Research suggests that long-term participation in professional development is critical in helping teachers meet the increasing demands of reform efforts and changing practice (Gallucci, 2003; Darling-Hammond, 1995; Little, 1993). Understanding the influence that participation in a community of teachers as a community of practice may have on teachers’ professional growth requires a deeper understanding of those aspects of teacher community that encourage or discourage participation. This research examines teachers’ perceptions as to why they participate in a community of practice. It also addresses what these perceptions suggest about the potential resources that participation in a community of practice provide in support of professional growth.
This study utilizes community of practice as theoretical framework because it encourages thought about learning as participation rather than simply the acquisition of knowledge or skills (Wenger, 1999). This mid-level analysis focuses on the actions, artifacts, tools, stories, events, and discourse of the participants in a given context. It is a critical case study using a phenomenological perspective (Patton, 2005) to understand the essence of the experience of participation from the perspective of the participants themselves.
Analysis of participants’ responses indicates that from their perspective, participation in a community of teachers as community of practice through a school-university partnership constitutes a resource for professional growth. Teachers in this study describe their participation in terms of leadership, disengagement, student-centeredness, pedagogy and pedagogical content knowledge, financial and material resources, professional development, collegial interactions and relationships, and shared personal practice. Analysis of participation is characterized by reason(s) for initial participation, for continuing or discontinuing participation, in terms of collegial interactions and relationships, and by changes in participation or experience over time.
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