Communities of Practice

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Communities of practice is not a term that I’d have thought anything of prior to doing the  Mindlab course. When I first heard of it I immediately thought that it’d obviously be the school I work in, after all that’s where we are all engaged in learning? However, reading further I realised that it’s more specific than that. According to Wenger (2000) a community of practice is is defined by three separate elements: joint enterprise, mutual engagement, and shared repertoire. Although you might expect the school to be classed as a CoP, I’d say this is too broad. Yes, there is joint enterprise and (perhaps) mutual engagement but there is also a great variety of repertoire and goals and these may not necessarily overlap.

The science faculty in which I work could be regarded a community of practice as we are all working together to teach science to our students. However, my science faculty is quite large and this means that I don’t get to regularly meet all staff on a day to day basis. If you think about it, secondary school science faculties (and probably maths and languages faculties), could actually have the same staffing number of a primary school. In this context I would again say that the science faculty is too large for the definition of CoP.

Within the faculty I have a much smaller group working on curriculum change. So this is a subset of the faculty containing managers who are wanting to improve the teaching of science. Luckily two members of this particular CoP are also undertaking the Mindlab course- which means we have a shared understanding of work changes are likely to be needed. The group consists of four leaders, myself included, and regularly discuss and reflect on curriculum issues (junior and year 11). When appropriate, other staff are effectively co-opted into the group.

This is not to say that this is the only CoP in the science faculty. There are obviously specialist areas that can also be classed as being COPs. For example, Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Year 9 Science, Year 10 Science. Each of these could be regarded as being a separate CoP.

The CoPs in the science course component of my faculty could be represented by a diagram:

One way to view the communities of practice in junior science

 

There are some areas where there is no overlap- between 9 and 11 and 10 and 11, for example.

One of the challenges, I think, is being aware of the different CoPs and ensuring that they are nurtured. One problem with being a HoF with an additional whole school responsibility is that I have less time with my faculty staff. Of course, that also means that I am involved with other CoPs (both in and out of school), but I need to be more mindful of ensuring that each CoP is active and supported.

 

References

Wenger, E.(2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization,7(2), 225-246.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi there,
    I’m a primary school member curriculum and school wide responsibilities there for understanding how time can be an issue especially to meet as often in a primary school teachers are members of multiple teams. However I like the way your described CoP and it would be quite neat to link it to CoL (Communities of learning) the government initiative which schools are required to be part of. The most difficult part for some schools is find common ground though.
    Let us know how the change team is progressing. What are the drivers of change? What data do you use and how do you incorporate student agency?

    • Thanks, Zeba- CoLs would definitely count as being CoPs as they have everyone focussing on the same endeavour, e.g. literacy. I think you’re right about needing to find common ground, CoLs by their very nature of trying to be inclusive to all means they focus on some high level educational areas.

      Our drivers of change at the moment are based on data (we know that a large number of students are not achieving), policy (we are implementing Maori ora as a way to embed cultural relational pedagogy) and the need to prepare are students (and staff) for the move to our new school in 2021. We don’t want to make the move and only then try out new ways of doing things. It’s the ideal opportunity to reflect and revise our junior curriculum (we also ought to be looking at the senior curriculum, too).

  2. In Primary there is a high level of student voice and agency.This would be a great time to be refining how this can be implemented in to the secondary system especially at a junior level . I will be interested in seeing how our students transition into a secondary setting especially with the level of inquiry that students are leading and sharing with their learning communities.

    • I think that is something that secondary schools need to improve on. With some (not all) teachers there is an assumption that students need to be treated as a blank state as they will not have been taught properly. This is (obviously) an outrageous statement, but one I have actually heard in school!

      I think that some staff who are stuck in the mindset that the teacher is the font of all knowledge are going to have a big surprise coming to them.

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