiry teams, and most recently, personalized professional learning.  These opportunities have represented seeds of investment and passion from our teachers and staff as we have sought to continuously outgrow our best teaching.  Our dandelions depict the seeds needed to grow a community of practice.
“A community of practice is a group of people who share a common passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, Communities of Practice: 2015). 

Even if we have not necessarily been referencing our work at Noble Crossing as a community of practice, it has already been growing through our actions and collaborative work each school year.  Now that we have planted our seeds, this year our community of practice language has been brought to the forefront, and we are ready to spread our influence.  However, we continue to be mindful of the fact that this is OUR community of practice. Together, we have the opportunity to grow our community of practice at Noble Crossing.  What does it look like, sound like, and feel like? I invite you to continue to follow our Noble Crossing story as year one unfolds as an official community of practice.  We will share our community of practice action steps taken through our entry points, the rallying of others, and the advocation of its success ultimately for the benefit of our students and teachers as we continue to foster a learner-centered culture.

For now, this Noble Crossing community of practice story comes to a pause, yet much like a dandelion spreads its seeds, our CLC posts will continue to share the stories of how communities of practice have already spread their influence.  From spreading the fire with building leaders to the growing and kneading of a second-year community of practice, the synergizing of all of our communities of practice will truly lead to transformational practice.  

Until next time, 
Instructional Coach, Noble Crossing Elementary