Thursday, May 12, 2016

Defining my Practice (Week 25)

Applied Practice in Context (APC) - Defining my Practice

Activity 1: 'My community of practice'

Wenger defines community of practices as 'groups of people who share a concern or a passion or about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interaction on an ongoing basis'. He goes further and states 'The members of a community of practice are bound by three distinct elements: the domain, the practice and the community' (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002, p.4).

In their study on 'School cultures as contexts for informal teacher learning', Elena Jurasaite-Harbisona & Lesley A. Rex states 'A community of practice differs from other group types in terms of learning and knowledge and practice sharing rather than management objectives. In the school context, this occurs through informal learning via daily conversations, lesson reflections and other exchanges' (Jurasaite-Harbison & Rex, 2010).

Finlay mention that '...reflective practice invites professionals to engage in both personal reflection and broader social critique'. (Finlay, L., 2009, p.5).

My take on a Community of Practice is as follows:
A Community of Practice is a network of individuals with common problems or interests who get together to explore ways of working, identify common solutions, and share good practice and ideas. This group of people will share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

My specific learning communities (communities of practice) are:
1. My colleagues at the school I am currently at
2. Schools in the wider context as part of my role as Learning Facilitator with Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru (NPeW)

What is the purpose and function of my practice in these communities and in what ways do I contribute to them?
1. School: As Assistant Principal and ICT Lead, my purpose is to support colleagues with change and new digital technologies as well as making them aware of PL&D opportunities that will allow them to grow and improve their practice. Through discussions in our senior management team meetings it is evident that our shared goal is to ensure that colleagues and students have the opportunity to reach personal excellence. Throughout I am constantly reflecting on how I can lead effectively. Therefore I am grateful that I had the opportunity to grow myself professionally and personally through my involved in the [year long] Academy for Collaborative Futures' emerging leadership programme.
2. NPeW: My role is one of a Learning Facilitator and as a Junior School Teacher, after gauging interest from around the district, a Community of Practice for Junior Teachers have been started where we are able to discuss current issues and share best practice.

Although these are my two main communities, I am also part of these specific learning communities in which I aim to meet the goals and aims of my specific areas of my practice:
1. Twitter (share and partake in the many online "chats")
2. Virtual Learning Network (NZ) (and all the sub-groups that I belong to within)
3. New Entrant & Year 1 Modern Learning Pedagogy & Environment
4. Google+
5. TeachMeetNZ
Face to Face:
1. Whānau / Students / Local community
2. Connected Rotorua (Organiser and presenting at times)
3. Educamp NZ
4. uLearn

My final thoughts on a CoP:
Why having a Community of Practice?
It is not about bringing knowledge into the organisation but about helping to grow the knowledge that is needed internally within our organisations.

Benefits of a Community of Practice
1. Members share a repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice.
2. Various resources such as tools, documents, routines, vocabulary and symbols that in some way carry the accumulated knowledge of the community are being developed.
3. It involves ways of doing and approaching things that are shared to some significant extent among members.
4. Allows for sharing of experiences and learning from others.
5. Allows to collaborate and achieve common outcomes.
6. Provides the opportunity to innovate and create new ideas.

What are the key theories that underpins my practice?
1. Constructivism (Piaget, J., 1983 & Vygotsky, L., 1987)
This theory was formalised by Piaget who claimed that people construct new knowledge from prior experiences. He also believed children undergo stages of cognitive development that allows them to grow and develop as individuals, whilst Vygotsky claimed that learning is dependent on socio-cultural influences.

2. Pragmatism (John Dewey, 1916)
Within this theory it is believed that reality must be experienced. From Dewey's educational point of view, this means that students must interact with their environment in order to adapt and learn.

Evaluation of my practice with regard to these theories.
1. Constructivism: Vygotsky stated that peer work and cooperation lies at the heart of learning. However, the way that people become more knowledgeable is through increased actions and interactions with the environment, as Piaget suggested, but it is essential that pupils interact with their peers to gain a true experience of what they are learning. Therefore I do make use of Learning Buddies, Co-operative learning groups and Tuakana/Teina.
Drawing clearly from Constructivist ideas, it is claimed that pupils should be able to use speech and communication to make connections between what they already know and any new experiences and ideas they may encounter. Therefore, our learning environment is one in which students feel encouraged and secure enough to be able to express and explore their thoughts, feelings and emotions. 

2. Pragmatism: Dewey believed that human beings learn through a 'hands on' approach. I have change my practice significantly this year by giving students the opportunity to learn in this way. It became evident that learners were actively engaged in hands on activities as learning was rewarded immediately. Students also have a better grasp about the new concepts they are learning and realise that their learning goals are achievable.

What is the impact?
Reflection is crucial. I really like Rolfe et al's (2001) reflective model which is based on three questions only:
So what?
Now what?
My opinion: Although this model is based on three simple questions, it should not indicate that reflections should lack depth, but it should rather be as comprehensive as possible. 
Finlay also states 'Other authors argue for the concept of critical reflection, which is seen as offering a more thorough-going form of reflection through the use of critical theory (Brookfield, 1995)'. 

A more comprehensive [and formal] way to reflect on my practice is to use our very own 'Teaching as Inquiry' model as “...effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students.” (NZ Curriculum, p35)


Finlayson,A.(2015). Reflective practice: has it really changed over time?. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 16 (6), 717-730.

Jurasaite-Harbison, E., & Rex, L. (2010). School Cultures as Contexts for Informal Teacher Learning. Teaching and Teacher Education,26(2), 267-277.

Ministry of Education (2009) Teaching as Inquiry. Retrieved from

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press,

~ "Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful." - Margaret J. Wheatley ~


  1. Kia ora Marnel, I really enjoyed your take on 'COP' - and it was good to see you name constructivism!! As a fellow educator whose practice is underpinned by a constructivist teaching career (which I am sure flows into my leadership...something I am now curious about investigating more, which is an added bonus I thank you for!) it is always a pleasure to recognise it in others! I am also very active on twitter so I will have to keep an eye out! ( @st3pht007). Agree re inquiry - when teamed with a self review process, it is a very powerful vehicle of professional discovery, and allows for a pathway forward.

    1. Kia ora Stephanie, Thank you for your valuable feedback. I found it quite interesting to read/learn about the Constructivist line of thought of both Piaget and Vygotsky.

      However, regardless of which theory of learning is being examined, it is extremely important that we allow for an open and adaptable approach in our practice. Each learner has individual needs and slightly different ways of learning and it is because of this individuality that there will always come a time when learning theories fail to enhance any sort of learning. (Sotto, 2007: 127).