01 SES 03 A, Professional Learning for Beginning Teachers
This paper focuses on a significant aspect of my doctoral research which explored the value of Communities of Practice for the professional learning of early career secondary teachers in Australia and New Zealand. A Community of Practice is a term used to describe social gatherings where participants share a common domain, experience a sense of community and develop a shared practice (Wenger, 1998). Related to this is the concept of a network as, “the set of relationships, personal interactions, and connections among participants who have personal reasons to connect" (Wenger, Trayner & de Laat. 2011, p. 9).
Networks in this study included the teacher-driven networks of TeachMeet and Subject Associations. Originating in Scotland in 2006, TeachMeet has spread throughout the UK and to Eastern European and Scandinavian countries as well as to Australia and New Zealand (Wallace, 2015). It involves teachers from across all sectors and levels of education gathering outside of school hours to share innovative practices: “These unconferences are unfunded and represent an effort by teachers to take control of their own learning” (Loughlan, 2012). TeachMeet participants are also connected through a Twitter hashtag and Facebook sites or Wikispaces. Social media networks such as Twitter Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and private Facebook groups were also included in this study. Similar to a Community of Practice, networks are built around a domain of interest—in some cases, very focused, such as Twitter hashtags which are linked with particular content areas. In others, such as with the Europe-based #EdChatEU and the Australia-based #AussieEd, topics are more broadly centred on innovative and best practice learning. Whilst participants might be irregular in their attendance or tuning in to online chats, “There is enough continuity to develop a shared repertoire of language, concepts, and communication tools that make practice discussable” (Wenger, 2009, p. 3).
Etienne and Beverley Wenger-Trayner have, in recent years, extended the concept of a Community of Practice to include an understanding of Landscapes of Practice as an outcome of the complex and mobile world of the 21st century. Wenger (2010) suggests that both the depth of learning in active Communities of Practice and the range of networks available to participants who can cross the boundaries of various groups as “brokers”— “using multi-membership as a bridge across practices” (p. 197) — create the greatest potential for learning for participants. This is at the heart of what this paper explores. It considers the particular value that might come for early career secondary teachers through participating in a range of communities within a Landscape of Practice in terms of their professional learning. This includes their self-efficacy, professional identity and social connection. Self-efficacy is considered in terms of teachers’ beliefs in themselves as agents capable of bringing about desired outcomes (Tschannen-Moranam & Hoy, 2001, Frost, 2006) and their capacity to learn and continually reflect on the learning process (Blaschke, 2012). Priestly, Biesta and Robinson (2015) describe agency as “personal capacity (skills and knowledge) and beliefs (professional and personal) and values,” (p. 4), rooted in past experiences Related to this is professional identity which includes a teacher’s understanding of their professional role but goes further in terms of the “interconnectedness of one’s cumulative life experiences as a human being” (Bukor, 2013, p. 323). Finally, social connection relates to the trust a teacher might feel in terms of sharing ideas within a CoP or network. In this study, this included the extent to which ECSTs felt connected, often electronically. Whitaker,Casas, and Zoul (2015) define “connected educators” as teachers who develop their personal and professional learning networks, reaching out to other educators to expand their knowledge (p. 2).
This research utilised the paradigm of constructivism as articulated by Guba and Lincoln (1985, 2013). Within this paradigm, an interpretivist/constructivist ontology was chosen because it aligns well with the educational context in which the research was conducted and the social nature of Communities of Practice that were researched. This research adapted the Value Creation Framework developed by Wenger, Trayner and de Laat (2011) in designing the questionnaire, focus groups and semi-structured interview questions. The key research terms of self-efficacy, professional identity and social connection also influenced the construction of these questions. The questionnaire consisted of 23 items and included both closed and open-ended questions. The questionnaire was primarily distributed through social media. A total of 107 questionnaires met the criteria of being from secondary teachers with less than 5 years teaching experience. Two focus groups and 49 semi-structured interviews were conducted over a period of 15 months. The data was analysed both statistically (questionnaire) and thematically (focus group and semi-structured interview).
This study found that belonging to more than one Social Learning Space across a Landscape of Practice added value to an ECST’s professional learning. These were the ECSTs who were able to truly be the brokers that Wenger (2009) refers to, “carry[ing] learning from one place to another” (p. 7). Their external involvements in TeachMeet, Twitter PLNs or private Facebook groups were very broadening and enabling experiences for these ECSTS, leaving them feeling energised and inspired in ways that might not necessarily have been possible at their own school. They were able to connect with a range of passionate teachers from other schools, listen to innovative ideas being shared and present their own ideas to the group if they chose to. An example of this was seen with one ECST and his friends who were able to take the ideas they had heard about graphic organisers at a TeachMeet and share them with their school CoP. As graduate teachers, they found themselves in the limelight, facilitating learning for the more experienced teachers in their school CoP. These are powerful experiences for an ECST, helping to build their professional identity and status within a school community in a way that might not necessarily occur were they only in the one community. Another example was an ECST who found that the ideas he picked up at TeachMeet could be shared with other teachers at his school. This ECST made such an impact in his school that he was invited to take on a co-ordinating role in the diocese that his school was in. In addition to enhancing professional identity, TeachMeet and other online communities also gave ECSTs the chance to enhance their social connection. By its very nature, this is a social gathering, allowing time for teachers to interact with each other.
Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(1), 56. doi: 10.19173/irrodl. v13i1.107 Bukor, E. (2013). Reconstructing and reconnecting personal and professional selves. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 21(3), 305-327. doi:10.1080/13540602.2014.953818 Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2007). Research methods in education (6th ed.). Taylor & Francis. Frost, D. (2006). The concept of ‘agency’ in leadership for learning. Leading and Managing, 12(2), 19-28. Retrieved from https://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/centres/lfl/projects/pastprojects/DF%20art%20Agency.pdf Guba, E., & Lincoln, Y. (2013). The constructivist credo. California: Left Coast Press. Hesse-Biber, S. N. (2010). Mixed methods research: Merging theory with practice. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.usq.edu.au/login?url=http://site.ebrary.com/lib/unis Loughlan, T. (2012, October 25). A teachers' show and tell: Professional learning unplugged. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/a-teachers-show-and-tell-professional-learning-unplugged-8411 Priestley, M., Biesta, G.J.J. & Robinson, S. (2015). Teacher agency: what is it and why does it matter? In R. Kneyber & J. Evers (eds.), Flip the System: Changing Education from the Bottom Up. London: Routledge Tschannen-Moranam, M., & Hoy, A. W. (2001). Teacher efficacy: Capturing an elusive construct. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 783–805. doi:10.1016/S0742-051X (01)00036-1 Wallace, Susan (2015). A Dictionary of Education. OUP Oxford Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning as a social system. Systems Thinker, 1-10. Retrieved from https://thesystemsthinker.com/communities-of-practice-learning-as-a-social-system/ Wenger, E. (2009). Social learning capability: Four essays on innovation and learning in social systems. Social Innovation, Sociedade e Trabalho. Lisbon, Portugal: MTTS/GEP & EQUAL. Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of Practice and social learning systems: The career of a concept. In C. Blackmore (Ed.), Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice. (pp. 179-198). London: Springer Wenger, E., Trayner, B., & de Laat, M. (2011). Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: A conceptual framework. Retrieved from http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/11-04 Whitaker, T., Casas, J., & Zoul, J. (2015). What connected educators do differently. NY: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315736259
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