The value of Communities of Practice for the professional learning of early career secondary teachers in Australia- a case study

Year: 2018

Author: Mercieca, Bernadette

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper investigates the value that early career secondary teachers (ECSTs) in Australia might gain in their professional learning from belonging to a Community of Practice. It reports on the findings of a case study of a rural Catholic Secondary school (Rural College) in Victoria that excelled in the ways it supported its ECSTs. The larger doctoral study from which this case study was drawn, was motivated by an awareness of the attrition rates of early career teachers highlighted by the recent findings of The Initial Teacher Data Report 2017 (AITSL, 2017c) that 15% of teachers in their first five years of teaching were likely to leave within 1–5 years, with a further 22% unsure about the future of their teaching career. The researcher endeavoured, through her research and a review of literature, to determine the reasons behind these disturbing statistics and to generate possibilities for addressing these issues as exemplified in the case study that will be presented. The Value Creation Framework of Wenger, Trayner and de Laat (2011) was used to frame this research which utilised a mixed methodology which included a questionnaire, focus groups and semi-structured interviews.
This case study will show that early career secondary teachers at Rural College experienced a culture of growth that allowed them to feel fully supported and to advance their professional learning. A culture of growth is evident in schools where there is high human, social and decisional capital within their staff, who work collaboratively through Communities of Practice to improve student outcomes (Garmston & WellMan, 2016; Fullan & Quinn, 2016, Hargreaves & Fullan, 2013). Moreover, within these school communities ECSTs have the opportunity to develop, over time, sustained self-efficacy, a strong professional identity and deeper social connection. As Timperley (2008) notes, it is not easy for teachers to share failures and disappointments, especially for those on contracts who might be fearful of appearing incompetent and not having their contract renewed. At Rural College, ECSTs participated in a sustained Induction program, had an intentionally appointed mentor for their first year of teaching and were able to share their experiences of trialling new strategies in their classrooms, through the two different Communities of Practice they participated in. This paper will closely explore the experiences that these ECSTs had and the strategies that Rural College used that might inform the practice of other school communities.