Chasms and Bridges: Generativity in the Space between Educators' Communities of Practice

Jan. 01, 2010

This article was published in Teaching and Teacher Education, Vol 26 number 1,
Author: Tricia Niesz. " Chasms and Bridges: Generativity in the Space between Educators' Communities of Practice", Pages 37-44, Copyright Elsevier (January 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article presents findings from an ethnographic study that explored how participation in an educator network contributed to the production of meaning, identity, and agency among the teachers and school district administrators involved.


The Democracy Collective began in August of 2007. During the pilot year (2007–2008) of the newly-formed network, participants included teachers, school district administrators, and graduate students in education, all from a region of the Midwest United States.

The author's research focused on the practitioner cohort, which included primary and secondary school teachers, as well as district-level administrators, from different school districts across a range of socioeconomic settings.

Fifteen individuals participated at one point or another in the Democracy Collective Practitioner Cohort (DCPC), with nine individuals representing the core of the group. The other six members were relatively less active (due to joining the group later in the year, leaving the group mid-year, or participating only sporadically).

The Democracy Collective Practitioner Cohort

During the first phase of the pilot year, August–December of 2007, the group met several times, engaged in reading, communicated via asynchronous on-line discussion boards, wrote narratives about their histories as educators, and began to develop leadership projects.

During the second phase of the pilot year, January–May of 2008, the participants continued to work on their leadership projects, in some cases beginning to implement their projects in their schools and districts. In addition, synchronous, oral group conversations facilitated by live-web, integrated conferencing. The technology allowed participants to engage in real-time conversation together from homes and workplaces. It also provided additional avenues for interaction and sharing through text-based ‘chat’ and ‘whiteboard’ features. These technology-facilitated conversations, usually including 5–8 individuals each week, were intended to provide opportunities for participants to discuss the progress of their leadership projects.


Prominent in this process were the differences between practice in the network, consisting of dialogue informed by theory, inquiry, and reflection on professional experience, and the practice of participants' workplace communities.

The author argues that identities afforded by multimembership in these very different communities, along with the bridges participants worked to build between the communities, hold promise for generating change in the field of education.

Updated: Jan. 12, 2010