Community of practice: the way forward for teacher development


Teacher development should be an ongoing process rather than short-term training events and programs

By Radhika Gholkar

The need for teacher development is well recognized in all education systems. Quality education depends on the competence and knowledge of teachers. Significant investments have been made in teacher development interventions through cascade training, coaching, mentoring or direct teacher training. While these formats have had some impact, much more needs to be done to achieve a substantial transformation in teacher knowledge, skills and practice. Teacher development should be viewed as an ongoing process rather than one-off, infrequent, and short-lived training programs. There is also a need to shift to teacher-directed ‘learning’ rather than externally provided ‘development’.

Communities of Practice (CoP)

CoPs are “social learning systems”; a group of people with common interests, issues or passion related to each other. The concept has traveled across fields such as information technology and medicine. It has gained momentum in education being increasingly seen as a context-specific, needs-based and sustainable continuing professional development (CPD) option for teachers. To teach effectively, teachers need to respond to daily challenges in the classroom on an ongoing basis by connecting their practice, experience and knowledge, and CoPs could help enable this.

The CoP model was first tested on a large scale in Maharashtra for English teachers under the Tejas project. About 51,500 teachers attended monthly face-to-face meetings called Teacher Activity Group (TAG) meetings with their peers led by a trained coordinator within the group. The teachers also participated in an online CoP on WhatsApp where they shared their thoughts, concerns and challenges related to teaching English with each other. An evaluation of the impact of TAG meetings on the quality of English lessons revealed considerable changes in the teaching and learning of English. For example, more teachers demonstrated the use of interactive and learning-focused techniques in their classrooms, resulting in better learner engagement. Teachers’ participation in TAG meetings has boosted enthusiasm for CPD among teachers, encouraged teachers to innovate in classrooms, increased their confidence to speak English, and expanded opportunities for using English in the classroom by learners. The evaluation also found that CoPs on WhatsApp have become an important way to share ideas and communicate with peers and that this use of social media to support TAGs has pushed teachers to engage in other forms. online CPD, including regular Twitter events hosted by teachers and coordinators and writing. the blogs.

CoPs have been useful during the Covid-19 pandemic when teachers faced challenges and unprecedented levels of stress. Teachers have found they are equipped to quickly move their TAG meetings online. Informal teacher feedback supports the fact that CoPs in the form of TAG meetings have facilitated much-needed support and connection during the pandemic.

Enable CoPs

The benefits of the CoP model are not limited to teachers and learners, but extend to broader government education systems. A more reflective and self-directed teacher means the teacher is better able to communicate developmental needs and seek out appropriate support. It also means that government education systems have potentially less of a burden to direct, organize and manage teacher professional development. Traditional CPD interventions require government mechanisms not only to identify and organize academic expertise, but also to manage the operational aspects. A CoP model, built around motivated learners, is likely to reduce operational and logistical inputs, while ensuring better results.

But government systems still have a crucial role to play. The administrative aspects of managing CoPs are as important as the academic aspects. For example, for CoPs to work within the government system, teachers need the necessary permissions to attend, administrative support is needed to identify safe spaces for meetings, and school principals need to enable an environment of experimentation and innovation for teachers to develop their practice in their classrooms. Evaluation of the effectiveness of TAG meetings also revealed that the lack of such administrative support from local education authorities limits the effectiveness of CoPs.

Given the benefits to teachers and wider education systems and the ever-changing needs of learners, the CoP model promises to reimagine the teacher development process.

The author is Senior Academic Director, English, British Council India

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