Teacher learning in a community of practice : case study of teachers of economic and management sciences.
Suriamurthee, Moonsamy Maistry.
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Conceptualising teacher learning in terms of participation in a teacher learning community is a relatively new phenomenon in South Africa. This study explores the usefulness of applying a social practice theory of learning to a community of novice Economic and Management Sciences teacher learners involved in the Teaching Economics and Management Sciences (TEMS) teacher development project. It examines the influence of contextual constraints, teachers' biographies and professional career trajectories on teachers' ability to participate in a learning community. By drawing on Wenger's theory of learning in a community of practice and Wenger et al's stages of community development framework, it also illuminates and theorises the potential that a community of practice framework has for teacher development. Wenger's framework offered important insights that informed and shaped the development of the TEMS programme. It also provided a useful tool for analysing teacher learning as constituting four components, namely, meaning, practice, identity and community. The complex relationship that exists between these different components of learning is examined. The study offers a critique of the feasibility and appropriateness of using Wenger's framework for analysing a teacher learning community. Methodologically, the tenets of symbolic interactionist ethnography were employed in the collection of data for this study. An exposition of the complexity and challenge of adopting the dual role of researcher as observer and participant is presented. An analysis is also provided of the methodological challenge of gaining access and acceptance in a South African education research context. The study examines how the essential tension in teacher professional development, namely, that of curriculum development and deepening subject matter knowledge is managed in a teacher learning community of novice Economic and Management Sciences teachers. It reveals the potential that a learning community framework has for teacher learning through different levels of participation, and points to the importance of the input of an outside expert, particularly during the early stages of development of a community of teacher learners who lack subject content knowledge. It argues that teacher learning communities present a fruitful and viable alternative to the current 'deficit' models of teacher development that typify the present South African teacher development scenario, as teacher learning communities suggest a conceptual reorientation of the discourse on teacher development.