Month: July 2017

Communities of Practice

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.


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

Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved from

Thoughts from my busy brain

Illustrated by Lisa Plenty Paper 53 on iPad

Our first two weeks of INF537 have been quite the thinking whirlwind! I had just returned from two weeks packed with PL (a few collated thoughts about these events can be found on my other blog here). To then launch into this intensive unit and start the term at work has been (continues to be?!) quite a challenge. However, as the countdown is now on to completing what has been an incredible degree (come November I will once again be able to breath), I know I will miss the collegial and collaborative interaction that has underpinned my Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation study.

It has been great already to share thinking with INF537 study colleagues around our growth as educators and connected learners and last Monday’s introductory colloquia with Bruce Dixon was a great start to the session to promote and inspire further thinking and sharing. However, on reflection, the session and my subsequent reading of Dixon and Richardson’s 10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning has raised many questions for me.

Bruce posed the simple but important question – What is learning? In discussing the concept of modern learning, he noted that people have more trouble with the learning part than they do with the modern. These thoughts kick started a deep delve into what the bottom line is for us as educators in a modern context.

Concepts I found particularly important and relevant include:

  • The tendency in education to focus on efficiency over effectiveness (Richardson & Dixon, 2017) and thus miss opportunities for genuine learning
  • The need for a consistent and sustained approach – rather than just add-on change solutions like Hour of Code, Genius Hour and Makerspaces can be if not integrated sufficiently into overall practice (Richardson & Dixon, 2017)
  • That mission and vision are often disconnected from reality (also a concept raised in my recent Apple Distinguished Schools Summit professional learning) (Richardson & Dixon, 2017)

Some questions I am left with include (please share your ideas in the comments):

  • How might we bring innovation and inquiry into the core of education, rather than the fringes (Richardson & Dixon, 2017) within existing curriculum and systemic constraints?
  • How can we encourage educators to embrace rather than resist change?

Image source: Richardson, W. 2017. 10 principles for schools of modern learning. Retrieved from

  • How might we make a sustained shift to align the rate of change with the capacity for change in schools?









Richardson, W. 2017. 10 principles for schools of modern learning [site]. Retrieved from

Richardson, W. & Dixon, B. 2017. 10 principles for schools of modern learning.  Retrieved from


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