Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Professional Communities of Practice

During our EHSAS workshop on 17 October, Brian Annan talked about the importance of a community of practice. He defined a cluster as a form of learning network......a connected group of reformers working together, non-hierarchically to solve common problems. He then asked the question "why are we involved in learning networks?". His response to this question is that we are moving from self managing schools to connected schools. We are self managing administratively, but we need to be connected pedagogically. Why? Basically, because learning together is better than learning alone to solve complex problems. New Zealand Schools (which obviously includes our schools) have a complex underachievement problem to solve; or to put it another way, improving student achievement is a complex problem.

This brings us to the idea of our cluster schools, and the teachers in these schools, being a community of practice (COP). One of the leading authorities on communities of practice is Etienne Wenger (see his website at He notes that communities of practice are well established in business, but that schools are only now latching on to them. I would recommend that you visit his website. I had the opportunity in term 2 to attend a workshop on COPS given by Etienne Wenger, and it was well worth it. I am only now coming to appreciate the need to establish such a cop within our cluster. The ePrincipals, nationally, have established a cop which influences our thinking, our theories and how we operate individually, and as a group.

Jean Annan in her research noted the following characteristics associated with the organisation of a community of practice:
  • It is Loosely structured and largely self managing
  • Structures are typically flat, collaborative and professional
  • Leadership is assigned by the members
  • Tasks are distributed among members
  • Membership is voluntary
  • Relationships exist at a formal and informal level.
Which elements above are evident in the Volcanics Cluster? Obviously, a greater review of Etienne Wenger's work would be advised, before answering this question.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Hi Conor
Sheryl talked about COPs in her Ulearn Keynote. On seeing her Visual representation (will post it on my blog sometime) I thought straight away that's Mahi Tahi. Though my cluster schools collaborate on a number of initiatives I have difficulty seeing them as a COPs. I guess looking at your list of characteristics the area they fall down on is the distribution of tasks. Having a ePrincipal working for them helps reinforce this but its not just about getting the work done - its more about actively participating.