Community Of Practice Essay

Cheap Custom Writing Service

The idea of community of practice (CoP) has been appropriated by agencies whose enterprise is concerned with teacher education. Its use as a unit of analysis has been limited. However, the Finnish activity theorist, Yrjö Engeström, has developed a theory of activity systems that may be useful for modeling a CoP. Engeström argues that a CoP is an activity system by another name. Members of an activity system transform the shared objects to produce individual and shared outcomes, learn to solve problems that disrupt their activity, transform existing practices, and develop new practices to sustain the activity system. This entry looks at the theoretical background of these ideas and then examines their implementation in education.

Intellectual Roots

Since the early 1900s, behaviorism, led by Edward Thorndike and B. F. Skinner, and social constructionism, led by John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky, have competed to influence the education of children and teachers. Behaviorists view learning as a process of enhancing individual cognition inside the heads of individual learners and reduce the learning environment to a minor role. Teaching is understood as the transmission of skills and subject matter to learners through instructional scripts and repeated exposure. The focus of instruction is on engaging learners in attending, listening, viewing, reading, and recalling, and processing information taken in. Assessment of learning is usually based on criterion-referenced, norm-referenced, and high-stakes tests.

Learning to teach is generally conceptualized as the sequential mastery of decontextualized skills and subject matter presumed to enable the performance of behaviors associated with effective teaching. The certification of teachers is based on standardized measures of subject matter and pedagogy and the evaluation of artifacts produced during courses, field experiences, and student teaching.

In contrast, social constructionists view learning as the outcome of participation in socially organized, goal-oriented activity. Learners interact with their environment, indicate to themselves what information is important, and construct its meaning through social interaction with others. Material and social resources outside the individual are given primacy. Learning is understood as the internalization of cognitive structures located, first, in the structures of social interactions. The process of internalization hierarchically restructures the contents of memory and cognitive processes. Teaching is conceived as arranging the distribution of learning resources so that they are accessible to learners and coordinating social interactions among learners.

Although behaviorism has exerted the most influence on education, educational theory and practice have been making a gradual turn to a social constructionist view. Based on the work of John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky, a family of theories has emerged that include sociocultural studies, distributed cognition, community of learners, situativity, and community of practice. Common threads of these theories include the ideas that (a) learning is accomplished through participation in activity that emphasizes social and environmental factors, (b) learning and development are the outcomes of culturally mediated (tool-mediated) activity, (c) learning occurs across multiple contexts, and (d) knowledge is created in communities.


The current interest in CoP has been energized by the Institute for Research in Learning at Stanford University and the work of Jean Lave, Entenne Wenger, Ann Brown, and Joseph Campione. While the others were more interested in adult learning, Brown and Campione were interested in explaining classroom learning. Broadly conceived, the idea of CoP represents the fusion of two concepts, community and practice, to explain learning and development.


The origin of community is Latin, communitatem and communitas, meaning community and fellowship, and communis, meaning common, public and shared by many. The meaning of community evolved in a variety of senses (e.g., coming together; unity of collective will; holding something in common, such as interests, goods, and identity; and bringing forth a feeling of agreement and a unified participation). Communities have often been referred to as thought communities, communities of concept users, discourse communities, speech communities, virtual communities, communities of reflective practitioners, communities of memory, and communities of practice.

The German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies described two kinds of communities. Gemeinschaft

communities are informal communities constituted of informal, self-regulated collective relationships. Members, who are inducted informally, share common values, rituals, and meanings and engage in cooperative activity to attain a common goal. Examples of informal communities include collectors of baseball cards, dance clubs, little league baseball teams, community bands, and bowling leagues. Informal communities regulate themselves on the local level.

In contrast, gesellschaft communities involve contractually coordinated, formal relationships. Members are inducted formally. The most common idea of a formal community refers to the aggregate practices of a professional group. The group displays a sign pointing to the professional activity in which it engages, for example, the practice of law, medicine, or architecture. Communities such as departments of education, safety, health, and schools are communities legislated and funded by the public to assist in meeting needs of the public. Services and goods provided by formal communities have value and meet standards generally set by the larger professional communities to which they belong. The larger professional communities are responsible for their codification and certification and are empowered to evaluate and sanction performance.


Practices are observable actions. However, not all actions are practices. Swerving a car to miss a pothole and dashing to the sink to turn off the spigot before the sink overflows are responses to environmental stimuli rather than practices. Greeting a dinner guest by saying, “Come in! We are glad you could come!” or the habits of an actor preparing for a role are practices. Institutions, such as schools, are constituted of practices, for example, organizing students by grade levels, changing classes, assigning lockers to students, requiring students to take end-of-semester exams. Examples of teacher practices include writing interim reports, completing report cards, and convening parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school nights. As practices are repeated again and again, they come to be expected to normatively recur.

Characteristics Of Community Of Practice

A CoP is a cultural-historical-social space defined by a set of shared objects that glue its members together and provide direction for its central activity and by the practices that mediate its activity. Members of different backgrounds, professional preparation, and expertise complement each other as they enact practices to accomplish personal and collective goals. A common discourse coordinates the activity of members and brings forth the thoughts, actions, values, attitudes, and objects for the generation of practice. The discourse provides a framework for what thinking, speaking, and writing counts as meaningful, expected, and acceptable performance, and provides opportunities for members to make their knowledge and skill explicit, to argue, and to challenge each other’s beliefs.

The membership of a CoP reflects levels of expertise, ranging from that of novices to experts. Categories such as old timer and newcomer are ways of organizing mutual participation rather than identifying levels of performance. The desire of novices to increase their skill levels and understandings leads to their acquisition of new practices.

There is an explicit and agreed-upon relationship between the newcomer seeking membership in a CoP and an old timer of the community. The old timer possesses a license to interpret and evaluate the performance of the newcomer in relation to the performance of practices of the CoP. In turn, the newcomers agree to be apprenticed to and evaluated by the old timer. Apprenticed participation provides members with identities, tool kits, ideologies, discourses, values, and ways of thinking that characterize one as a practicing member of the particular CoP.

Teacher Education

Teacher education is an enterprise that involves movement back and forth across contextual boundaries. Institutions of higher education and local education agencies collaborate to arrange university and classroom experiences that provide teacher education students with learning experiences across multiple contexts. The CoP of teacher education is organized to develop and implement teacher education programs and to communicate about teacher education in ways that make sense to prospective teachers, classroom teachers, researchers, policy makers, and the public. The CoP of classroom teaching is organized to provide pupils with learning experiences leading to the attainment of educational outcomes. Both CoPs collaborate to provide the route by which teacher education students acquire teaching practices.

The practice and practices of classroom teaching include most everything teachers do that contributes to their planning and interactions with students; their interactions with colleagues, administrators, and parents; and what they think, believe, and value about professional teaching. The major practices of classroom teaching are to (a) provide instruction, (b) establish meaningful relationships with students, (c) develop meaningful relationships with colleagues and administrators, (d) establish meaningful relationships with parents, (e) maintain continuous professional growth and development, (f) engage in reflection, (g) and transform practices.

Teaching practices are enacted by the application of the common declarative (what), procedural (how), and conditional (when and why) knowledge to accomplish bundles of tasks. Classroom teaching provides a good example of practices. As an illustration, the practice of providing classroom instruction is expected of teachers of every subject matter at every level of schooling. Planning is accomplished by skill in coordinating the application of declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge necessary to accomplish a bundle of tasks that include (a) deciding about goals of instruction, (b) determining students’ instructional needs and learner characteristics, (c) deciding what to teach and how much time to allocate for instruction, (d) identifying students’ instructional levels, (e) selecting instructional materials and strategies, (f) grouping students for instruction, (g) deciding how to measure the effects of instruction, and (h) anticipating problems that might occur during the lesson and planning solutions that are held in abeyance.

An Activity System By Another Name

Teacher education and teacher education candidates’ acquisition of teaching practices are the outcomes of collaboration between two CoPs, the university and a local school. The professional trajectory of prospective teachers is a gradual transition from peripheral participation to full participation in professional practices. In the beginning, core education foundations courses and early field experiences, followed by methods courses and clinical teaching experiences, and student teaching enable prospective teachers to begin their participation in both CoPs. Their professional trajectory moves on to a beginning teacher-induction period that is often supported with a teacher-support network that opens the gateway to a professional teaching career.

Yrjö Engeström argues that a CoP is actually an activity system that is organized around the shared objects of its central activity. The shared objects shape and provide direction for individual and collective activity. Figure 1 applies Engeström’s model to two interacting CoPs collaborating on teacher education.

As can be seen, the mediating components of each CoP include: (a) members, the diverse subgroups and individuals who transform the shared objects into collectively and personally shared outcomes; (b) objects consist of the material, ideal, and social material that is transformed into outcomes; (c) outcomes, the collectively and individually expected and desired products produced and received by members; (d) tools, the set of instrumental and psychological tools used by members to mediate activity directed toward objects; (e) division of labor, the organization and roles of members and what tasks are performed, by whom, when, how, and where; (f) rules and procedures, the explicit and implicit rules and procedures that coordinate performances and govern interactions within, between, and among CoPs; and (g) the community of practice, all members who share the outcomes and values of the main activity. In addition to collaborating on teacher education, both CoPs interact with a diverse group of local and distant CoPs that affect their individual activity and their collaboration on teacher education.

Figure 1. Interacting Communities of Practice

comminity of practice essay

Figure 2 provides a model of the teacher education program as a CoP. As can be seen, the main outcome is certified beginning teachers who can enact the practices of professional classroom teaching. The objects to be transformed into outcomes are undergraduates who seek teacher certification, information, experience, understanding, reflection, and social justice. The tool set used to mediate transformation of objects into outcomes include a conceptual framework; professional discourse; state and national assessment tools; portfolio assessment; telecommunications; digital technology; multimedia; and a database management system for analyzing data, developing reports for state and national agencies, and archiving artifacts created by undergraduates of the program. The curriculum is aligned with national and state standards. Rules and procedures are comprised of traditional academic rules, compliance with national and state standards, performance of supervised field experiences and student teaching, and the presentation of a professional portfolio by undergraduates. The division of labor includes university and school of education faculties, departments, committees, and school of education professors who assume the role of professors-inresidence at the school site and supervise field experiences and student teaching, and cooperating classroom teachers who are trained to provide clinical supervision to apprentice undergraduates. The members of the CoP consist of all the subgroups with a central interest in or a key responsibility in the teacher education program and its outcomes.

Figure 2. Teacher Education Program

comminity of practice essay

Figure 3. Local School

comminity of practice essay

Figure 3 models the local school collaborating with the teacher education program. Like most schools, the expected outcomes include improved basic knowledge and skills underlying performance on statewide measures of achievement and an in-service education program to improve classroom teaching. The objects to be transformed include students and classroom teachers, meaning, interpretation, understanding, and critical analysis. The rules and procedures governing the CoP include the requirement that instruction focuses on state standards; schools receive publicly posted grades based on the performance of students on statewide achievement test performance, curriculum auditing, and inclusive practices. Tools include a system for evaluating the professional performance of teachers, statewide criterion and norm-referenced tests, research-based instruction, curriculum, local testing program, in-service education, computers, and, multimedia.

Communities of practice and their collaboration are not tranquil and stable states. Disequilibrium and perpetual change is more like their normal state. They are riddled with problems created by the dynamics inherent in social systems. Communities of practices are constantly colliding with each other, creating endless issues that must be resolved.

Contradictions, disruptions, and breakdowns occur between the components mediating their activity and must constantly be repaired. The multiple intentions and motivations of individual and collective members who share the same resources are also problematic. The engine that transforms and sustains CoPs is fueled by motivation of their members to collectively learn, invent, and import innovations to repair breakdowns and ruptures, problems, and resolve critical issues.

In summary, the CoP concept is built on a rich intellectual tradition. The application of Engeström’s activity system model to teacher education is useful for understanding the inner workings of CoPs and their collaboration in teacher preparation. The model provides a way for researchers and evaluators to analyze the contradictions, breakdowns, and disruptions and shuttle qualitative and quantitative data back and forth to explain how CoPs attain or fail to attain their outcomes as they churn through cycles of transformation and expansion and sustain themselves.


  1. Bellah, R., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W., Swider, A., & Tipton, S. (1985). Habits of the heart. New York: Harper & Row.
  2. Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32–42.
  3. Cobb, P., McClain, K., Lamberg, T. D., & Dean, C. (2003). Situating teachers’ instructional practices in the institutional setting of the school and district. Educational Researcher, 32(6), 13–24.
  4. Dewey, J. (1963). Education and experience. New York: Macmillan. (Original work published 1938)
  5. Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activitytheoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.
  6. Engeström, Y. (1991). Activity theory and individual and social transformation. Multidisciplinary Newsletter for Activity Theory, 7/8, 14–15.
  7. Engeström, Y., Miettinen, R., & Punamäki, R-L. (Eds.). (1998). Perspectives on activity theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Franke, M. L., & Kezemi, E. (2001). Teaching as learning within a community of practice: Characterizing generative growth. In T. Wood, B. Nelson, & J. Warfield (Eds.), Beyond classical pedagogy in elementary mathematics: The nature of facilitative teaching (pp. 47–74). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  9. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  10. Nelson, B. C., & Hammerman, J. J. (1996). Reconceptualizing teaching: Moving toward the creation of intellectual communities of students, teachers, and teacher educators. In M. W. McLaughlin, & I. Oberman (Eds.), Teacher learning: New policies, new practices (pp. 3–21). New York: Teachers College Press.
  11. Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton-Centuty-Crofts.
  12. Skinner, B. F. (1968). The technology of teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  13. Thorndike, E. L. (1906). The principles of teaching, based on psychology. New York: A. G. Seiler.
  14. Tönnies, F. (2001). Community and civil society (J. Harris, Ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  15. Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

This example Community Of Practice Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

See also:


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655