Design: Lisa Plenty

Question: What are your thoughts and experiences with ‘Communities of practice’ – theory and real life observations.

I first heard the term Communities of Practice at a Transforming School Culture conference, where Anthony Muhammed was an inspirational presenter. Amongst his primary tools for forging a cultural shift in his school was the establishment of communities of practice.  Muhammad’s communities were places of rigour and challenge. If his teachers were initially not prepared to commit to learning and development, they would likely get on board or potentially move on, as the peer momentum that Muhammad encouraged took hold. “I don’t have time” is perhaps the most often heard reason teachers give to avoid self-improvement and learning. One important aspect that Muhammad provided for his teams was time to meet; with this provision supported by their leadership this barrier to learning was decreased.

Davidson and Goldberg made a pertinent point related to collaborative learning (limited by the 140 characters, I made an image of this quote to add on Twitter – see below). This concept can be applied to Communities of Practice just as it can to classroom collaborative learning. Collaboration makes the learning easier and under the right circumstances, leads to creative and new practice.

Davidson and Goldberg, 2009, p.26

At my previous school, our team teaching philosophy required collaborative practice, and whilst no one called these CoP, featuring the required ‘domain, community and practice’ outlined by Wenger (2011), they were infact the best collaborative learning teams I have ever worked in. Faced with challenges of shifting familiar pedagogy to work in open learning spaces with very large groups of students and multiple teachers, we worked as teams to create learning designs that were authentic, transdiciplinary and engaging. In the teams where input from members was equal, awesome learning design ensued. However, perhaps stating the obvious, outcomes were less successful and teams less productive where members were tailing on the efforts of others. In my current school our Junior School PYP collaborative planning resembles this focused CoP model, and is similar in regards to their productivity and outcomes.

In another setting, I have seen communities of practice implemented without a clear ‘domain’ of interest (Wenger, 2011), clear purpose or time provision. Whilst meetings within this loosely-governed structure could be beneficial, without clear direction, purpose and the possible absence of passion for learning, these communities are unlikely to elicit sustained learning or change in practice.

For me, the examples provided by Wenger of questions a CoP might tackle together (2011, p. 2-3) best relate to how I use Twitter and connect with an online Professional Learning Network (PLN). Especially when filtered down to the chats or hashtag groups with whom I engage and from whom I learn the most, these PLN groupings are the spaces through which I currently best experience a like-minded Community of Practice.

References

Davidson, C. N., & Goldberg, D. T. (2009). The future of learning institutions in a digital age. The MIT Press.

Muhammad, A. (N.D.) New frontier 21. Retrieved from http://newfrontier21.com/consulting/anthony/

Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved from https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/11736