Communities of Practice in Environmental Education

Communities of Practice (CoPs) for environmental educators in Alberta, will help members of the environmental education community deliver on their mission, and collaborate to advance environmental education in Alberta. Thanks to the Suncor Energy Foundation and the Calgary Foundation for helping us launch this!

 

 

 

Click on the following links to learn more about this initiative.

Why are we doing this?

We’ve developed five pillars that show how Communities of Practice (CoP) help the environmental education community:

  1. Share – CoP members share their resources, knowledge and skills with others: as a result, CoP members become more efficient and effective.
  2. Collaborate – CoP members collaborate on programs and projects that advance their work: they work together to overcome barriers, identify and remove program overlaps and gaps, create partnerships and synergies, and develop coordinated approaches to audiences and funders.
  3. Celebrate – Success stories are shared and celebrated: all stakeholders are inspired and encouraged.
  4. Influence – CoP members work to ensure that environmental education has a strong presence in curriculum and in practice within the formal education system.
  5. Sustain – Communities of Practice in environmental education are valued, embraced, and sustained by the community.

I

n April 2013, ACEE surveyed environmental educators throughout the province, mapping existing connections between environmental educators and asking what the future might look like. Each dot below represents a respondent to the survey (different colours represent different topic areas, e.g. waste education), and each line is a connection between individuals.

 

Q: Who have you collaborated with in the past three years?Q: Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?

 

There is a tripling of the number of connections between the two maps - a clear indication that environmental educators see the value in collaboration.To see some more results from the 2013 survey, visit: Weaving the Network.

 

Stories of success and collaboration

Below are few of the connections made at community of practice events. Did you make any useful connections at a CoP event? Has belonging to a CoP helped you advance your work in any way? Please pass your experience along to Christina.

Submitted by Vicki Perkins - Alberta Parks, Kananaskis Country

"Robin McLeod (Calgary River Valleys) and I are exploring the possibility of having our two organizations join forces to offer a water field study coupled with a hands on stewardship project (Calgary River Valleys). We may pilot a partnership program this spring if the stars align, but if not, will offer and promote a duo program for the fall. We’ll keep you posted as this partnership unfolds."

 

Submitted by Andrea Barnes - Alberta Parks, Kananaskis Country

"During the launch event for the Land Use/Conservation and Outdoor Education CoP I had a great conversation with Jennifer Janzen (Alberta Tomorrow). Together we discussed the possibility of having the data collected from the water programs that run in the Elbow region of Kananaskis Country be posted on the Alberta Tomorrow website. Jennifer then worked directly with Vicki Perkins (Alberta Parks) and Jennifer attended the spring teacher’s workshop on water and helped to orient teachers on how to post their data on their website and how to retrieve additional educational materials. This connection has enriched both programs."

    

Submitted by Lizabeth Nicholls National Education Coordinator CWRA, Project WET Canada

Three organizations are coming together to host a Project WET training workshop in Red Deer in July 2013.

"Cheryl Woodridge (Project WET) and Glenn Gustafson (Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) connected at the Water CoP and realized that they were both Project WET facilitators that I had trained in Saskatchewan.  I’ve been delighted that they are working together on this initiative. Cheryl has taken a lead coordinating role. Joey Temple (Red Deer River Watershed Alliance) and Cheryl began their conversation at the CoP launch. This will be the launch of Project WET with the new generation 2.0 book in Canada."

From Glenn Gustafson

"Well as it turns out - Cheryl and I made our connection about Project Wet at the Water Education CoP kick-off in Red Deer this past winter when we sat by each other and started talking.  I can't recall, but we may have got connected with Joey on the idea of a workshop at that CoP too as she was also there.  So yes - CoPs do work!!!"

Submitted by Janice Dewar, City of Edmonton Drainage Services

"The recent Alberta Council for Environmental Education Communities of Practice session provided yet another opportunity to extend and strengthen the collaboration and awareness within the environmental education community. These sessions not only focused our attention on major issues of concern to each program and area as program leaders and organizers within a great variety of organizations but also helped us learn about the kinds of "big picture" issues that can have an impact on how we develop and build our programs.

The collaborative and networking opportunities are one of the critical and greatly appreciated aspects of participating in ACEE sessions and belonging to this group that builds its knowledge of environmental education and each others programs and offerings each time we meet.

Their work not only helps support environmental educators throughout the province but also helps focus awareness on the critical role of environmental education in our schools, communities, and province."

Submitted by Jennifer Casciani, Environmental Education Coordinator, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Southern Alberta

"At the Land Use/Conservation and Outdoor Education CoP launch meeting, I connected with Andrea Barnes with Alberta Parks in Kananaskis Country. We both do programs in the park. CPAWS was having difficulties getting information out to teachers and still had spots available for schools and Andrea was getting more requests than she could handle! After our conversation at the CoP meeting, Andrea began passing our program information and contact along to teachers who could not get into her program. The result is that more students experienced Kananaskis Country and had the opportunity to learn more about parks and protected areas."

 

How the program works - and what we have learned!

This initiative is built on two frameworks - Communities of Practice and Network Weaving. Both of these frameworks are used around the world to build community, enhance learning, make connections and facilitate collaboration. Communities of Practice focus on learning together and knowledge building and sharing, whereas Network Weaving focuses on strengthening connections and facilitating collaboration between organizations. We use both approaches in our work to build a resilient and innovative community of environmental educators in Alberta. Since launching this program in the spring of 2012, we’ve learned some lessons and have woven our learning into our practice!

Have a Coordinator
Each Community of Practice has a coordinator to set meetings, follow up with participants, and connect individuals with similar interests. Coordinatora are environmental educators working in the field, and come to the position with strong ties and connections. ACEE provides a small honorarium to them for this work.
 Meet face to face
When it comes to developing relationships built on trust, nothing can replace face to face contact. Each CoPwas launched with a full day face to face meeting in Red Deer (a city in central Alberta’s two major centres) and participants and organizers alike continue to find ways to meet face to face:
  • Yearly meetings – Late fall is a good time for CoPs to come together – we meet in a central location and focus on a specific topic.
  • Regional meetings – These events usually happen in the winter and are an opportunity for educators to meet in Calgary or Edmonton and address regional priorities and specific topics.
  • Earth Matters Conference – ACEE’s annual conference is an opportunity for everyone involved in environmental education in Alberta to gather, share, and celebrate –and Community of Practice time is built into the conference program.
  • Outdoor Workshops - Environmental educators like to get outside and connect with the land, and these workshops meets that need. These gatherings have been helped build valuable connections between participants.
On-line Communities
CoP members all expressed the desire to stay connected and share resources – the best way to do this has been to develop some on-line tools:

 

 

  • Memberships – People sign up for a free CoP membership.
  • Directory – Once individuals are signed up as members, they are added to the CoP directory.
  • Google Groups –  each CoP has this email listserve that allows members to connect with each other.
  • Google Folder – each CoP has this folder where they can post resources and other documents.
  • Website – a static area with basic information about the CoPs.
  • Database – A complete list of the programs and services offered by the different groups, which can be accesses by CoP members and outside users.
We’ve learned that ‘Build it and they will come’ is not a successful philosophy for on-line communities! We work with Coordinators and early adopters to seed the on-line groups with content and interesting conversation starters. To learn more about the on-line tools, visit the on-line tools FAQs: http://abcee.org/cop/faq/
 Listen, follow, and lead!

If a community of practice is to last, its members must ‘own’ the content and projects. ACEE staff and coordinators help members identify potential areas for collaboration and learning, listen closely, follow and support the dialogue, and initiate conversations and strategies to help the group move forward, within the bounds of the five CoP program pillars.

Outcomes don’t happen overnight!
Environmental educators are busy professionals: while they see the value in coming together to collaborate and learn together, this work must be integrated into their other work.  We’ve learned that relationships and connections that lead to collaboration take time to develop: we counsel CoP members to be patient, and model this by making a long-term commitment to supporting communities of practice in Alberta.

Join a Community of Practice

Send an email to christina@abcee.org for more information.

Four CoPs are currently active. To see what they have done together visit the following pages:

  1. Water Education – includes education about wetlands, oceans, water conservation, etc.
  2. Conservation Education – includes education about land use, parks, biodiversity, wildlife, agriculture, forestry, gardening etc.
  3. Waste Education – includes education about recycling and the 3Rs, composting, consumerism etc
  4. Edmonton Regional - includes anyone with an interest in environmental education for any audience in the Edmonton area.

 

Funding for this initiative is provided by: