Communities of Practice: Study of one school's first year of implementation of a new problem-solving model

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2004-11-23

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The current study used the communities of practice theoretical perspective, an example of a sociocultural learning theory, to examine one school's first year implementation of a new problem-solving model. The grade-level and building-level teams that participated in the program were understood to represent communities of practice, as they worked together to address the learning and behavioral needs of students who were not performing successfully. Program implementation was conceptualized as a manifestation of the communities' understandings about the program and a creative act that further developed this meaning. In addition, the communities' process of collective sensemaking was informed by the individual members' educational beliefs, educational perspectives, and their previous understandings about supporting students. The qualitative research methods used in this study involved the researcher functioning as a participant-observer in the school, conducting reflective interviews with referring teachers, and conducting a document review. The findings from this study indicated that while teachers were invited to refer any student to the program regarding whom they wanted to consult, they overwhelmingly referred students who they perceived to be struggling academically, needed intensive resources, and were not participating in other school-based services. In addition, the teams did not adhere to the structure of the model's stages and attempted to resolve student problems using a more fluid referral process that did not necessarily involve problem solving. The team members supported each other in their negotiated meaning of how to provide student support by adapting the model to their understanding of its purpose, preventing them from enacting the desired change. Additional dynamics were observed in these communities of practice that have not been articulated in previous research on problem-solving teams; they include the practices of gatekeeping, distorting conceptual weaknesses in models to favor deficit attributions of student problems, and creating shared meaning that further entrench the communities in their current practice. Implications from this study address the importance of initial training and ongoing technical support for program implementation. Recommendations include qualitatively studying communities of practices that promote change and their educational beliefs and reflective practice.

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