Using Wenger’s Communities of Practice to Explore a New Teacher Cohort

Feb. 01, 2011

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 62(1), p. 62-75. (January/February, 2011).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to explore how a professional development cohort functions as a resource for new teacher support.
The authors analyzed the data through Wenger’s (1998) Communities of Practice social learning framework.

The authors addressed to the following research question: What can Wenger’s theory illuminate about the use of cohorts for novice support?

Theoretical Framework

Lave and Wenger (1991) coined the concept legitimate peripheral participation to explain how newcomers enter, learn from, and contribute to an established community of practice over time.
It is through their peripheral participation that newcomers undergo identity transformation into full participation (Wenger, 1998).

Wenger’s model consists of four components which are interdependent.
Wegner (1998) argues that through participation in communities of practice where individual and group meanings are made, people experience, shape, and take on new identities.

The authors analyzed observation field notes of a single cohort which documented by the second author during one school year.

The participants were 12 new teachers from across three middle schools and one elementary school within the same urban district.
Ten participants were women and two men; seven were African or African American, four were Caucasian, and one was Asian.
Eight participants were enrolled in alternative certification programs, and one entered without student teaching or any formal teacher education at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Discussion and Implications

The findings reveal three key insights for relating Wenger’s theory particularly to new and alternatively certified teachers in urban group induction experiences.
First, there was a symbiotic relationship between the four components surfaced the importance of interactivity.

Second, the authors' analysis suggested the notion of community is central in this cohort.
Cohort members interacted in ways that characterized community. Community was observed throughout and between the data—in the emotions captured, the temporal aspects of peer exchanges, the revelations of difficult ideas and vulnerabilities.

Finally, the evidence suggested this cohort functioned as a community of practice despite that not being an original intention. This community of practice, which composed entirely of novice participants, shifted the meaning of legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) for new teachers. Instead of being newcomers, this cohort became full participants in the community.

This analysis has theoretical implications for new teachers participating in novice group-based induction. This analysis offered that this cohort permitted and invited novices to be full participants in a community of practice, one that could complement other induction practices.

The authors conclude that this cohort structure shifted the notion of competence and expertise, and the possibilities of peer mentoring as a vehicle for novice support emerged. This cohort invited novices to take pedagogical and expressive risks in a group context.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Learning in doing. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice. Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Updated: Sep. 12, 2012