For this tool you will need the following resources:
- PDC-2 PowerPoint
- Handout 1: Collaborating 1
- Handout 2: Collaborating 2
This tool allows teachers to consider important aspects of becoming a successful collaborative inquiry group. It presents ten important featuress of such groups that researchers have identified and provides you with some questions that you can use with your group to stimulate their individual and collective thinking about this.
In their book The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Professional Development, Dana and Yendel-Hoppey identify ten essential elements towards establishing a healthy teacher group that is focussed on professional learning in which teachers inquire into their practice.
Ask the group to discuss these important elements and consider how as a group they can ensure that these are met.
The Handout 1: Collaborating 1 summarises the ten essential elements. Turn some of these into questions that you raise with the group. Some suggestions of questions are given below together with some other notes.
Healthy inquiry-oriented Professional Learning Communities:
- Establish a vision that creates momentum for their work;
What are you hoping to achieve? Individually? Collectively?
- Build trust among group members;
How can you as members of the group come to trust each other?
For example, will you feel able to share with each other experiences of what doesn’t work as well as what does work?
- Pay attention to the ways power can influence group dynamics;
Do you feel comfortable collaborating with colleagues who may have greater or less job status than you?
- Understand and embrace collaboration;
Do you feel comfortable collaborating with colleagues? Within school? Across schools?
It is important to the mascil philosophy that a collaborative community is developed. The vision referred to above needs to be jointly agreed upon and the group should work in a collaborative way towards meeting this.
- Encourage, recognize, and appreciate diversity within the group;
Within the group what different experiences and expertise do we have to offer?
In any group there will be diversity: for example, it may be that newly qualified teachers are working alongside much more experienced teachers; it may be that someone from industry is working with the group. The group should acknowledge these differences and value the different perspectives that each person brings to the work of the group.
- Promote the development of critical friends;
Can each member of our group identify and work with a critical friend?
In an inquiring community it is helpful if each member has a critical friend who can comfortably ask the difficult questions: for example, he or she should be able to probe what worked and what didn’t work so well. At times it may be that a particularly difficult question needs to be asked: a critical friend should be able to do this in a way that is sensitive to another member of the group.
- Hold the group accountable for and document learning;
Is there some way in which as individuals and as a group we can document what we have learned?
Maybe it would be useful to write up some case studies of classroom enquiries so the group can share experiences with colleagues. Maybe a wikispace, or similar, would be a useful way by which the group can document and share their professional learning.
- Understand change and acknowledge the discomfort it may bring to some group members;
Professional learning can be challenging – it requires a shift in practice and reflection on often strongly held beliefs. This may mean that some of the group will feel uncomfortable at times: particularly when things don’t work easily. mascil provides a number of challenges – this needs to be recognized.
- Have a comprehensive view of what constitutes data, and are willing to consider all forms and types of data throughout the work of the group;
What data will we collect to inform our collaborative inquiry?
Teacher inquiry into classroom practice is action research and needs to be considered as such: it is most effective if formalised in some way with attention being paid to the collection and analysis of data. This is considered in more detail under the question, “How can we research our practice?” which you can find here.
- Work with school managers;
Do you have support of your school managers? If not, how do you gain such support?
Mascil is a project that seeks innovation in classroom teaching practices and as such requires support by school managers at all levels. Without this support it is difficult to bring about change. The process of professional learning itself also requires support.
Following the discussion prompted by this tool you may wish to have a more general discussion about what it means to be a community of practice. Researchers Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger introduced this term in recognition of how individuals in their professional, and other aspects of their life, operate as members of groups that have a common interest with members learning from each other. In mascil teachers are being asked to become members of a new community of practice that is designed and coordinated by you with the intention of learning about aspects of teaching through cycles of inquiry.
The diagram in Handout 2: Collaborating 2, gives an overview of important aspects in cultivating a new community of practice. Discuss aspects of this with the group you are initiating, developing and sustaining.
Dana, N. F., & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2008). The reflective educator’s guide to professional development: Coaching inquiry-oriented learning communities. Corwin Press.
Lave, J. (1991). Situating learning in communities of practice. Perspectives on socially shared cognition, 2, 63-82.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity.
Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.