Exploring a Community of Practice Model for Professional Development to Address Challenges to Classroom Practices in Early Childhood

Oct. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 34(4), p. 350–373, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examined whether and how an on-site and research–teacher community of practice model for professional development addressed challenges to classroom practices in a Head Start program.

The participants were three female teachers:
Ms. Anderson was the initial lead teacher in the classroom.
She participated in the study for the first month, until she resigned.
Her education included both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in early childhood education. She also had 6 years of teaching experience.
Ms. Allen was an assistant teacher in the beginning of our study, and shifted to the role of lead teacher when Ms. Anderson resigned.
She had a bachelor’s degree, which was not related to teaching, and had been a teaching assistant for one year in Ms. Anderson’s classroom.
Ms. Bellan took the place of an assistant teacher (Ms. Garcia) who left during the first week of the study. He had a high school degree and had been teaching in Head Start for more than one year.
Data sources included interviews with teachers, videos of planning and teaching sessions, and the researchers’ fieldwork log and reflective notes.


The findings revealed several major challenges to classroom practice that aligned with previous research:
Existing practices did not always cohere with research-based practice – the authors found that this model applies several approaches to professional development that previous researchers identified as effective.
These approaches overcame the limited and ineffective use of vocabulary instruction cited by previous researchers.
Lack of planning between the lead and assistant teachers - the community of practice model provided a context in which teachers could activate their agency by contributing their personal and professional strengths and local situated knowledge to planning, implementing, reflecting, discussing, and adapting research-based vocabulary practices in their classroom. 

High teacher turnover - despite the difficulties of sustaining professional development when teacher turnover occurs, the community of practice model allowed the authors to continue working with the remaining teachers to continue implementing the research-based vocabulary practices.
The authors found that despite the high teacher turnover in this classroom children made significantly greater gains in target vocabulary knowledge across pre- to posttesting as compared to the children in the control classroom in our broader study.



The authors suggest recommendations for establishing an on-site teacher-researcher community of practice model for professional development.
First, they suggest building rapport with teachers to enhance mutual engagement by being present on-site and interacting with teachers and children regularly, including sharing stories with teachers. 
 Second, they suggest bringing all the members of the community to the table to implement, reflect on, discuss, and adapt teaching practices together to establish joint enterprise.
Third, they suggest building on existing classroom practices first, before introducing new practices.
Fourth, they suggest that researchers should negotiate and construct practices with teachers by engaging in collaborative reflective practice.
Finally, they suggest that each community member contribute to the practices based on his or her personal and professional strengths.

Potential Implications for Teacher Education
First, mentors might provide teachers with opportunities to engage in classroom practices while they are present on-site, such as is the case in practica and service-learning courses.
Second, mentors might engage teachers in their education courses in joint reflective practice to discuss how to adapt, improve, and sustain practices that relate to course objectives.
Third, mentors might build on what teachers know in the beginning of their coursework, and then extend this content later in the semester to address what teachers would benefit from learning to extend these practices.
Fourth, mentors might adopt a transactional view of their role as both supporting and learning with their teachers.
Finally, mentors might use group reflective practices to facilitate the process of sharing and distributing the strengths and ideas that each teacher in the community of learners has to offer, in combination with the ideas provided by the mentor, to negotiate ideas for practices that extend beyond the textbook and address situated practices that teachers encounter in their teaching contexts.

Updated: Aug. 12, 2015