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