Teacher learning in communities of practice: The affordances of co-planning for novice and veteran teachers' learning

From Section:
Beginning Teachers
Mar. 01, 2021
March, 2021

Source: Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Volume 58, Issue 3

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors explore the dynamics between one novice and two veteran elementary school teachers in a case-study of a science teacher community.
They focus on a collaborative lesson planning session, examining the challenges to the application of the CoP model in this session.
They argue that a collaborative planning session, which is a hypothetical-future-oriented activity (Kennedy, 2006), facilitates apprenticeship relations between veterans and novices, mitigating power dynamics between them and thereby affording reflective inquiry and learning for both novice and veterans.
Their analysis of the planning session therefore highlights the unique affordances of co-planning for teacher professional learning in CoPs.

Research Objectives
To explore the dynamics between veteran and novice teachers in a collaborative planning session, the authors examine the following research questions:
1. How are veteran and novice teachers positioned and what roles do they play throughout the collaborative planning process?
2. How does the framing of planning shape the dynamics of veteran-novice teachers? How does it shape their engagement in face-work?
3. How does the interaction between novice and veteran teachers in a planning session facilitate (or constrain) reflective inquiry?


Research context, data collection, and case selection
This study focuses on a group of three elementary school science teachers engaged in a planning session.
The session took place in a regional ongoing professional development (PD) program, in a middle-sized city of low socioeconomic status in central Israel.
Thirty science teachers, teaching grades 3–9, participated in this program, creating a regional learning community.
The community's meetings were designed and facilitated collaboratively by leading teachers from the community, two district science coaches, and two researchers from a research team (one of whom is the second author).
The PD was designed to support reflective inquiry into practice through learning cycles that include: learning a topic; planning an instructional unit; implementing the unit in class; and sharing a recording of the implementation with the community for collaborative reflective inquiry.
During the year of data collection, the community engaged in three learning cycles focused on:
(1) language literacy in science lessons;
(2) diversifying instructional methods; and (3) student motivation.
The researchers participated-observed all 10 community meetings, each about 3 hr. in length, video-recorded and/or audio-recorded the meetings, collected artifacts, and took field notes.
Total recorded data consisted of approximately 21.5 hr. of video-recordings and approximately 26.45 hr. of audio-recordings.
The group at the center of this case-study consisted of three science teachers from three different elementary schools:
Rachel (a pseudonym, as are all names in this paper), with 24 years of teaching experience and a teacher coach herself; Yaara, with 10 years of teaching experience; and Shira, in her first year of teaching.
The researcher, Dana (second author), joined the group for the planning session.
The data were collected using an audio-recording device Dana set on the teachers' worktable and a video-camera that captured the entire PD session.
The camera was directed at the backs of the focal teacher group, so that although their facial expressions and gazes were not available for analysis, their body postures and gestures were clearly observable.
The group was assigned to plan a unit applying inquiry teaching and decided to base it on constructing an electric circuit in which a lemon serves as the power source.
The authors were drawn to this group's session because of the extreme seniority gaps and because of the observing researcher's impression that the teachers were particularly engaged in collaborative reflective inquiry (for 78 min without deviations from the topic).
They sought to explore whether this impression was accurate and why, as well as how seniority dynamics were involved.
This case is therefore an illuminating “information-rich case that manifests the phenomenon of interest intensely” (Patton, 2002, p. 234).
All three teachers were aware that they were being recorded and had consented to participating in the study.

The analysis included several phases, using multiple data sources (Lather, 2003; Lincoln & Guba, 2013).
The audio-recordings of the focal group's discussion served as the principal source, providing data about the verbal interaction between participants.
This was complemented by the video-recording of the entire session, which afforded multimodal analysis (Streeck, Goodwin, & LeBaron, 2011) by providing data about the physical interaction, such as leaning towards a shared object of interest.
The authors applied the principles and concepts of linguistic ethnography (Rampton, Maybin, & Roberts, 2015), combining the openness and holistic perspective of ethnography in sociocultural contexts with the systematic and rigorous analysis of linguistics.
The second author, who participated in the community meetings, had an ethnographic familiarity with the participants and the context, while the first author brought critical distance, which was reinforced by the analytic distance that microanalysis affords (Rampton, 2006).
To address the first research question, regarding the teachers' positioning and roles, the authors carefully examined the data, aiming to identify how self-positioning and mutual positioning took place—namely, how each teacher positioned herself and how she was positioned by the other teachers.
This included exploring, for example, how the teachers address one another, what they respond to and how, and by whom an issue is raised, what kind of uptake it receives, and how it is concluded.
To address the second research question, regarding teachers' engagement in face-work, they examined each teachers' line, how it was constructed, and whether and how it changed over the course of the session.
They further searched for related face threats and facework, seeking to explicate how and why they emerged and how their emergence was related to teacher positioning and roles.
For the final research question, regarding reflective inquiry, they searched for the features of reflective-inquiry discourse defined above:
(1) disagreements exhibiting multiple voices;
(2) explicit pedagogical reasoning; and
(3) connections between teaching, learning, and content.
When identifying such features, they sought to explicate who enacted them and why, and how this was related to the teachers' positioning and roles, as well as to the lines they adopted and the consequential face threats and face-work.
They then sought to understand how our findings relate more broadly to the framework of planning and, accordingly, the unique affordances of collaborative planning for both novice and veteran teacher learning.

Summary of findings
To summarize, in this case of a planning session, the three teachers mutually framed their relationship as mentorship in which the two veteran teachers, Rachel and Yaara, instructed and guided Shira, the novice, who was positioned as their mentee.
This framing was constructed in several intertwined ways:
through identifying Shira as the implementing teacher while shifting the implementing role to the veteran teachers when controversies had to be resolved; in discussing disciplinary and pedagogical content to help Shira prepare for her lesson; and in affording Shira limited control over her learning.
This mentoring relationship, within the context of planning, enabled the novice teacher to adopt a learner line and the veteran teachers to moderate their decisive expert line into a deliberating expert line.
These lines mitigated face threats and face-work for all three teachers and opened up an inquiry space (of explicit pedagogical reasoning, multiple voices, and connections between teaching, learning and content knowledge), where uncertainties and doubts were safe and even productive for the learning of both novice and veteran teachers.

The communities of practice model can be a productive, powerful framework for situated professional learning in the work place.
However, the model is problematic in a variety of ways when applied to teacher learning in general and to the learning of veteran teachers in particular.
In contrast to previous studies that point to the limitations of collaborative planning for teachers' reflective inquiry (e.g., Horn et al., 2017; Olson et al., 2016), this case-study highlights the potential of co-planning to overcome some of the limitations and challenges of the CoP model, with regard to both novice and veteran teacher learning.
In this case-study, the authors’ analysis of elementary science teachers' positioning and roles during a collaborative planning process (research question 1) suggests that apprenticeship of novice teachers can indeed occur in the planning context.
In co-planning, unlike when instructing alone behind closed doors, the novice teacher can act as a legitimate peripheral participant, while the veteran teachers can support her learning through modeling and sharing their experience and deliberations.
Thus, in this case, Shira could observe her veteran peers perform planning practices, as well as perform by herself simple planning tasks like suggesting an opening question for the lesson, while being coached and directed by her veteran colleagues.
The mutual framing of the apprenticeship relationship in this case was afforded partially by the fact that Shira had to actually teach the lesson the group was planning.
Thus, throughout the planning session, the conversation consistently entailed two simultaneous trajectories of teaching that supported Shira's learning: Shira's planned teaching of the lesson and teaching Shira to teach the lesson.
The authors’ analysis of veteran-novice dynamics and engagement in face-work in this case (research question 2), suggests that the mentoring relationship in planning in fact affords productive lines for both novices and veterans and, consequently, the mitigation of socio-emotional tensions in the novice-veteran dynamics.
They suggest three explanations for the mitigation of these tensions.
First, when planning future practice, the discussion remains in the hypothetical level, which may be less threatening to both novice and veteran teachers' face than reflectively inquiring into past practices that are represented for example, by classroom videos (Vedder-Weiss et al., 2019).
In planning, criticism or disagreement may be more easily perceived as contributing to the group's planning effort and heterodox ideas as worth exploring, rather than threatening remarks.
Second, positioning the novice as a learner means that she can ask any question and freely express doubts and uncertainties without losing face.
This is, of course, not necessarily true for all novice teachers and, as they argue above, may be promoted by planning a lesson for the novice teacher to implement.
Moreover, in such positioning, the novice's uncertainty is acknowledged as productive for learning and instructional improvement (Costache et al., 2019, p. 2). Indeed, teacher training and PD designs such as Lesson Study (Fernandez, 2002.) and Problem-Solving Cycle (Koellner et al., 2007) include collaborative lesson planning as a space in which different ideas can be negotiated, multiple solutions are possible, and uncertainties are productive and safe to share (Costache et al., 2019).
Thus, their third explanation for the mitigation of socio-emotional tensions in planning is that the inherent dimension of uncertainty in planning enables veteran teachers to adopt a deliberating expert line rather than a line of an expert who is expected “to know” (Costache et al., 2019. p. 13), thereby, as they showed, reducing threats to face.
Through their analysis of reflective-inquiry discourse features, the authors illustrated how the interaction between novice and veteran teachers can facilitate reflective inquiry for both (research question 3).
The deliberating expert line taken by the veteran teachers afforded not only modeling of professional thinking for the novice teacher but also learning for the veterans.
Accordingly, they maintain that co-planning in a mentoring relationship facilitates rich reflective-inquiry discourse, which supports not only the mentee's learning but also the development of the mentor's adaptive expertise.
The authors’ analysis of the planning discourse, based on the features of reflective inquiry, highlights the unique affordances of collaborative planning for teacher professional learning.
Their analysis suggests that the context of planning mutually framed as mentoring supports exceptionally rich reflective inquiry.
The exchange of explicit pedagogical reasoning was enabled by the slow-paced, undisturbed planning activity.
Mentorship co-planning appears to offer teachers unique access to professional knowledge.
Moreover, it appears to encourage explicit pedagogical reasoning, the expression of a multiplicity of ideas, and making connections between teaching, learning, and the subject matter: for teachers not only have to plan collaboratively the best lesson possible for the novice teacher to teach but also must translate vague thoughts into a coherent, clearly written lesson plan.
Thus, they need to explain their suggestions to each other, argue their ideas, consider the implementing teacher's options for teaching a certain subject-matter, and deliberate the different alternatives until they arrive at an agreement about how to teach the lesson.
This is significantly different from, for example, peer feedback, which does not require a joint, agreed-upon product at the end of the process.

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Updated: Aug. 31, 2021
Collaborative self-study | Community of practice | Teachers’ learning