Communities Of Practice And Their Impact On Teachers Education Essay

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In an attempt to gather information for the purposes of this essay, about the ways in which 'Communities of Practice' contribute in teachers' professional development, my sight fell onto an online article in the Huffington Post written by a former teacher titled "The Importance of Professional Development". In her article Wolf (2009) was describing how little workshops had contributed in her professional development, believing that the greatest successes come from professional learning communities that enable teachers to actively participate.

"When I was teaching, I had opportunities to attend well developed and thoughtful workshops on how to transform teaching and learning. Sadly, the enthusiasm engendered by the workshops waned when I returned to the classroom and the reality of the thousands of other things that had to be done. It was hard as a young teacher to generalize from what I learned at the workshops. [...] Because I had no follow-up from the courses or on-going support from colleagues or mentors, I would look back months later only to realize that I had been unable to implement anything I learned." (Wolf, 2009)

Her words made me realize that as a teacher, new in the profession, I am not the only one to believe that workshops and seminars on their own have been to a great extent useless and that they have little to offer in my professional development as a teacher. As we are heading in the 21st century, in times of constant change, learning is becoming a fundamental challenge as the new century requires schools to offer opportunities to students that will enable them to adapt to the complex and interdependent world with the teacher's role being crucial in supporting these efforts (Stoll and Temperley, 2009). As Cook and Fine (1997) point out, teachers are required to understand emerging standards- such as those in maths, science and technology- and views of learning and adjust their roles and practice accordingly in order to enhance students' learning. Therefore, to be prepared for new practices and roles it is crucial for teachers to be continually supported with professional development. Teachers and administrators need to cooperate and learn from one another by working in study groups, conducting action research, coaching one another, planning and discussing various issues. Therefore, as Keown (2009) points out, in recent years there has been a lot of interest in the idea of situating professional development within a community of practice framework with much of current theory suggesting that this is more effective than traditional forms of in-service professional development and learning.

This study seeks to explore the emerging idea of 'community of practice' by looking at its characteristics, the forms it takes in the education profession and the ways in which it may serve as an important tool to foster more effective and sustainable teacher professional development offering a solution to the problems arising from the traditional models used. The factors constraining its effectiveness shall also be discussed.

Teacher Professional Development

In order to understand the ways in which communities of practice contribute to teacher professional development one should first be aware with what the concept of the latter implies. According to Reimers (2003), "professional development, in a broad sense, refers to the development of a person in his or her professional role" (Reimers, 2003:11). Glatthorn (1995) argues that teacher professional development specifically refers to the growth that teachers achieve in their profession as a result of gaining increased experienced and examining their teaching systematically (Gltthom (1995), sited in Reimers 2003:11). For years now the only increased experience gained by teachers was the new information provided to them on specific aspects of their job through 'staff development' and 'in-service training'. These were the only forms of professional development available to teachers consisting of workshops or short-term courses. However, it has been identified by researchers (Ingvarson, 1998; Guenther & Falk, 2006) that although the traditional system is essential, it is not longer sufficient (Reimers, 2003).

According to Guenther & Falk (2006), research undertaken over a long period of time has suggested that professional development and learning of teachers often produces unsatisfactory or disappointing results. Traditional models of professional development involving formal education activities such as courses or workshops may not be adequate or relevant to teachers needs for professional development. Listening to practical tips by experts on various topics or being provided with some useful materials and rarely having any following up to the experience constraints professional development and ongoing progression (Guenther & Falk 2006:3).

Fraser et al. (2007) point out that in recent years an emerging paradigm is one that moves professional development away from the practice of attending courses and training sessions to the concept of lifelong or continuing learning, viewing teacher professional development as "an ongoing process of reflection and review that articulates with development planning that meets corporate, departmental and individual needs" (Fraser et al., 2007:156). The professional development of teachers has come to be considered "a long term process that includes regular opportunities and experiences planned systematically to promote growth and development in the profession" (Reimers, 2003:12). Other than being just a series of training workshops, meetings and in-service days the objectives of professional development have shifted to developing, implementing and sharing practices, knowledge and values that address the needs of all students, being a collaborative effort where teachers receive support from peers, local administration, teacher educators as well as outside experts, (Shlager & Fusco, 2003). "It is a process of learning how to put knowledge into practice through engagement in practice within a community of practitioners" (Shlager & Fusco, 2003:205).

The main reason for the rising popularity of the new paradigm is that there is vast evidence to show that successful professional development experiences have an impact on teachers' jobs both inside and outside the classroom. In her international review of the literature on teacher professional development, Remiers (2003), brings together various studies supporting the impact professional development has on teachers' job. These conclude that participating in professional development opportunities, has a positive impact on teacher's beliefs and practices (Wood & Bennet, 2000); Borko & Putman, 1995), students' learning and achievement (Kettle and Sellars (1996); Guzman, 1995; Falk, 2001) and on the implementation of educational reforms (Futrell et al., 1995) (Remiers (2003). The outcomes of the studies point out to the establishment of models that foster successful professional development of teachers shifting away from traditional models. "Researchers and reform advocates consistently cite participation in communities of practice as an integral factor in achieving effective, sustainable professional development systems" (Shlager & Fusco 2003:206).

Community of Practice: Definition and Characteristics

For many of us the concept of 'learning' is directly linked to images of classrooms, teachers, home work or training sessions. However, Wenger (1998) points out that learning is an integral part of one's everyday life i.e. it is part of the community or organization in which one participates and argues that although everybody is familiar with this, they lack systematic vocabulary to talk about it (Wenger, 1998).   Barton & Tusting (2005) point out that "it may appear obvious that human minds develop in social situations and extend their sphere of activity and communicative competencies" (Barton & Tusting (2005:4). However, Wenger argues that adequate vocabulary is essential as "the concepts we use to make sense of the world direct both our perception and our actions" (Wenger 1998:8). According to Wenger (2006), giving a name to something that is so familiar that it even escapes our attention such as 'communities of practice', would make it a perspective. In particular, "it allows us to see past more obvious formal structures such as organizations, classrooms, or nations, and perceive the structures defined by engagement in practice and the informal learning that comes with it." (Wenger, 2006:1)

Lave and Wenger (1991) were the first to discuss about 'communities of practice', showing that the learning of members of a community is situated i.e. that they all learn by being part of a social context of real practice (Viskovic, 2006). Wenger (2006) defines communities of practice as "groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger, 2006).  Wenger (2006) argues that communities of practice have been around for as long as human beings have learned together. "At home, at work, at school, in our hobbies, we all belong to communities of practice, a number of them usually. In some we are core members. In many we are merely peripheral.". (Wenger. 2006:1)

According to Hammersley (2005), the idea of situating learning within communities of practice was by Lave, Wenger and others "a reaction against the tendency of most traditional psychological theories of learning to treat it as amounting simply to changes in the capacities or behaviour of individuals, and to conceptualize it in terms of the acquisition of propositional knowledge and/or of explicit rules of action (Hammersley, 2005:6). Lave and Wenger (1991) emphasized that learning involves social participation in communities and that it amounts to the learner that comes to behave in ways that are recognized as competent within that community (Hammersley, 2005). Communities of practice therefore evolved as part of a social theory of learning based on the idea that learning is a process of social participation (Mortier et al., 2010).

According to Wenger (1998), participation here does not only refer to local events of engagement in certain activities with certain people, but to a more encompassing process of being active participants in the practices of social communities and constructing identities in relation to these communities. For Wenger (1998) participation in a community has implications for understanding and supporting learning for individuals (learning is an issue of engaging in and contributing to the practices of their communities), communities (learning is an issue of refining their practice and ensuring new generations of members) and organizations (learning is an issue of sustaining the interconnected communities of practice through which an organization knows what it knows) (Viskovic, 2006:326).

Furthermore, Wenger argues that " participation shapes not only what we do, but also who we are and how we interpret what to do [...] and involves both a kind of action and a form of belonging" (Wenger, 1998:4). Therefore, learning combines community (learning as belonging) and identity (learning as becoming); and it addresses both meaning (learning as experience) and practice (learning as doing) (Wenger 1998, sited in Mortier et al. 2010:1).

In addition, a community of practice is not a synonym for group, team or network. What distinguishes communities of practice from other groups is it critical element -mutual engagement (Viskovic, 2006). "A community of practice is different from a community of interest or a geographical community in that it involves a shared practice" (Smith, 2009:4). Wenger (1998) argues that in distinguishing a community of practice from other groups and communities three elements are crucial. Namely these are the domain, the community and the practice.

1) The domain: A community of practice is more than just a club of friends or a network of people. 'It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people' (Wenger 2006:1).

2) The community: "In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other". (Wenger, 2006:1) Wenger (2006) argues that by having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice and that members of communities of practice interact and learn together although it may not be done on a daily basis (Wenger, 2006).

3) The practice: 'Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems-in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction" (Wenger, 2006:1) Wenger (1998) points out that the development of shared practice involves several processes for the communities and not just the individuals who participate namely "evolving forms of mutual engagement; understanding and tuning a sense of joint enterprise and developing their repertoire, styles and discourses." (Wenger, 1998:95)

Wenger (2006) believes that "it is the combination of these three elements that constitutes a community of practice. And it is by developing these three elements in parallel that one cultivates such a community." (Wenger, 2006:1) Moreover, in order for it to function, a community of practice needs "to generate and appropriate a shared repertoire of ideas, commitments and memories" (Smith, 2009:1). Lave and Wenger (1991) argue that members need to be involved in a set of relationships overtime and that communities develop around things that matter to people (Smith, 2009). Organizing members around some particular area of knowledge and activity provides them with a sense of joint enterprise and identity (Smith, 2009:1).

Wenger et al. (2002) emphasize that "communities of practice evolve organically rather than being formally designed by an institution, but their evolution can be 'shepherded' by the organization" (Wenger et al. (2002), sited in Viskovic 2006:326). In other words Wenger's stance is that communities of practice can be identified, supported and facilitated but they cannot be designed (Evans & Powell 2007).

Moreover, it must be noted that communities of practice come in a variety of forms. They may be small or large, formal or informal, being local or covering the globe, often having a core group and many peripheral members. Members may meet face to face or online and some maybe within an organization or including members from various others organizations (Wenger, 2006). Whatever the case however, "members are brought together by joining in common activities and by what they have learned through their mutual engagement in these activities" (Wenger (1998), sited in Smith (2009:1).

In discussing communities of practice, Lave and Wenger (1991) used the concept of legitimate peripheral practice to refer to 'the process by which newcomers become part of a community of practice and old-timers continue to learn' and linked this to the idea of apprenticeship (Smith, 2009). The term 'legitimate' is used to "denote participation in the real and necessary activities of the community of practice", while 'peripheral' means that "fewer demands on time, effort and responsibility are made than for full participants" (Lave & Wenger (1991), sited in Bathmaker & Avis 2005:50). Lave & Wenger (1991) argue that peripherality can be empowering when one moves towards more intensive participation, but can also be disempowering as when one is kept from participating more fully (Bathmaker & Avis, 2005).

According to Bathmaker and Avis (2005), "the concept of legitimate peripheral participation means that access to a community of practice and to the artefacts and activities of that community are very important if newcomers are to learn" Bathmaker & Avis, 2005:50). This involves access to a range of ongoing activity, to experienced members of the community, and to information, resources as well as opportunities for participation (Bathmaker & Avis 2005).

Lave and Wenger (1991) believe that the encounters between newcomers and old-timers bring together different perspectives which contribute to the community's ongoing learning (Viskovic, 2006). They believe that a redefined concept of apprenticeship is useful for understanding how newcomers learn and argue that rather than formal instruction or processes of observation and imitation, apprenticeship involves learning as an improvised practice, which unfolds in opportunities for engagement with practice, defined by the social context of learning (Bathmaker & Avis 2005). What Lave and Wenger (1001) propose is that learning in apprenticeship is not just about learning 'basic' knowledge and skill and that it involves moving toward full participation in the socio-cultural practices of the community (Bathmaker & Avis, 2005) This involves "absorbing a general idea of what being part of the community involves: how experienced members talk, walk, work, conduct their lives, how outsiders interact with it, how and when and about what old-timers collaborate, and what they enjoy, dislike and respect (Lave & Wenger (1991), sited in Bathmaker & Avis 2005:50).

Furthermore, what is identified to be an important aspect of communities of practice is 'talk' (Bathmaker & Avis 2005). According to Lave and Wenger (1991) this involves "both the language used within a particular community of practice, and the stories told, through which people within the community share knowledge and learn from each other" (Bathmaker & Avis 2005:50). They believe that conversations about problems and difficulties faced are important in apprenticeship in order to become integrated in a community of practice. "For newcomers then the purpose is not to learn from talk as a substitute for legitimate peripheral participation; it is to learn to talk as a key to legitimate peripheral participation." (Lave & Wenger, 1991, sited in Bathmaker & Avis 2005:50)

The Practice of Teaching

"In talk about teacher preparation and professional development, we often hear the word practice associated with what, how, or when the learning of teaching is supposed to happen." (Lampert, 2010:21)

To acknowledge the value of communities of practice in teacher professional development it is important to be aware of what the 'practice of teaching' implies. Brown and Duguid (2001) assert that by practice we mean, as most theorists of practice mean, "undertaking or engaging fully in a task, job or profession" (Brown & Duguid (2001), sited in Handley et al. 2006:645). In this sense, according to Wenger (1998), practice is considered to be always 'social' practice and is about 'doing in a historical and social context that gives structure and meaning to what we do' (Wenger (1998), sited in Handley et al. 2006:645).

Taking the above idea that teaching is a social practice then learning the practice of teaching in this sense is "what teachers do in common rather than learning what a particular teacher does by apprenticing with a more proficient individual." (Lampert 2010:29). Lampert (2010) argues that it is about more than acquiring skills or best practices and that it involves adopting the identity of a teacher, being accepted as a teacher, and taking on the common values, language, and tools of teaching. "Learning the practice of teaching is not only about learning

to do what teachers do but learning to call oneself a teacher and to believe in what teachers believe in" (Lampert, 2010:29). In other words, the learning of the activity and the acquisition of identity go hand in hand. Lave (1993) argues that "developing an identity as a member of a community and becoming knowledgeably skillful are part of the same process, with the former motivating, shaping, and giving meaning to the latter, which it subsumes" (Lave (1993), sited in Lampert 2010:29).

In addition, it is widely argued (Lampert, Boerst & Graziani in press) that the nature of teaching practice is culturally defined when teachers work with colleagues with whom they share assumptions about the goals of their work and how to accomplish them. The character of practice is formed through interaction of teachers face-to face and use of common tools such as schedules, books, tests etc., to work on what they consider to be common problems (Lampert, 2010).

The fact that teaching and learning to teach are widely considered to be social practices and collaborative enterprises" (Secada & Adajian, 1997) led in research on teacher education to become increasingly concerned with teachers development from perspectives rooted in sociocultural views of learning with popularity particularly given in Wenger's social theory of learning and notion of community of practice (Gómez & Rico, 2007:17). "With this understanding, along with important shifts in studying teachers' practice, the development of learning communities has become a worldwide focus for teacher learning" (Liebeman & Mace, 2010:80).

Communities of Teaching Practice

"In education research, the term community has been invoked as "a classroom strategy, a professional development strategy, an alternative to formal professional development, a small group of educators engaged in some activity and a label to instill a sense of trust and interdependence among the members of a group" (Schlager & Fusco 2003:207).

What evolves as the main idea from the above discussion is that "professional learning is rooted in the human need to belong, to make a contribution to a community, and to understand that experience and knowledge are part of community property"(Lieberman & Mace, 2010:80). Therefore as Gallucci (2003) points out, communities of teaching practice are conceptualized as the locus of (a) engagement in the actions of teaching, (b) interpersonal relations, (c) shared knowledge, and (4) negotiation of meanings about the work.

One of the ways in which teachers participate and belong in communities of practice involves doing tasks in cooperation with other teachers, developing good relationships as well as a shared repertoire involving meetings, talking, giving and receiving help, developing and defining competence, devising solutions and meanings, having stories about practice, maintaining continuity over time, constructing a learning trajectory and developing discourses (Gallucci, 2003). Through these actions their instructional style (e.g., pedagogies, classroom management, interactions with students), curriculum and assessment (e.g., reading/writing,), planning and organization, ideas as well as attitudes about practice are benefited due to adaption or modification (Gallucci, 2003). Downes et al. (2001) argues that coaching, modelling and collective problem solving in specific areas of practice contributes in effective and sustainable professional development. Moreover, by using means such as language, material tools or symbols and interaction amongst other people teachers mediate their actions and build their identity within the school. (Gallucci, 2003)

According to Guenther & Falk (2006), "the community's collective knowledge is constructed largely through informal narrative discourse between community members" (Guenther & Falk, 2006:4). Through interaction the community of practice sustains itself; novice teachers initially engage with mentors and peers in the community as peripheral participants in practice, and later participate as experienced actors (Lave & Wenger (1991), sited in Guenther & Falk 2006:3).

Gallucci (2003) argues that reflection (e.g., retreats, time-off, conversations, breaks in rhythm, etc.); and explorations or trying new things out (e.g., trying out new curricula, using ideas from an inservice, visiting other classes) enable teachers to adopt their perspectives outside of their own bounded practice with alignment being crucial as it involves making shifts or changes in practice based on a new idea or set of ideas. Alignment includes convergence around a common vision, coordinating practice with new standards or methods, or enforcement of new policies or procedures (i.e., by external structures). Alignment is required as is it the process that produces the ability to act with respect to a broad and rich picture of the world, to do something in concert with others and to embrace a bigger idea as part of our identity. (Gallucci 2003:6).

Moreover, recent studies suggest that communities of practice should not only focus on the activities within school and that teachers need to form communities of practice with colleagues and experts outside their own schools (Schlager & Fusco, 2003). McLaughlin and Talbert (2001) point to the importance of the relationship between district and school staff in supporting teacher communities and describe both the negative effects on professional development of an antagonistic relationship and the positive effects where the district office and the local teacher community work together (Schluger & Fusco, 2003) . "In strong district communities, shared norms, values, and expectations that support teacher innovation are communicated throughout the district". McLaughlin and Talbert (2001), sited in Schlager & Fusco 2003:208) Schlager & Fusco (2003) point out that research has shown that those who work in the schools, district leadership, and outside professional development partners play a part in establishing values and perpetuating norms of instructional improvement; developing communication and cooperation; building human capacity for coaching, mentoring, and peer support; sharing tools and artifacts; and building the social networks and infrastructure needed to generate and diffuse new knowledge.

When talking about communities of teaching practice it is important to note that communities vary along two important dimensions i.e. 'strong' or 'weak' communities of practice. In strong communities of practice teachers have a strong influence on each other's work whereas in weak communities of practice the influence is low. Strong communities may vary along relative openness to new ideas versus 'insurality' as being closed to new ideas (Gallucci, 2003). In other words "a community of practice can have a strong influence on the practice of a group of teachers and that community may be strong in its unwillingness to entertain new or reforming ideas" (Gallucci 2003:8). The following table taken by Gallucci (2003) portrays the key dimensions of difference among the communities of practice.

Openness Insularity


Teachers work together to

design curriculum, plan

lessons, and assess student

work. Teachers negotiate

actively with new policies.

Teachers work together, making

curricular decisions and sharing

responsibilities. They are set in

their ways and oppose new



Individual teachers design

curriculum. They accept new

policies, but lack community

with which to create strong


Teachers work alone and teach

using methods that are familiar to

them. They respond superficially.

Taken and modified by Gallucci (2003:8)

In his study Gallucci (2003) identified that the characteristics of the stronger communities of practice mediate the ways that the opportunities for learning are taken up by teachers. The fact that communities may be open to new ideas or closed off and insular, affects the way that teachers interpret new ideas. For example, Gallucci (2003) reports that in the study, a teacher in a strong but insular community of practice was suspicious of the district's new adoptions, as well as their curricular frameworks and tended to reject them as a source of new learning whereas in contrast a teacher working in a strong and open community of practice had spent the summer working with fellow teachers to organize the 3rd grade curriculum to address the district's Essential Learning outcomes (Gallucci 2003:12).

Gallucci (2003) also distinguishes between communities of teaching practice and more formal and time-limited entities such as task forces or teams. Teams of teachers, or other educators, may exist to accomplish a particular, predefined task (such as reviewing a particular curriculum or developing a strategic plan); they may or may not become communities of practice-entities in which teachers negotiate the meaning of their everyday work through their learning and identification with a community of other teachers (Gallucci, 2003:18). Communities of practice is not just about passing information among teachers or co-workers but creating, expanding and exchanging knowledge about their practice as well as developing individual capabilities (Wenger, McDermott, & Synder, 2002, sided in Gallucci, 2003).

Benefits and Constraints

This section brings together both the ways in which communities of practice contribute in teacher professional development as drawn from the above discussion and the various factors constraining their development.

Communities of practice enable novice teachers to develop their understanding on practices by being embedded in the process themselves. In this way they are both absorbing and being absorbed by the culture of practice. Simultaneous interaction helps to develop both their understanding and practice. In this way learning becomes visualised as more like a journey through time, moving from the 'legitimate periphery' of a subject community to becoming a full 'member' of it (Wenger, 1998). "Newcomers gain access to the community's professional knowledge tools and social norms through peripheral participation in authentic activities with other members" (Schlager & Fusco, 2003).

According to various researchers "initial teacher preparation must help novices learn how to do instruction, not just hear and talk about it" (Ball, Sleep, Boerst, & Bass, 2009, sited in Lampert 2009). Research has shown that a stand-alone workshop has less than a 5% chance of actually changing teacher practice in the classroom and that by adding on-going and embedded professional development, providing professional learning communities where teachers interact with their colleagues, and ensuring on-going support from coaches and administrative staff, the chance of actually affecting teaching and learning increases dramatically to nearly 90% (Joyce and Showers (2002), sited in Wolf, 2009).

According to Lampert (2010), numerous studies remind as of the limited impact that formal education models of teacher training have on what novice teachers do, compared with the influence of the "real" teachers that novices work with in classrooms and that it is those teachers that novices "identify with" and wish to become. Although traditional models provide useful information to novice teachers around the practice of teaching they are considered to be by researchers inadequate as they are piecemeal and they are not integrated and systemic (Downes et al. 2001; McRae et al. 2001, sited in Guenther & Falk, 2006). Communities of practice on the other hand are believed to be more effective due to the synergies of interaction among peers (Wenger et al. 2002) and because they are localised (Borko, 2004) (Guenther & Falk, 2006). As Wenger (2005) argues "by engaging directly in the production of knowledge with your colleagues, you are deepening your sense of professional identity while at the same time improving your practice" (Wenger (2005), sited in Guenther & Falk 2006:4)

In addition, the encounters between new and old teachers bring along various and different perspectives that contribute in both newcomers and old-timers professional development as they learn from each other. Experienced teachers enable newcomers to identify successful techniques or faults in the practice of teaching whereas newcomers bring into the community new trends and ideas. Schlager & Fusco (2003 ) point out that new practices and technologies are brought into the community by leaders, newcomers, and outsiders, and are adopted by the community through the discourse of its members and the evolution of practice over time (Schlager & Fusco, 2003:204). Through participation in the communities teachers develop and possibly adapt and thereby reconstruct their identities and practice (Schlager & Fusco, 2003).

Researchers such as Wineburg & Woolworth (2001), developing communities to try to understand how they get started, how people get engaged, how they function, how they develop and how they are sustained, have found that teachers in communities of practice "went from concern only with themselves as individuals to uncovering the fault lines (conflicts over gender, race, differences in teaching styles) to eventually taking responsibility for their own and their colleagues' learning and well-being in the community (Mace & Lieberman, 2010:80).

As professional development has come to be considered a collaborative effort in which teachers receive support from peers, administration, teacher educators and outside experts (Schlager & Fusco, 2003), developing communities of practice within the education system would help support this effort. Communities of practice would enable practitioners through cooperation, sharing values and beliefs, and working towards a common vision to put knowledge effectively into practice and foster professional development.

Although communities of practice contribute in achieving and sustaining professional development, there are barriers that constraint their development. Other than being time consuming one of the biggest barriers could be the participants themselves for various personal or contextual reasons. According to Wenger (1998), communities of practice thrive on passion and die due to lack of it. Where there is a lack of willingness and involvement on the part of the teachers or administration teams, communities of practice are hard to develop. Eekelen et al. (2006) point out that although professional is a necessity it cannot be taken for granted. Studies have shown that factors inhibiting the willingness of teachers to take part in their teaching communities are that they may hold on to established habits of teaching, may have no open mind for others or may blame the educational system for things that go wrong (Eekelen et al, (2006).

Furthermore, research suggests that there is difficulty of building trusting and respectful relationships across school departments (Grossman et al., 2000) and career development levels (Hartcollis, 2000) (Schlager & Fusco, 2006). Moreover, teachers also find it difficult to reflect on their own practice perhaps because "their classroom practice is closely tied to their identity as a person, because teachers lack certain professional dispositions (Ball & Cohen, 1999), or because teaching has largely developed a culture of privacy (Little, 1990)" (Schlager & Fusco, 2006:205).

Although mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire are key features to CoP, Wenger (1998) does not presume that they generate shared understandings acknowledging the possibility of conflict (Handley et al. 2006). Handley et al (2006) argue that "an individual's continual negotiation of 'self' within and across multiple communities of practice may, of course, generate intra-personal tensions as well as instabilities within the community" (Handley et al, 2006:647). For example, newcomers may experience conflicts of identities in relation to the role of practice expected to adopt. In this case they may choose to remain marginal in order to avoid compromising their sense of self or may adapt their practice in ways which secure a continued sense of existential integrity whilst still notionally fitting in with community norms or may even choose not to join to avoid conflicts of identity and practice (Handley et al, 2006). Handley et al. (2006) point out that "individuals bring to a community a personal history of involvement with workplace, social and familial groups whose norms may complement or conflict with one other" [and argue that] these conflicts need to be negotiated and reconciled at least in part if the individual is to achieve a coherent sense of self" (Handley et al., 2006:642).

Moreover, what may inhibit the 'operation' of communities of practice is the institutional structure. Policy makers' reforms that took place in the last decades have pointed out to the application of bureaucratic rationality favouring the headmaster as the individual exercising authority over others limiting the 'say' and involvement of those teachers in informal positions. A majority of teachers are unwilling to participate as they feel that they are not part of a supportive community or that their contribution is not valued (Storey, 2004). The school's structure circumscribes teachers' ability to work together.

Another factor inhibiting the effective development of CoP which is related to the latter is 'the dynamics of power' (Handley et al. 2006). Full participation may be denied to newcomers by other more experienced or powerful practitioners. According to Handley et al. (2006), constraints on novices may be strongest if the latter attempts to transform the knowledge and practices of the existing community as that knowledge is important to all participants who have invested in it. Powerful practitioners may deny full participation to newcomers. For, the dynamics between identity-development and forms of participation are critical to the ways in which newcomers internalize, challenge or reject the existing practices of their community. (Handley et al., 2006)


The above analysis of researchers' conclusions on communities of practice provides enough justification for one to argue that 'Communities of Practice' foster teacher professional development, being as well more effective than traditional models. It moves novices away from isolation and learning though formal training sessions and seminars and places them at 'the edges of a whole process' (Wenger, 1998) by being active participants enabling them to construct their identity. Moreover, it allows various perspectives to be brought together leading in the improvement of teaching practice. Communities of practice can serve as a means in achieving the objectives of professional development being as mentioned above the development, implementation and sharing of practices, knowledge and values that address the needs of all students.

However, the analysis has revealed that both personal and contextual factors may act as barriers in their development. Institutional structures, the 'power of dynamics', lack of time, as well as the participants themselves may inhibit the development of the community. This study would suggest that the effective development or otherwise of the community can be to a great extent influenced by school administrators. In acknowledging the value of these communities there is much that can be done at the district and school levels to ensure that communities of practice develop among teachers. Schools can organize in ways that encourage activities that support their development and limit their constraints (such as schedules that provide collaborative planning time, and activities that require collaboration among the members of communities of practice in order to enhance the probability for them to flourish (Gallucci, 2003). As Gallucci (2003) points out "without such organizational support and conscious planning, communities of practice may languish depending on the volunteer or spare time efforts of particularly energetic teachers" (Gallucci, 2003:18).