The Challenge of Change Leadership
Transforming Education Through ‘Communities of Practice’
Imagine, for a moment, that you wanted to learn how to play a sport or a musical instrument, but you had never seen the sport or heard the instrument played well, and there were no coaches available. You could only practice in a room all by yourself, day in and day out. How good would you be?
Of course athletes and musicians, even amateurs, have ample access to coaches and to examples of best practices, and they are constantly subjecting their performances to the judgment of others. But most of us who are educators have none of the benefits of even those who are serious amateurs in other fields. Good coaches for teaching and leadership, or even videotapes of excellent teaching, are virtually nonexistent in most places, and our “performances” are rarely critiqued by others. In many ways, teaching and leadership in schools and districts are still more like 19th-century “handicrafts”—skills that you learn on your own and practice all alone for most of your career—than a real profession. And as with other handicrafts, like weaving or pottery, how skillful you become may be more a matter of having an innate “gift” than learning how to improve. Some craftsmen are, indeed, artists, but many are not. Most of us in education are mediocre at what we do, despite our talents and good intentions, because we have all too few opportunities to observe and be observed, to discuss “problems of practice” with colleagues—in a word, to be a part of what Etienne Wenger calls “communities of practice.”
I speak from personal experience. In my Master of Arts in Teaching degree program at a name-brand school of education, most of my time was spent studying subject content, education theory, and curriculum, but there was almost no discussion of the craft of teaching. There were no videos of teachers to analyze. I was required to spend a certain number of hours observing “master teachers” who, in retrospect, were not especially effective. Finally, I was observed and “coached” a few times by a university “supervisor,” but he had no training or supervision for this role and so could offer...
This article is available to subscribers only.
To keep reading this article and more, subscribe now or start a 2-week FREE trial.
- K-12 Teachers
- The International Educator, Multiple Locations
- Director of School Support
- The Achievement Network, Multiple Locations
- Princeton Public School District, Princeton, NJ
- Perspectives Charter Schools, Chicago, IL
- Elementary Principal
- Forest Grove School District, Forest Grove, OR