Friday, July 27, 2012

From MUSE: Supporting Communities of Practice as a Model for Professional Development

This NCTE webinar had some great information on establishing Communities of Practice in schools. The idea is to provide opportunities for teachers to learn in the way that we want students to learn.  That is, in "group[s] of people with a common interest, passion, or need, who commit to learning with and from each other in order to become more effective in their practice."  It is a model of inquiry-based learning that those who ran the webinar believe needs to be in place for teachers before it can be fully implemented in classrooms, i.e., we cannot teach this way until we have learned this way.

One important component of these communities is choice:  Each person is there because she wants to be, and each person brings his own individual passion and expertise.  Another important aspect is that the groups are self-directed/self-managed:  This leads to strong commitment and strong member identification with the group.  

Different groups connect with expertise in different ways, both formal (e.g., having an expert as a member) and informal. All Communities of Practice (as defined by the webinar), however, are structured around ordered sharing and feedback as a way of creating a space for communication with full participation by the members.  Each member and the group as a whole follows the Action Learning Cycle, i.e., Plan-Act-Reflect, with "Reflect" incorporating both individual and group reflection, including feedback from other members.

One image that I thought was really cool was a graphic showing the movement of new ideas into a group culture and practice.  The graphic was designed to counter what the leaders of the webinar saw as poor implementation of new ideas, in which teachers are handed a book and told to integrate its ideas into their teaching.  Rather, there should be a series of steps by which new ideas move from unknown to praxis, with an "explosion" of communication at the boundary between each step.  My version of the image is below.

Communities of Practice - Integration of Ideas

Step one: Unknown idea becomes known.  Communication!  Step two: Investigation into the new idea.  Communication!  Step three: Adaptation of the new idea to your own system/context.  Communication!  Step four: integration into praxis and expectations.  In addition, this model allows for a reverse movement whereby members identify ideas and practices that should be removed from the system.

More on learning communities:

On collective responsibility:
"Within learning communities, members exchange feedback about their practice with one another, visit each other's classrooms or work settings, and share resources.  Learning community members strive to refine their collaboration, communication, and relationship skills to work within and across both internal and external systems to support student learning.  They develop norms of collaboration and relational trust and employ processes and structures that unleash expertise and strengthen capacity to analyze, plan, implement, support, and evaluate their practice."

On support from administration and district:
"To avoid fragmentation among learning communities and to strengthen their contribution to school and system goals, public officials and school system leaders create policies that establish formal accountability for results along with the support needed to achieve results.  To be effective, these policies and supports align with an explicit vision and goals for successful learning communities.  Learning communities align their goals with those of the school and school system, engage in continuous professional learning, and hold all members collectively accountable for results.

The professional learning that occurs within learning communities both supports and is supported by policy and governance, curriculum and instruction, human resources, and other functions within a school system."

And, haven't read this yet, but it's all over this topic:

This post was also published on MUSE '13.

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