Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Tools for the Study and Design of Collaborative Teacher Learning: The Affordances of Different Conceptions of Teacher Community and Activity Theory

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Tools for the Study and Design of Collaborative Teacher Learning: The Affordances of Different Conceptions of Teacher Community and Activity Theory

Article excerpt

Has Teacher "Community" Lost its Meaning?

Teacher educators need tools to help them think about teacher learning, to design activities and programs that foster it, and to assess the results of their work with pre-service and in-service teachers. In this article, in order to improve the conceptual tools available for the design and study of teacher education, I tease apart distinctions among several popular notions of teacher community, clarifying how each can make a distinct contribution to the research and practice of teacher development. I also suggest how activity theory in general, and writing about third spaces in specific, might compliment the contributions and limitations of various notions of teacher community.

An impressive array of scholars and reformers have called for teachers to overcome their historic isolation through the development of "teacher professional community" (McLaughlin &Talbert, 1993), "professional learning communities" (Dufour, Eaker, & Dufour, 2005), "inquiry communities" (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1992a), schools as "communities of learners" (Barth, 1984), "instructional communities of practice" (Supovitz, 2002), and similar variations on the theme of "learning communities" (McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001; Sergiovanni, 2000). Some call for teachers to work as part of a larger community beginning in pre-service teacher education (Dinsmore & Wenger, 2006; Koeppen, Huey, & Connor, 2000; Kosnick & Beck, 2003).

This profusion of community-oriented reforms has led Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth (2001) to observe that "community has become an obligatory appendage to every educational innovation" (p. 492) and to conclude that the word community "has lost its meaning" (p. 492). DuFour (2004) similarly concludes that the concept of professional learning community is "in vogue" (p. 6) but worries that so many have leapt onto the bandwagon that the phrase now describes "every imaginable combination of individuals with an interest in education" (p. 6). DuFour also fears that the concept of community is "in danger of losing all meaning" (2004, p. 6). Westheimer (1998) found the literature on teacher community "disappointingly vague" (p. 3), and warns that without richer and more careful conceptualization, "the rhetoric of community is rendered ubiquitous and shallow" (p. 148).

It would be a shame if different notions of community blurred together to loosely connote some important kind of collegial learning and comradely spirit that can occur among teachers. Different conceptions of teacher community have been essential in helping me to understand how a group of preservice teacher education supervisors learned their craft (Levine, 2009), and to explore what groups of in-service teachers learned from their collaborative work (Levine & Marcus, in press). I have not only used the conceptions in research. My departmental colleagues and I want to improve how we prepare our preservice teachers to teach specific subject matter to English language learners (ELLs), suffusing understanding about ELLs across many different aspects of teacher preparation rather than asking just one professor and course to address the topic. As my colleagues and I try to improve what we know and can do, we're combining insights regarding how inquiry communities and communities of practice promote learning; having distinct models has helped us think about the role of inquiry and deprivatized practice as we conceptualize our work together and assess our progress.

As suggested in the top five rows of Table 1, most conceptions of teacher community do have a common core, i.e., the notion that ongoing collaboration among educators produces teacher learning, and this ultimately improves teaching and learning for K-12 students. Different constructs, however, can also focus us on different aspects of teacher learning from collaboration. As suggested by the bottom two rows of Table 1, some additional theorizing regarding how individuals may act and learn together offer even more affordances for studying collaborative teacher learning. …

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