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									A Community of Practice perspective on school-based learning communities1 Chris Kubiak

30th September, 2003

Please do not quote without author’s permission.


This paper was originally written as an assessed essay for H805: Understanding Distributed and Flexible Learning. Chris Kubiak 26/12/2009
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Abstract The community of practice (COP) model is used to understand school-based learning communities. Successful school learning communities consist of many COPs focused on raising pupil attainment. The following arguments are pursued. With teacher practice highly situated, COPs can advance practical, problem-focused learning. While collaborative teacher enquiry enables the meaning-making processes of participation and reification, knowledge quality may be limited. A COP‟s success rests upon a personally meaningful and pupil-focused joint enterprise, group norms that support risk taking and a repertoire that reinforces similarity and supports critical reflection. Positive changes in teacher identity may result from COP involvements. However, there is a need to inclusively construct a shared understanding of school community and mission and facilitate alignment so that individual COPs impact on the whole school. COPs need to be fostered by school leaders. However, by introducing distributed leadership and increased teacher influence, COPs can disturb established hierarchies. The demands for a new and diverse COP membership may be challenging in a school culture. While strong COP boundaries are a sign of deep learning they may fragment the learning community demanding brokerage and strategies for whole-school coherence. It is concluded that a COP-based analysis directs attention to the intangible yet significant factors influencing learning community development. Background The Networked Learning Group (NLG) establishes, supports and researches Networked Learning Communities2 (NLCs). This is a challenging remit. Little is known about the design or dynamics of learning communities (Hord, 1997). While literature from the private sector may be illuminative, it tends to rest upon assumptions of organisational and leadership structures that do not match the school sector (Toole and Louis, 2001). Also, the literature on learning communities is itself broad and suffers from definitional looseness. For example, an analysis of school-based learning communities can be drawn from literature in areas such as collegiality (Hargreaves, 2003), professional learning communities (Toole and Louis, 2001), communities of practice (McGregor, 2003), collaborative cultures (Englert and Tarrant, 1995) and knowledge management (Jackson and Leo, 2003). Much of this work lacks a theoretical base and therefore coherence. While NLG-commissioned reviews are illuminative, they often lack practical application. For these reasons, this essay will use Wenger‟s (1998) community of practice (COP) model as an organising framework to understand school-based learning communities. This model is appropriate as it, like the NLG‟s work, is grounded in a perspective of learning as a socially and contextually bound process (Jackson and Leo, 2003). A review of the NLG‟s literature framing their work with NLCs identifies a number of premises compatible with a COP perspective. McCormick (2003) identifies a shift from professional development to teacher learning through practice. Moreover, the literature focuses on school learning as in the creation of “learning organisations” - organisational

These within-school and cross-school learning communities predominantly work face-to-face. Chris Kubiak 26/12/2009
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mechanisms that enable the creation and transfer of practice-based knowledge within and between schools. COPs in schools A COP is a social group with a shared history, mutually engaged in a practice on an ongoing basis to advance the goals of some shared enterprise (Wenger, 1998). COP members identify strongly with their practice and develop it collaboratively as a selforganising, practice community (Thorpe, 2003). The analysis in this essay rests upon three premises:  Not all COPs advance learning: That COPs advance learning or are benevolent can not be assumed (Wenger, 1998). As Hargreaves (2003) notes, teacher-to-teacher collaborations may not focus on raising student attainment. They may be more superficial, concerned with pupil discipline or teacher socialising. This essay will consider COPs focused on raising pupil attainment. Schools as a constellation of COPs: A single school is unlikely to be a single COP. The intimacy, trust and fullness of interaction needed for collaboration and complex problem solving is unlikely to exist in large groups (Englert and Tarrant, 1995). A school is likely to contain and intersect with a number COPs. While some will be configured around school departments where professional identity, social interaction, school organisation and pedagogic interests intersect (McGregor, 2003), others will exist between schools such as cross-school teacher networks (Lieberman, 1996). Some will overlap between universities and schools such as teacher-researcher curriculum development partnerships (Englert and Tarrant, 1995) or even Masters courses in Education. McGregor‟s (2003) assertion that together the constellation of COPs make up a learning community is adopted in this essay. This assumption is not unproblematic as it raises issues around alignment, boundaries and brokerage. These will be explored in this essay. Formal and informal COPs: In Wenger‟s (1998) work, COPs are informal naturally occurring, spontaneously evolving groups. However, NLCs also revolve around intentionally created teacher groups (Anderson and Kubiak, 2003) that more closely resemble the management-contrived COPs described by Thorpe (2003). While not all of these groups are COPs, the analysis in this essay will assume that the dynamics of and supportive conditions for COPs will enhance their functioning.



This essay will draw on the literature from school-based COPs and learning communities as well as teacher collegiality and collaboration to explore how COPs can be supported to develop. This focus raises issues of what is the nature of learning in these COPs, coherence and belonging, induction of new members, relationship to management and

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boundaries. This framing of learning communities will inform my role as a researcher at the NLG and guide my research and development efforts3. Situated practice, knowledge and learning Burroughs (2000) argues that the situated perspective on teaching practice suggests that teachers do not apply objective, individual knowledge in their practice but rather learn to function effectively by becoming enculturated into their school‟s subjective point of view. Rich descriptions of effective teaching portray it as a socially constructed activity dependent on the physical, historical, and cultural environment. Successful teachers know their context and pupils well enough to develop programmes that meet pupil needs (Phillips, 2003). With practice as understood as highly situated, it is understandable that externally driven educational reform endeavors often fail to transform either the school or student achievement (Jackson and Leo, 2003). Indeed, formulas for teaching delivered from centralised locations (such as governmental departments) for achieving school improvement have proved elusive unless the practice has a good fit with the setting in which it will be applied (Huberman, 1983). Moreover, workshops delivered within learning communities may have limited success if they emphasise decontextualized or abstract theory Teachers need to see the educational possibilities of theory in specific activities and contexts as well as opportunities for practical talk around the day-to-day lives of teachers and their student-based problems (Englert and Tarrant, 1995). Thus, teaching practice and teacher COPs revolve around and generate "working knowledge" and "ecological intelligence" which is local, contextualised, personal, relational, and oral (Burroughs, 2000). This “local knowledge” is developed through practice. Practice – participation and reification The learning teacher is one who thinks systematically about practice in the context of educational research and the experience of others, working creatively and collaboratively as a member of a learning community (Burroughs, 2000). This image points clearly towards particular kinds of practice, quite distinct from privatised practice where teachers seldom see, hear, or discuss how others teach (Little, 2001). Rather, it involves teachers working as informed agents, problem solvers, reflective practitioners and collaborators in the educational change process (Englert and Tarrant, 1995). Descriptions of how teachers learn in and through practice of this kind mirrors Wenger‟s (1998) description of the intertwined meaning making processes of participation and reification. Participation involves those goal-directed activities through which we negotiate meaning – talking, thinking, feeling, belonging and doing (Thorpe, 2003). In teacher COPs, practice-based development activities include joint design and preparation of learning materials and lessons (McGregor, 2003), study groups, action research or evaluation, classroom observation (Phillips, 2003) or peer reflection (Wesley and Buysee, 2001).

NLCs and COPs present a model of distributed learning. Also as examples of workplace learning, they are highly responsive to context . As such, they offer a mode of flexible learning suitable for examination in this course. Chris Kubiak 26/12/2009
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Typically collaborative, these activities are rich in reflection and dialogue focusing on building institutionally relevant knowledge which leads to the fine tuning of practice (Jackson and Leo, 2003). Participation in collaborative activities is closely intertwined with reification. Reifications are representations of practice which give form to experience and provide a focus for participation (Thorpe, 2003). For example, fine tuning of practice may involve group-based critique of reified teaching practice such as video taped lessons (Meyer, 2002). Student learning is reified in assessment data. Skillful and critical interpretation of such data can fine tune teaching practice (Hargreaves, 2003; Fullen, 2000). Also, reifications as projected or encoded meanings can include non-physical yet orally expressed abstractions - terms, concepts or stories, all of which also “capture” practice (McCormick, 2003). For example, Englert and Tarrant (1996) describe teacher discussions of practice which generate principles (reifications) to guide teaching. McCormick (2003) argues that meaning grows out of an interweaving of participation and reification. Without participation and practice, reifications are abstract and inert. Practice without reification leaves little to reflect upon. Leaders may encourage teacher development by promoting the need for reifications - “information and data” to support staff discussions of "what is working and how do we know?" (Hord, 1997). Wesley and Buysse‟s (2001) description of teacher reflection describes a subtle interweaving of participation and reification in meaning making. For example, teachers identify gaps between practice (participation) and theory (reification), discuss and contrast their practice with others, observe colleagues and take suggestions (participation), while forming hypotheses (reifications) to be tested in practice (participation). While practice-based learning may involve the formal meetings, seminars and structured joint curriculum planning sessions described by Englert and Tarrant (1995) or pre and post intervention data collection (Salisbury et al, 2003), much is informal or incidental. As Hargreaves (1997) puts it, learning communities do not operate like seminars of scientific enquiry but incorporate inquiry and reflection in more implicit, informal and incidental ways. For example, teacher story exchanges are not merely gossip sessions but indirect learning experiences about moral principles which guide each other‟s work. What is the quality of learning through this process of reification and participation? The incongruence between an individual's espoused theory-of-action and what they actually do is well established (Argyris and Schon, 1974) suggesting that teacher-talk may be less effective than direct classroom observation for developing good practice, for example. There are also broader issues of the visibility of practice. Only particular aspects of practice are represented in conversation, material artefacts such as videotaped lessons, or through lesson demonstration (Little, 2002). This lack of visibility limits the extent to which activity can be a resource from which to develop practice. Furthermore, the knowledge developed in teacher COPs is largely what Usher (2000) calls mode 2 knowledge – practice-based, socially distributed and highly contextualised. Salisbury et al (2003) argues that teacher research into personal practice mainly consists
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of mode two knowledge and as such, its generation is also a process of highly contextualised personal development. The research outcomes are so entangled with the teachers‟ own development that it is difficult to articulate what they “know” making dissemination difficult. Moreover, the prioritisation of practice development over the advancement of research-based knowledge, while valid, means that teacher-researchers tended to report changed practice not research findings. This makes it difficult to judge the validity of the knowledge produced. With the identity of the COP highly dependent upon the quality and validity of the knowledge it produces (Kirkup, 2002), this in itself may be highly problematic for teachers. Constructing a coherent COP The sense of community comes from defining it in terms of practice (McCormick, 2003). Wenger (1998) defines three dimensions of practice that give coherence to the community – joint enterprise, mutual engagement and shared repertoire. Joint Enterprise COPs are defined by their joint enterprise. Competent members understand the enterprise well enough to contribute to, and be held accountable for it (Wenger, 1998). The joint enterprise defines what the COP should do and why, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore (Thorpe, 2003). However, the nature of this joint enterprise can be problematic. In particular, sense of community may be considered both a reasonable end in itself rather than a means to advance instrumental aims. Indeed, when sense of community has a positive impact on work satisfaction and teacher retention (Hord, 1997), this is a reasonable argument. Even Wenger and Snyder (2001) argue against reducing COPs to purely instrumental purposes over their service to human needs. However, to advance teaching practice and raise student attainment, learning communities must focus explicitly on continuously improving student learning (Hord, 1997). Moreover, this general need should encapsulate areas where teachers have the greatest needs and interests, as this is where teachers learn best and will be motivated to change practice (Englert and Tarrant, 1995). Wenger (1998) implies that the negotiation of the joint enterprise is an implicit process. In schools building a learning community, the process is more explicit. Englert and Tarrant (1995) describe developing mutually defined goals in terms of examining and reexamining, both formally and informally, what is important to members of the community. McGregor (2003) describes a school-based COP not only explicitly negotiating the joint enterprise (rather than assuming pre-existing consensus) but also writing it up as a focus for further participation. Mutual Engagement An individual‟s sense of community develops out of mutual engagement (participation) in the COP‟s joint activity (Wenger, 1998). This joint activity develops meaning out of everyday experience and leads to new patterns of activity (McCormick, 2003). To be able to engage with the COP is to be considered competent by its members (Wenger, 1998).
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Mutual engagement also incorporates the norms that define how the COP works together. Englert and Tarrant (1995) emphasise the need for a sense of security as teachers take risks in sharing ideas and departing from familiar teaching routines. Thus, to develop teacher knowledge and practice, COPs need norms of trust and respect (McGregor, 2003), supportiveness rather than judgmentalism (Englert and Tarrant, 1995) and commitment to actively care for others (Hargreaves, 2003; Hord, 1997). Also, engagement is mutual. In successful schools teachers take collective, not just individual responsibility for student learning, helped each other in their work to improve their teaching practice (Hord, 1997). Thus, to be in a COP is to recognise one‟s responsibility to others. Norms such as these form “a set of obligations, opportunities, and resources for teacher learning” (Toole and Louis, 2001). Shared Repertoire COPs develop shared ways of communicating, routines, tools, roles, assumptions, understandings, and a world view that differentiates them from other COPs (Wesley and Buysse, 2001). For example, an English teacher COP‟s shared repertoire may differ from those in Maths according to what Phillips (2003) calls pedagogical content knowledge – the specific pedagogy and practices of teaching a particular discipline. As McCormick (2003) argues, an English teacher whose pedagogy involves encouraging discussion will have a repertoire that varies from the science teacher who enables practical work. Whatever else they share, the different repertoires and therefore practices may create distinct COPs. COPs focused on continuous fine tuning of practice to enhance pupil learning may demand particular repertoires. For example, shared repertoires of meta-cognitive activity to monitor and represent personal performance to others may enhance teacher learning (Edwards, 1998). Particular communication skills may be needed. Collaborative research and group reflection can produce frequent disagreements, disequilibrium and conflict as participants question and debate practice issues (Stoll and Fink, 1996). Conflict management, feedback (Hord, 1997) and group decision making skills (Englert and Tarrant, 1995) may be a necessary repertoire to not only enable learning but to ensure community coherence. Identity and belonging Our identity is shaped by our communities (Wenger, 2000). Where you teach and how teaching is conducted there will influence the kind of teacher you become (Hargreaves, 1997). Wenger‟s (1998) modes of belonging describe the changes to teachers that occur through their participation in COPs and how a sense of community ownership is formed. Engagement When individuals willingly and actively engage in, and negotiate the meanings of a shared task, their role in the group becomes part of their personal identity (Thorpe, 2003). By entering a COP where teachers research their practice or build knowledge, teacher identity may change. For example, moving from a system where teachers implement central government curriculum dictates to one where COPs generate “chalk face”Chris Kubiak 26/12/2009
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informed curriculum developments “re-professionalises” teachers and affirms their expertise (Jackson and Tasker, 2002). Thus, they develop identities as professionals and experts. COPs that include Headteachers, teaching assistants, and academics will alter school zones where the teacher is responsible for the classroom, the Headteacher for school policy, for example. These changes in the teacher‟s reference group may change what it feels like to be a teacher (Campbell and Buckingham, 2002). Thus, what one engages in and who with may change teacher identity. Imagination Wenger (2000) describes acts of imagination such as constructing an image of ourselves and our communities in order to orient ourselves and reflect on our situation. Such images are essential to our sense of self and how we interpret our participation in the social world. Imagination may frame teacher engagement. For example, the collective generation of a shared whole-school vision such as achievement for all pupils (Hord, 1997) is an act of imagining or constructing an image of the school‟s future. It may also be an imagining of the nature of pupil success – for example, as linked to student effort over natural aptitude (Resnik, 1995) or even the type of society children are being prepared for. Imagination is important for school development as visions are, as Hord (1997) notes, a guidepost for decision making about teaching and learning in the school. Also, through our imagination we may feel part of a whole-school community that transcends our direct engagement (Wenger, 1998). Imagining whole-school community may be necessary in schools described by McGregor (2003) where COPs are localised around subject areas. Imagination may provide a vision for the impact of the immediate COP on the whole school (Thorpe, 2003) or even on the accumulating knowledge of the broader educational or academic community (Buysse et al, 2003). Alignment The alignment of local activities with other processes is necessary for a COP to be effective beyond its own engagement or to achieve a shared goal (Wenger, 2000). Alignment may also involve ensuring local activities are congruent with wider organisational and political processes (McGregor, 2003). Alignment with the broader educational community may be necessary for the solidification and legitimisation of a COP. For example, a COP-generated teaching innovation must align with the demands of the National Curriculum and testing. Similarly, teacher-initiated Best Practice Research Scholarship projects are often linked to school development plans, or even governmental priorities such as the National Curriculum (Salisbury et al, 2003) to ensure that the work has meaning beyond the personal sphere. Disseminating teacher collaborative research through national conferences has been advocated to allow the knowledge of the broader community of educational practitioners to accumulate (Buysee et al, 2003) and may demand various alignments in research methodology, ethics or report writing. Such activities impact on our identity (Wenger, 2000).
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Headteachers have the opportunity and responsibility to mediate between COP activities and wider school and national processes (McGregor, 2003). However, alignment is not a process of submitting to external authority. It involves mutually co-ordinating perspectives, interpretations and actions to achieve higher purposes (Wenger, 2000). For example, school improvement requires whole-school involvement in the development of the school vision and deciding how to execute the reform plans (Hord, 1997). Sergiovanni‟s (2000) description of “internal commitment” reflects the changed identity associated with such alignment. Through Headteacher-supported collaboration fed by valid information and free choice, individuals internalise the group‟s course of action. This individual owns and feels responsible for the choice and its implications. This individual is acting on choice because it fulfills his and the system‟s own needs. Mutually constructed alignment is not unproblematic. Given that some COPs are not benevolent (Wenger, 1998), a Headteacher may need to enforce bottom lines. Thus, Horn‟s (1997) description of a Headteacher focused on school improvement, interviewing staff about whether they wish to transfer out or commit to the new vision is not mutually constructed alignment but seems necessary all the same. Relationship with management COP naturally occurring, organic, spontaneous, informal nature is resistant to supervision and interference (Wenger, 1998). Thus COPs allow employees freedom and autonomy and are not another means of managing work (Thorpe, 2003). If, as argued earlier, the development and application of craft knowledge to teaching is crucial to its quality, such autonomy is essential. Moreover, COPs seem unmanageable. They operate on many different levels by many different people and are not tied to one group, set of meetings, or prescribed social boundaries (Buysse et al, 2003). Thus, COPs disturb lines of authority and hierarchy. Moreover, as based on collective expertise they alter linear relationships in which knowledge is handed down from external experts such as a university academics to one where practitioners and in some cases, practitioner-academic partnerships coconstruct knowledge (Buysse et al, 2003). Teacher learning communities are sustained through collective authority in which teachers generate their own agenda (Meyer, 2001). The term distributed leadership coined by Hord (1997) and Harris (2002) describes collaborative groups which empower teachers to drive change and development. Teacher COPs have collective power to act rather than hierarchical power over others. For example, leadership is lateral rather than hierarchical, involves persuasion rather than coercion and research and collective testing of ideas rather than imposition (McGregor, 2003). COP leadership is also attributed through expertise rather than formal roles or hierarchical power (Wenger, 1998). There are subtle distinctions in the use of expert power. In accord with the schools‟ zeitgeist of social constructivist rather than acquisition-based learning, experts assume roles less as intellectual leaders than intellectual facilitators. For example, experts coach and mentor others (Phillips, 2003). Leaders (including Headteachers) may model learning values and norms (Jackson and
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Tasker, 2002), mirroring Lave and Wenger‟s (2002) description of old-timers demonstrating the skills needed for participation in the COP. However, some teachers may find their leadership role uncomfortable. Many struggle with the ambivalence and uncertainty associated with their role (Campbell and Buckingham, 2002) or simply want the concurrent leadership salary (Anderson and Kubiak, 2003). Distributed leadership exists in tension with centralised leadership. While thriving COPs have an “arms length” relationship with management (Thorpe, 2003), they still need some connection to it. Personal learning without a “double loop” of questioning or altering the underlying values and practices of the organisation is limited (Argyris, 1993). Thus, COPs which have an impact beyond their local work need to be linked and aligned with hierarchy. For example, when teacher-inquiry is co-ordinated by or involves senior management, the new practices are more likely to permeate the entire school (Salisbury et al, 2003). Also, distributed leadership may require changes in the Headteacher‟s role. Sharing leadership but not abdicating responsibility (Phillips, 2003) seems a delicate balance. Also, some Headteachers are resistent to the challenges to status arrangements (Toole and Louis, 2001), authority and the diminishment of their veto power (Campbell and Buckingham, 2002). But the change also requires an identity shift. The ways in which we engage with each other profoundly shape our experience of who we are (Wenger, 2000). Campbell and Buckingham (2002) note that moving from a centralised notion of leadership to one where the Headteacher creates the conditions for others to lead will disturb deep seated beliefs about leadership and evoke feelings of losing control, anxiety and conflict. Contrived COPs COPs can be established by management (Thorpe, 2003). Some contrivance by the Headteacher is necessary as collaborative working may not happen by itself (Toole and Louis , 2001). However, in contriving COPs the Head must maintain a hands-off relationship. Professional discretion for decision-making and self initiated change languish when collaboration is administratively regulated, compulsory, highly structured, or focused on pre-determined outcomes (Hargreaves, 2003). These conditions may generate compliant work and not the personal meaning making and strong identification with practice described by Wenger (2000). While management can not command that COPs will form, they can facilitate their growth (Thorpe, 2003). For example, facilitative leadership creates contacts, public spaces (McCormick, 2003) and within-school time for co-working (Phillips, 2003; Stoll and Fink, 1996). Headteachers can sanction teacher autonomy by allowing open ended work and emergent goals (McCormick, 2003) which demonstrate trust in the teachers (Phillips, 2003). They can foster supportive socio-emotional conditions by establishing respectful dialogue, modeling collaborative stances towards learning and support, articulating ideals (McCormick, 2003) and providing emotional support (Stoll and Fink, 1996). COPs need resources. For example, COP coordinators (a well connected and credible “insider”, knowledgeable about the community‟s domain) can be resourced to
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spend significant working time linking people and facilitating advancements in practice (Thorpe, 2003). COP-rich schools may be led by Headteachers who maintain loose-tight controls. They create enabling conditions and accept limited control over outcomes as necessary. However, this is balanced with alignment with broader goals (such as pupil achievement) which requires the authority to set bottom lines and skills in maintaining these through negotiation with staff (Campbell and Buckingham, 2002). Attracting new and diverse memberships The perpetuation of a learning culture depends on the organisation‟s ability to develop practices, procedures and customs which draw new people in and compensate for membership losses (Buysse et al, 2003). Furthermore, a diverse membership seems necessary to generate deep learning as working with a broad range of teachers provides a richness of shared knowledge and complementary practice (Englert and Tarrant, 1995). Basically, learning occurs when members pull practice in new directions (Wenger, 1998). Thus, a COPs capacity to involve new and diverse members is essential to its success. The involvement of new and diverse members may be challenging. Coherent community is predicated on homogeneity, security and what is known and exists in tension with the uncertainties that accompany learning at the limits of one‟s competence (McGregor, 2003). Thus, a COP must balance unity of focus and coherence with diversity. Moreover, the memberships‟ ability to surface, accept and consider alternative points of view without silencing or marginalising minority perspectives is needed to push learning further (Englert and Tarrant, 1995). Also, with an increasingly casualised teaching workforce on short term contracts (Hargreaves, 2003), membership trajectories into COPs may be difficult to achieve. Furthermore, the teaching profession‟s culture of isolation and private practice (Little, 2001) is not one in which identities of participation in multiple COPs are easily built. Novices become central COP members through legitimate peripheral participation (Wenger, 1998). However, Wenger (1998) does not provide a fine grained analysis of this process beyond an expert-novice relationship (Thorpe, 2003) such as a mentor inducting the novice into the profession of teaching as practiced in that school (Edwards, 1998). Moreover, membership trajectories are not unproblematic. For example, the early stages of the student teacher working life are focused on “personal survival” (Maynard, 2001) suggesting that involvement outside the classroom may be limited. Moreover, participation in a COP involves commitment, balancing short term needs with long term goals and significant allocations of time and resources (Wesley and Buysse, 2001). For many teachers, isolated teaching practice and peripheral participation may be preferable. Boundaries in constellations of practice The learning school as a constellation of COPs present a number of challenges. First, despite the number of internal and external COPs intersecting a school, students default at the school level (Toole and Louis, 2001). So while teachers may experience COP-based
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development in a range of locations, unless these efforts are transferred within the school and across COP boundaries, full value may be lost. Also, deep learning within a COP generates close bonds between members, sharply felt identities, a distinctive shared repertoire and clearly defined boundaries between insiders and outsiders (Thorpe, 2003). For example, teachers are unlikely to collaborate with teachers from other disciplines because they lack common ground (Jackson and Leo, 2003). This presents a paradox – the deeper the learning, the more likely boundaries will isolate members from other COPs they could learn from. Some teachers may “broker” between COPs, exerting influence and transacting knowledge across boundaries (McGregor, 2003). Brokers are in a difficult position. Thorpe (2003) notes that multi-membership alone does not translate experiences across boundaries. Skills in influencing and negotiation are needed. Moreover, COPs interpret expertise as involvement in the heart of the practice and so a broker, spanning and possibly peripheral to multiple COPs, may not have the legitimacy to be listened to. Leaders must emphasise cross-school community and interaction (Toole and Louis, 2001). School geography and proximity can facilitate engagement between COP members (McCormick, 2002). Encouraging collaborative teacher enquiry projects may help overcome chasms caused by various specialisations of subject matter (Hord, 1997). While compelling teachers to work together may seem a useful strategy, Hargreaves (1997) notes that teachers can find “contrived collaborations” demeaning, distracting and unproductive. Clearly, boundary crossing within constellations of practice need further investigation. Conclusion In this section I will draw some conclusions about the usefulness of the COP model in guiding development and research work. Firstly, the COP-model has been a useful heuristic to pull together a diverse literature base. It may serve as a useful mental model for the research team. The framework usefully highlights some intangible factors in learning communities and school improvement such as sense of community, identity, belonging and learning through practice. These insights are useful for both development and research. Hargreaves (1997) argues against exhortatory descriptions of teacher collaboration that overlook the problematic elements. A COP-based analysis usefully highlights four key hotspots. First, leadership both within and external to COPs may be destablised by a COP-rich school. Second, a learning community may paradoxically be fragmented by strong boundaries resulting from deep learning within highly coherent COPs. Third, COP reproduction cycles and demands for diversity are significant challenges given current school cultures. Fourth, while the COP perspective endorses the unique and valuable nature of teacher‟s mode two knowledge, my analysis reinforces the need for a critical stance towards its quality and accessibility.

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When considering how to foster the growth of COPs, the picture of COPs as nonmanagerialist, spontaneously evolving innovation-producing bodies is easily lost. A research programme that focuses on the Headteachers‟ viewpoint may create a perspective on COPs where as Hargreaves (1997) argues, alternatives to their vision are seen as deviant rather than valuable insights. To be fully understood, COPs must be studied from the teachers‟ perspective. Moreover, the teachers‟ perspective is necessary to uncover the problematic aspects of COPs such as their micro-politics. A further point on research focus must be made. The situated learning perspective highlights the influence of context. Teaching practice is inevitably influenced by conscious and unconscious rings of influence by parents, Headteachers, school culture, national culture, organizational structures, micro politics, professional networks, community educational values, and district, regional and national policies (Toole and Louis, 2001). This situated view not only widens the research lens to capture the contextual and historical factors that constitute teaching practice but also reinforces the need to continually feed information about these factors into bodies such as the Department for Education and Skills that shape the forces that impact on schools. The impact of context also provides a caveat. When working against forces such as centralised control of the curriculum or a history of teacher isolation, we must remain conservative in our assessment of the gains learning communities can make within a four year programme. There are a number of issues this paper does not illuminate, not least of which is the link between a strong school learning community and student achievement. This link is only tenuously support elsewhere (Stoll and Fink, 1996). There are other issues that need further exploration such as the molecular dynamics of COPs, the process of shifting staff development from an information acquisition model to a learning community model or how teachers move from independent work to interdependent work. However, as demonstrated in this paper, the COP-model is one heuristic that will advance this exploration.

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