Promoting Communities of Practice and Parallel Process in Early Childhood Settings

Feb. 01, 2012

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Volume 33, Issue 1, p. 19–37, 2012.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article presents a qualitative case study, which examined the relationship between conversations during formal collaborative experiences and the actual classroom practice of early childhood teachers in a district, Head Start, and university lab school.
The study conducted at three different schools, Dorsett Head Start, Tanner Lab School, and Edwards Elementary.
This article addresses the following questions:
(a) What is the nature of conversations and topics during on-site professional development meetings? and
(b) What promotes talk about practice during meetings and the transfer of this talk into best practices in classrooms?

Thirty six educators participated in the study.
Participants included teachers at each site, 27 secondary participants whom the author observed during group meetings, Center or school directors, curriculum coordinators, and educational coordinators.
Data sources included observations of teacher meetings and classroom practice, interviews with teachers and administrators, and Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale-Revised
(ECERS-R ) ratings during initial observations of primary participants’ classrooms at each site.


Three elements related to the development of communities of practice emerged from this study: (a) parallel processes that promoted the transfer of teacher talk into practices that enriched classroom environments;
(b) administratively supported collective control of curriculum by teachers promotes a practice-based focus; and
(c) use of protocols actively guides the content and process of teachers’ conversations.

Developing Quality Alignment: Parallel Process in Action
At each site there was an alignment between the teacher meeting content and classroom practice that cultivated an ongoing parallel process.
The quality of the parallel processes varied, but in all cases had a profound impact on the success of the collaborative endeavors.

Teachers modeled the cooperative behavior from their meetings with children in classrooms.
Their parallel processes facilitated teacher ownership over curriculum in ways that promoted teacher inquiry, allowed for innovation, and enriched children’s reflections of their own activity.
When teachers become practiced at reflective conversations and utilize specific vocabulary and structures, they cultivate a parallel process that allows them to foster these same tendencies with their students.
The author asserts that when teachers meet collaboratively with clear intentions and structures to guide their work together parallel processes can be useful in cultivating productive experiences.

The Development of Curricular Ownership
At each site, decisions about what to do with children, in the form of curriculum planning and implementation, drove classroom activity and play an important role in this discussion.

Working With Protocols: Promoting Productive Conversations
In this study, the examination of student work guided by protocols at Tanner and Edwards focused teacher conversations on students and teaching, promoted peer feedback, and provided teachers with language to talk about practice.
Results showed that responsive speech appropriated from protocols showed up in teachers’ classroom talk and in some cases, among children themselves.
In addition, language and attitudes from negatively charged meetings replicated themselves in teacher practices in the classroom.

Structures such as protocols are not necessarily intended to keep conversations free of conflict.
Yet, a fine line exists between negative patterns of communication and discordant but ultimately productive conversations.


This study has implications for institutions and the broader sociopolitical contexts in which these institutions operate.

This includes contexts for preservice as well as in-service education.
As centers of preservice experiences, teachers at all schools were poised to introduce their practices to student teachers and interns in their midst.
Protocols, curricular control, and parallel processes are elements of communities of practice that should be fostered in teacher education programs so that new teachers are versed in the language of communities of practice before they enter the classroom.

The School Reform Initiative leaders, who actively promote protocol use in Critical Friends Groups (collaborative, practice-focused, and site-based groups), posit that well-facilitated protocol-driven processes can help mediate “the predictive value” of race, class, educational level in teacher groups and that schools cannot be intellectually engaging places for students unless they are also intellectually engaging for teachers.


This study illustrates the importance of group routines and intentions, collective ownership of curriculum, and their role in the development of productive parallel processes.
Intentionally designed and carefully orchestrated collaborative inquiry experiences are worth pursuing; however they may develop according to a group’s capacity to develop parallel processes that inspire productive transfer of meeting topics into best practices in classrooms.

Updated: Jul. 01, 2014