Building Communities, Building Teachers; Communities of Practice in Action

By Debbie Williams, PD North member and Teaching and Learning Manager at Lancaster and Morecambe College

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

Having delivered teacher training for many years, I’ve found that one of the greatest pleasures of the role is seeing trainee teachers enlivened, motivated and inspired by the professional discussions they have with others who teach in different areas. Trainees tend to arrive to evening classes weary at the end of their working day, but leave the session energised and with minds buzzing with learning and ideas.

We wanted to bring that positive energy into the staff training for all the teachers at Lancaster and Morecambe College. For many staff it’s a long time since they did their initial training, and a lot of exciting developments have emerged from the evidence base on effective teaching since then. We wanted to build professional communities of teachers who didn’t usually work together, or even really know each other, where they could share ideas and explore emerging research through informed discussion.

Groups of around 10 teachers were groupedinto “Communities of Practice” to meet at the end of a working day on five evenly-spaced weeks throughout the college year. The groups were scheduled for times which all contracted staff would be able to attend, and attendance was mandatory for these teachers – it was optional for non-contracted teachers. Most of the groups met at the same time on the same corridor, which created a feeling that there was something going on!

A small team of enthusiastic and experienced teachers who were keen to facilitate a group were sent materials for the session ahead, along with a plan of how to share these with their group – topics included active learning, marking work, and metacognition. Conference video clips and extracts from research reports were used, and there was plenty of time built in for teachers to share their thoughts and examples of effective practice from their areas.

The group facilitators hugely enjoyed the role, and often reported having lively staffroom discussions on the same topics in the following weeks!

Levels of attendance were good on the whole – a handful of teachers didn’t attend at all, but most attended regularly, with clear expectations from managers contributing to this. It meant that far more staff than usual had attended regular in-house training by the end of the year, in contrast to the low numbers attending the optional training sessions run in previous years.

At the end of this first year the teachers involved completed an anonymous survey about their groups, to see how effective they had been in meeting the aim of improving teaching across the college. A key question was “”What impact has attending the sessions had on your teaching this year?” This was a completely open comment box, giving teachers the clear opportunity to declare “none”!  Unsurprisingly, a few did just that; however, 80% of teachers reported at least one way in which their practice had improved, the majority of them stating that they had increased the range of teaching and learning strategies they used in the classroom.

Next year we will be re-mixing the communities, giving our teachers the chance to hold professional discussions with different colleagues. From our experiences this year it’s clear that the communities have helped to build new cross-college relationships, build teacher confidence and build better teachers.