Forging Connections in Further Education

Yes, social media is problematic, but it also opens up professional connections that we otherwise would not have access to, and for that, I will always be thankful. Read on to find out why…

I’ve been working in Further Education (FE) since 2018, but it has only been in the last eighteen months or so that I tapped into social media to reach out and connect with other FE practitioners.

Initially, this was through Twitter. I searched using hashtags such as #EnglishFE, #EnglishGCSE and #teamEnglish, with the aims of finding additional teaching and learning resources that I could use with my students.

I started to follow other FE teachers. I took the plunge and shared some of my teaching and learning resources, by uploading them to Wakelet, Skills Workshop, and then sharing those links on Twitter.

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It was through Twitter that I stumbled across something that would have a massive impact on my professional life: the Joy FE Collective.

The Joy FE collective was initially created by Dr Lou Mycroft and Stef Wilkinson during the first lockdown in the UK in March 2020, as a way for FE practitioners to stay connected during those challenging times, but the community grew and remains active, which is a reflection of the strength of those connections. Here is a community of people who are passionate about FE, are encouraging and supportive of each other, and follow the principles of trust, kindness and wellbeing.

Through that Twitter account I found Joy FE magazine; an online-only publication written for and by FE practitioners. I clicked on the link, read it, and was inspired enough to write and submit a couple of articles for it: one about a text that I had been using with autistic students, and another about reimagining FE classrooms as multisensory spaces.

Through reading the magazine, I found out about the #IdeasRoom, which is a virtual space where FE practitioners can meet to share and discuss ideas.

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The Ideas Room is described by Joy FE as:

a prosocial, collaborative, non-competitive online space; role, rank and ego has no place here. A place to unblock your thinking and give light to ideas hiding in your head. Ideas do not have to be fully formed and can be about anything relating to your work: challenges, things you want to start or try, values, wellbeing, your studies or research and CPD

The Ideas Room is a Thinking Environment held twice a week during term-time, on Zoom, on Wednesday evenings and Friday mornings.

The first time I went along, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I took the risk and found myself in a friendly and welcoming space, where I could get to know other FE practitioners beyond my own workplace.

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At first, everyone in the room is invited to answer the question “How are you?” and whether they have an idea to share or are there to listen, taking it in turns to answer honestly, without interruption. I felt self-conscious initially, but soon realised that there was no judgement from anyone: we all listened intently to each other, as we opened up about our feelings not only about work, but some personal things too (although it is up to each individual how much they want to share).

Those with an idea briefly explain it, and then we split into breakout rooms (one room per idea). The person with the idea explains it in more detail, and then we take it turns to offer our thoughts about that idea, again, without interruption.

The act of switching off your mic is a powerful one: we are forced to listen to the speaker, without interrupting them, and so we listen more intently, with our full focus. For the speaker, being free to share your thoughts and ideas without interruption is also a powerful experience: you are in control of how much you want to say, and can take the time to pause before speaking; it is wonderful to watch thoughts being formed and then verbalised, in real time.

It is the very opposite of traditional meetings: there is no agenda; everyone is equal; job roles don’t matter; everyone has the opportunity to speak without interruption. It is a space full of opportunity and potentia, where ideas can grow. It is joyful.

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I feel so lucky that I stumbled upon #JoyFE on Twitter, and love the connections and opportunities that have developed from it. I now have an amazing network of supportive and joyful colleagues that I otherwise would never have met.

It is very difficult now to imagine life without the Joy FE community and the Ideas Room; I always leave that space feeling re-energised, refreshed, and inspired.

If you work in Further Education, you can connect with the Joy FE community via these social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Linktree, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Connect with Joy FE and enter a universe of possibilities!


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