Schooling for student transformation


Beach, K. (1999). Consequential transitions: A sociocultural expedition beyond transfer in education. Review of Research in Education, 42(1), 101–139.


How can we “prepare individuals to [both] participate in the transformation of society,” as well as to “adapt to existing society” (Beach, 1999, p. 130)?  Helping students find opportunities for consequential transitions may be an important part of the picture (Beach, 1999).  I argue that a strategic and creative application of technology, informed partly by connected learning principles, can facilitate students’ ability to undergo significant personal transformations of identity and skill, and successfully endure or navigate the change of social organizations within which they participate.


In an attempt to move beyond “transfer,” King Beach (1999) offers “consequential transitions” as a more robust and pragmatic concept than the metaphor dominant and persistent throughout educational theory and discourse.  Beach argues that transfer’s theoretical flaws stem from the difficulty involved in studying and fostering it.  He writes that transfer, in educational psychology “refers to the appearance of a person carrying the product of learning from one task, problem, situation, or institution to another,” but neglects how (or anything about the context within which) the tasks or situations were generated.  One of transfer’s essential flaws as a practicable theoretical guide is especially apparent when one attempts to bear witness to transfer, or to demonstrate that transfer has occurred.  Consequential transitions, a conceptual alternative, expands our purview on how individuals come to know things, in part through the lens of the sociocultural theoretical framework.  As a “macrocosm of how we learn new tasks and problems” (Beach, 1999, p. 102), a “consequential transition involves a developmental change in the relation between an individual and one or more social activities.  A change in relation can occur though a change in the individual, the activity, or both” (Beach, 1999, p. 114).


Beach relieves schools of the (sole) responsibility of providing students (and individuals, more generally) with consequential transitions.  But, it may be in this notion that significant educational innovation can occur.  I am situated just ahead of the launch of a personalized learning program for students in grades 7-12, which, primarily, will be delivered virtually.  Its philosophical underpinnings include connected learning discourse.  Connected learning “advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.  [It] is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion…and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement”(Ito et al., 2013, p. 4).  Connected learning recognizes the value of technology to help “connect” students to areas of inquiry that are exciting and meaningful, and participate in a broad range of networks in service of each individual’s disparate orientations.  Further, the cultivation and maintenance of a strong peer culture is important for grounding students – through the learning process, and, arguably, consequential transitions – and helping them to feel a sense of belonging to a supportive community of practice beyond their own agenda.


Buddhist philosophy of dependent origination and Plato’s perspective on individual epistemological continuity (simply, that the “individual and world are separated”[Beach, 1999, p. 102]) are part of the philosophical foundation from which consequential transitions emerges.  Beach explains how American education and psychology also stem from these historical roots on how individuals come to have knowledge, yet experience continuity across time and contexts.  His own approach is sympathetic to the Buddhist outlook, which appreciates interdependency – the dialectical relation between the individual and their context.  He criticizes the typical binary positioning that the concept of transfer legitimizes, and disparages the seeming entrenchment of theorists at their poles on one or another side of the transfer debate.  “That learners and social organizations exist in a recursive and mutually constitutive relation to one another across time” is critical to consequential transitions and should be the premise upon which other transfer alternatives are predicated (Beach, 1999, p. 111).


In what ways might an online learning program provide students with opportunities that might lead to consequential transitions?  Beach explains that a “consequential transition is the conscious reflective struggle to reconstruct knowledge, skills, and identity in ways that are consequential to the individual becoming someone or something new, and in ways that contribute to the creation and metamorphosis of social activity and, ultimately, society” (Beach, 1999, p. 130).  Much like the critical reflection Tyrone Howard encourages of teachers for culturally relevant pedagogy, a consequential transition is spawned partly through conscious reflection, struggle, and, ultimately, change in “one’s sense of self and social positioning” (Beach, 1999, p. 114).  Institutionalizing time and space for students to independently and collaboratively “digest,” think critically and expansively, about their experiences within their context is an important component of an educational program.


Further, integral to a successful online learning initiative may be helping students understand (and providing the support so) that they can generate and shape their own learning and practice – experiences which at times may be constitutive of consequential transitions.  This emphasis on self-directedness and students taking responsibility for their own learning, within a highly personalized educational framework, is an acknowledgement of students’ transformations.  It promotes students’ agency over their own development, identity representation, and social positioning.


Technology may be leveraged for students to gain access to “worlds” they would otherwise be excluded or not imagine entering.  (Their access to relevant technologies is the first step to an education program of the sort referred to here; this consideration of technological access and relevant elements of justice and equity are incredibly important programmatic concerns, but are not dealt with in this post.)  As a tool, technologies may help students find and connect with communities and information relevant to their personal interests, as well as to expansively frame academic areas of inquiry in ways that may be personally relevant.  “Meeting students where they are” and helping them get to where they want, need or can be – in part through students’ ownership and customization of their educational experience, and facilitating opportunities for consequential transitions – is the central objective of my professional agenda.


Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Watkins, C. S. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Irvine, CA, USA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Retrieved from


Embrace uncertainty in and across communities of practice to promote learning and innovation

Uncertainty is an inevitable feature of collaborative complex problem-solving efforts. Though uncomfortable, the presence of uncertainty in “learning communities” may facilitate productive collaboration and learning if managed supportively by individuals and by peers in the community.  Jordan and McDaniel (2014) urge leaders in education to pay attention to uncertainty in the context of youth collaboration, as an important element in instructional design and facilitating problem-solving activities (including action research) among peers.  They write “that when uncertainty is experienced and expressed in conjunction with peer support, then uncertainty generates a platform for learning. This is because as these activities come together in the same space, students find themselves engaged in complex patterns of social interaction that facilitate learning: explaining, critiquing, elaborating, and generating multiple representations and methods” (Jordan & Mcdaniel, 2014, p. 34).


Communities of practice engaged in “ambiguous and intractably complex contexts,” which, in the study the authors conducted, refer to controlled groupings of 5th grade students focused on a cross-disciplinary engineering based project, may in fact benefit from uncertainty.  Pushing back against the presupposition that uncertainty ought to be prevented or that deliberative processes ought to be shielded from its presence to make way for a successful learning experience, Jordan and McDaniel put forth that not only may uncertainty “foster innovation and promote learning,” “generating uncertainty can facilitate the reorganization of current beliefs, values and conceptions” (Jordan & Mcdaniel, 2014, p. 4).  How the roles within communities of practices negotiate uncertainties and wrestle with the tension between “competences” and “experiences” both within and across the boundaries, may have important implications.  “Innovative learning” may require a “divergence” of experiences and competences, Wenger (2000) postulates; this involves “active boundary processes” that, by nature, involve uncertainty.


As a graduate student, I participated on a National Science Foundation grant-funded project implemented by the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC), an institute made possible by the Decision Making Under Uncertainty initiative.  My work focused on an interactive model, WaterSim in the Decision Theater, which “was analyzed as a hybrid boundary object embedded within a boundary organization designed to link science and policy to improve environmental decision-making under conditions of uncertainty” (White, Wutich, Larson, Gober, Lant, Senneville, 2010, p. 230).  We developed a conceptual framework for analyzing WaterSim’s utility as a decision support tool, or boundary object, on the basis of its credibility, saliency, and legitimacy to stakeholders.


Relevant “boundaries,” in this case, are at the interfaces of the knowledges and ways of knowing within the scientific community and among policy makers across different scales.  Uncertainty, in the discourse of decision-making for sustainability is manageable only to the degree leaders acknowledge and, ultimately, embrace uncertainty as integral to planning for sustainability.  (A favorable articulation of “sustainability” is made by Dr. Charles Redman, Founding Director and Professor, School of Sustainability: “Sustainability is an awareness of the connectivity of the world and the implications of our actions. It is finding solutions through innovative approaches, expanding future options by practicing environmental stewardship, building governance institutions that continually learn, and instilling values that promote justice” []).


In a sense, the intent of WaterSim is as a “boundary object,” involved in active boundary management, to better connect the policy and science communities of practice, e.g. local water managers and academic water scientists.  Both communities are working under conditions of uncertainty – e.g. fluctuating budgets, a receding water table, climatic change, and rapid urbanization’s local landscape and population transformation – but must converge as the production of knowledge in one community becomes relevant and important to the action another community must and is obligated to take.  Boundary objects, or “artifacts (things, tools, terms, representations, etc.),” are among the ways Wenger (2000) proposes the boundaries of communities of practice can be “bridged” for “the coherent functioning of social learning systems” (23).  “Conceptualizing collaborative problem solving as a process of negotiating uncertainties [and “recogniz[ing] the importance of interdependencies] can help [leaders] shape tasks and relational contexts to facilitate learning,” conclude Jordan and McDaniel (2014, p. 36).  This lesson is salient for constructing contexts supportive of decision-making for sustainability, as well as for complex collaborative cross-curricular projects in grade school.


Jordan, M. E., & Mcdaniel, R. R. (2014). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 00, 1–47.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246. doi:10.1177/135050840072002

White, D. D., Wutich, A., Larson, K. L., Gober, P., Lant, T., & Senneville, C. (2010). Credibility, salience, and legitimacy of boundary objects: water managers’ assessment of a simulation model in an immersive decision theater. Science & Public Policy (SPP), 37(3), 219-232. doi:10.3152/030234210X497726

Situating “uncertainty” in communities of practice and competency-based medical education

This blog post discusses Jordan & McDaniel’s (in press) conceptualization of “uncertainty,” and seeks to situate that “uncertainty” in Wenger’s (2000) visualization of organizational structure.  We will also apply these theories to the adoption of competency-based assessments in graduate medical education.

Jordan and McDaniel describe uncertainty as

“an individual’s subjective experience of doubting, being unsure, or wondering about how the future will unfold, what the present means, or how to interpret the past” (pp. 3).

For them, this concept is central to the process of learning.  However, they also note that uncertainty may play differing roles in learning outcomes.  Uncertainty can as easily be considered a desirable outcome—for example, in demonstrating the complexity of a concept, or the limits of a learner’s knowledge on a subject—as an undesirable one—where learners respond to an “impulse” to reduce their uncertainty (pp. 4).

Wenger, speaking systemically of our communities of practice, outlines two major types of knowledge: social competence, meaning the socially and historically situated understanding of our community; and experience, which captures personally acquired knowledge that may or may not align with wider societal beliefs (pp. 226-227).  When social competence and experience clash, this creates space for learning to occur, and knowledge, be it societal or individual, to change (pp. 227).

How, then, does uncertainty fit in Wenger’s community of practice?  Jordan & McDaniel have outlined two potential theories: Uncertainty can take the place of individual experience.  As Jordan & McDaniel note, uncertainty (particularly in a classroom setting) can be very experiential; it is a common modality for learners to see and challenge the structure of their classroom, or relationships with fellow students.  Uncertainty, however, can also take the place of learning, or as a part of learning, that allows learners to identify questions regarding societal competence and to be inquisitive about their social knowledge.

The below example, discussing core curricular expectations of graduate medical education, is an example of uncertainty as both a mode of experience as well as a situation for learning.  

The American Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is the nonprofit accrediting body for American medical schools; it focuses upon “graduate” medical education, meaning residency programs, internships, fellowships and the like, rather than “undergraduate” medical institutions, which award the MD or DO degrees.  Traditionally, “variability in the quality of resident education” was a major systemic stressor (Nasca et al. 2012, pp. 1051).  In response to this, the ACGME historically focused upon quality of teaching and program structure when evaluating an institution.  However, to many such institutions, this focus created an undue administrative burden, stifling innovation, reducing staff and faculty availability to mentor students, and lagging behind systemic changes in the wider medical system.  In 1999, the ACGME introduced six core competencies that, in order to remain accredited, graduate medical education programs must include in their curriculum (Nasca 2012):

  • Medical Knowledge (MK)
  • Patient Care (PC)
  • Interpersonal Skills and Communication (IPC)
  • Professionalism (P)
  • Systems-Based Practice (SBP)
  • Practice-Based Learning and Improvement (PBLI)

The six factors outlined above were designed to shift administrative focus toward tangible “outcomes and learner-centered approaches” (pp. 1052).  For learners, it shifted the focus of medical curriculum closer to real world application.  With traditional didactic lecturing concentrated within one of the six categories, this system presented a unique opportunity to reduce the uncertainty that existed between rote medical knowledge and the myriad of other competencies expected of a practicing physician.  It mandated space within the medical curriculum to both experience parts of being a physician beyond a textbook knowledge of medicine or medical procedures—displaying professionalism with patients, families and other medical professionals; clearly communicating complicated concepts to lay audiences; refine their bedside manner, and practice composure in emotionally difficult situations.  The addition of “System-Based Practice” and “Practice-Based Learning and Improvement” also gave learners the room to confront uncertainty as a part of Wegner’s learning: To practice critical reflexivity, identify strengths and weaknesses in the current structure of the medical system, and to situate themselves as physicians and advocates within that system.



Jordan, M.E. and McDaniel, R.R. (In Press). “Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influences in robotics engineering activity.” The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 1-49.

Nasca, TJ et al. (2012). “The next GME accreditation system: Rationale and benefits.” New England Journal of Medicine, 366(11), 1051-1056.

Wenger, E. (2000).  “Communities of practice and social learning systems.” Organization, 7, 225-246.

Leadership and Uncertainty

I read the article by Jordan and McDaniel (in press) in terms of not just how elementary school students can deal with uncertainty, but also how adults also manage uncertainty. While their article focused on elementary students, I kept wondering if that type of uncertainty and learning through peer interactions occurs in adult learning communities as well. As an individual moves into a new community of practice, he/she will experience uncertainty (Wenger, 2000).  I thought about the fellow classmates of the elementary students as fellow peers in a learning community and drew a correlation that perhaps joining a new community begins with uncertainty and that a leader has a responsibility to understand that uncertainty.

Communities of practice help people thrive and manage uncertainty.  Those that have established the norms and culture for a group set the stage for how someone can be successful within that group. Collaboration is a strategy which can enables learning about a culture. An individual learns who is in charge, how decisions are made, and what outcomes are expected (Wenger, 2000). These peer interactions are very influential, as discovered by Jordan and McDaniel (in press) in their study of elementary students. Learning can occur as a result of this lack of balance of power.

Social supportiveness was closely evaluated in the study by Jordan and McDaniel (in press). The social supportiveness helped the students deal with uncertainty while completing the project task. A factor that influenced whether a peer responded in a socially supportive manner was prior experience with the individual expressing uncertainty. The social support varied based upon whether a student wants something from a fellow student who was expressing uncertainty. If not, the uncertainty was dismissed. If so, the need was addressed. The socially supportive responses were more likely to occur when one’s peers were also uncertain or believed the uncertainty was appropriate to the situation at hand.

In terms of leadership, the authors found that framing the uncertainty helped the students move through the uncertainty. Awareness about the community of practice can then help a leader understand how to introduce someone into the community. The other readings this week, though, highlighted the lack of awareness that people outside of marginalized groups may experience as a result of trying to exist within a white community.

I believe a leader should ensure all members of the community are thriving, engaging, collaborating, supporting, etc. What do you do, though, if you don’t have the opportunity to relate to people within the community or even understand that social support is being offered? Is leadership then a function of realizing whose knowledge you are including or not including? And, is leadership ensuring the social support needed for community members to engage and succeed? These were some questions that came to mind as I reviewed the articles this week. As we begin to learn about the communities we plan to study, perhaps action research, as outlined by Bautista and Morrell (2013) can suggest a model by which leaders can learn more about the communities they lead and determine methods to provide the social supportiveness which can enable learning and success by the community members.


Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303), 1­23.

Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. Journal of the Learning Sciences. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246.


I’m Becoming a Butterfly

I get it.  This week was my “ah-ha” moment.  We were told during the very first week by our professor and by some of the students from the cohort ahead of us to expect change.  That we would be changed.  I’ve watched some of my cohort peers come to theirs through a reading or a comment and I kept moving forward but without making any of the personal connections to the readings or dialogues that some of the others were.  That is until I began reading Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams: The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity (Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R., in press).

Now you may think it’s because the article is about a fifth grade classroom and I teach fifth graders but that’s not it.  The article talks about uncertainty.  Yes, I have PLENTY of that.  But that’s not it, either.  Well, not exactly.  My great big light shining through came with the sentence that reads: Uncertainty is likely a particularly common experience in learning, as individuals grapple to construct new disciplinary understandings and struggle to participate in new social practices (Jordan, 2010).  That’s MY sentence.  Well, not exactly but sort of.  That’s what I tell my students’ parents at parent orientation.  That’s what I tell parents when I push their child to do more, work harder, and reach further than they thought their child was capable of.

Only my sentence is a story that goes something like this:  Your child will enter this year like a caterpillar who is going to become a butterfly and spread their wings so they can fly into middle school.  Caterpillars need to struggle in order to push the fluid into their wings.  If you keep them from struggling then the fluid won’t go into their wings, they won’t become butterflies, and they won’t survive.  If you don’t let your child make some mistakes and struggle through the consequences then they won’t be ready to fly off to middle school.  I tell them this story because I know that their student needs to struggle in order to reach the excellence that they are capable of reaching.  I know that if their parents try and minimize that struggle for them, they will be keeping their student from accessing the strengths within them that are there but won’t shine through without somewhat of a push.  I reassure them that I will guide, help, and teach all year long.  I guarantee them that I will set the bar high but not so high that it can’t be reached.  But I also tell them that I will keep moving that bar up just far enough to make it a struggle.  A struggle towards excellence.  A struggle towards becoming a beautiful butterfly who can fly off and succeed independently.

What I hadn’t connected until reading this is that now I, too, am the caterpillar.  I am the one struggling to access areas of myself, my abilities, my capabilities that I didn’t know I had in me.  I am stretching to new heights so that I can make an impact of excellence within the educational community of practice that I work in and future students I hope to reach.  As I read through the article the first time, I took it in from my personal perspective of conflict, struggle and change.  As I read about the student dynamics, I thought about various adult dynamics I’ve experienced.  After digesting that for a while, I proceeded to reread the article only this time, from a doctoral candidate student’s view.

The article discusses researching how fifth graders managed uncertainty while putting together a predetermined project.  It took place in a heterogeneous fifth grade public school classroom.  The teacher led the class and the researchers were there as observers.  As I began rereading the article, I realized that I was thinking like a leader—the classroom teacher, that is.  It was hard not to do this as this was a fifth grade experiment and that’s what I do during the year.  I had many wonderings. How would experiment look in my classroom? How would I organize the flow of the process?  How might I manage some of the dynamics?  Then I stopped, regrouped, and put myself, for the first time, in the role of a different leader—the researcher.  How would I collect the data?  What would that look like?  How would I organize it?  How would I respond to a student who did not want to talk during an interview as much as I had hoped for?  My frame of reference was starting to change.

The article went on to define two types of uncertainty: content uncertainty which is uncertainty focused around solving a particular problem and relationship uncertainty which is uncertainty relating to interactions with others.  The results of this study found that in every group studied, every day, some type of uncertainty occurred.  It was not true of all students all the time and content uncertainty was more widespread that relationship uncertainty.  However, the study examined varied groups of students whose dynamics fluctuated throughout the course of the projects and the findings remained that uncertainty was a constant.  The researchers did caution that their findings were based on interpretations of student conversations and observations and that others might analyze some of the collected data differently and reach different conclusions.


The article said that “managing uncertainty” refers to behaviors an individual engages in to enable action in the face of uncertainty (Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R. R., in press).  I know that managing uncertainty will become part of my natural order if I plan on becoming a butterfly and spreading my wings to fly three years from now.  Look for me.  I’ll be there with my Cohort #9 peers.  We will be the kaleidoscope of butterflies beginning our new journeys towards excellence in education.




Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity.  Journal of the Learning Sciences. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254



Jordan, M. E. (2010). Collaborative robotics engineering projects: Managing uncertainty in multimodal literacy practice in a fifth-grade class. Yearbook of the National Reading Conference, 59.

Bridging the Gap: Neuroscientists and Educators

Devonshire, I. M., & Dommett, E. J. (2010). Neuroscience: viable applications in education? The Neuroscientist : A Review Journal Bringing Neurobiology, Neurology and Psychiatry, 16(4), 349–56. doi:10.1177/1073858410370900


The premise of this article is that developments in neuroscience can help the field of education, but they don’t.  The authors explore why this gap exists and give three theoretical barriers and two practical barriers to collaboration.

Theoretical barriers.  The first theoretical barrier is that the two fields have fundamentally different goals and those goals are pursued in different ways.  Neuroscientists are interested in the workings of the brain, the architecture of the mind, and how the two work together.  Educators develop pedagogy.  The second theoretical barrier is that the level on which they investigate is different.  Devonshire and Dommett name five levels of investigation:  individual genes/proteins, neurons, functional circuitry (brain regions and circuits), syndrome (all study related to a disorder), and normal behavior.  Most neuroscientists work on the first three levels, while educators are involved with the last level.  Neuroscience hasn’t made much contribution to the study of normal behavior, since most funding comes to the study of dysfunctions.  The “gold standard” is to do research with healthy humans in suitable environments (page 352).  This is a standard that is difficult to attain when dealing with children, schools, and funders.  The third theoretical barrier is translating the content from one field to another.  Teachers are enthusiatic about learning neuroscientists, but the neuroscientists are “cautious…for fear of seeing their work lost in translation” (page 349).  Also, neuroscience can be used to assess educational theories and practices, but it is difficult to use it to create theories.

Practical barriers.  The first practical barrier is that the two fields use a different working language, which creates a need for people who are bilingual.  It is suggested that neuroscientists need to learn to communicate better with teachers and the general public.  This lack of a common vocabulary means that neuroscientists and teachers have different definitions of such basics as “learning” and “research.”  Research design in the two fields is very different–neuroscientists work in labs where they can isolate individual variables, while educators deal with a variety of variables and accept qualitative research as valid.  Action research lacks the stringent controls that neuroscientists demand.  The second practical barrier is finding time and a suitable environment for teachers and neuroscientists to collaborate.

Strengths and Critiques

This article is very well-organized into two main sections (theoretical and practical barriers), and each of these is divided into sub-sections.  This structure, along with clear headings, makes it easy for the reader to follow the line of reasoning.  However, the conclusion misses some of these points in its summary.  Because the article was published in The Neuroscientist and due to the tone of the writing, the audience is neuroscientists and gives thoughts how to bridge the gap between science and society, in this case, educators.  Unfortunately, it seemed to reinforce stereotypical characterizations of both scientists and educators.  I am not sure if this is the fault of the authors or the reader.  The picture painted is one of the scientist working in a sterile lab, unable and unwilling to communicate with outsiders.  Teachers, on the other hand, lack the ability to understand research from a field as stringent as neuroscience, which is “impossible to understand by educators” (page 353).  “Teachers know very little about the brain, and in some instances, their knowledge was not only poor, but actually incorrect” (page 352).

The article is a good read for contemplating why partnerships are not successful, and gives the reader hope that the gap can be bridged.  There are very specific areas for work.

Relation to other readings

I found this to be an interesting follow-up to our class and readings about communities of practice.  One thing that really stood out for me was the discussion of border practices, explained by Wenger (2000, pages 232-238).  Devonshire and Dommett’s analysis of the barriers leads to the conclusion that something must be done to bridge the two communities of practice.  The article is a step in the right direction, enlightening the two fields of the differences between them. Understanding these differences is the first step towards bridging the gap.

Wenger also points out that for collaboration between communities of practice to occur, there needs to be some common ground, as well as areas of real difference (page 233).  Devonshire and Dommett clearly delineate the areas of difference, but leave the question of common ground unanswered.  They even make a point of taking areas that seem to be common ground (i.e., learning takes place in the brain and mind) and change it into an area of difference (i.e., we disagree on what learning is).

I think Devonshire and Dommett would agree with Wenger when he says that the two communities need to find ways to “translate between repertoires so that experience and competence actually interact” (page 233).

Both articles point to the fact that much work needs to be done in order to have a true collaboration between neuroscientists and educators.

Implications for research

I see many important implicatons for my own research.  First, I will need to learn more about the field of neuroscience, trying to educate myself so that I can see through the lens of the scientists.  I will need to undertake what Devonshire and Dommett deem “impossible,” being an educator who is trying to understand neuroscience.  There is nothing I like more than a challenge!  I am now cognizant that words may have different definitions and connotations in neuroscience than they do in education, and that I will have to understand scientific research methods.

They also point out, through many examples, that information found in teacher magazines and mainstream media may be inaccurate.  Two examples given are the idea that a person is right-brained or left-brained (both hemispheres work together) and the fact that there is no conclusive research about the causes of dyslexia, even though policy-makers and teachers ascribe to certain research-based beliefs, while ignoring other research that validates other ideas.


Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246. doi:10.1177/135050840072002



Promoting success in online education… but, what is success?

Harrell II, I. L. (2008). Increasing the success of online students. Inquiry, 13(1), 36–44. Retrieved from

A concise, if not relatively simplistic piece, “Increasing the success of online students” highlights three components that impact student retention in online or distance education programs (2008).  These are student readiness, orientation, and support.  Harrell notes that online or distance education research also demonstrates the importance of “instructor preparation and support” and “course structure” for online student success, but the author sets these aside for this discussion.  In part because online education programs suffer from very high attrition rates, the author focuses on retention as the primary indicator of online student success.


Whereas other studies on online learner success, particularly prior to the extensive penetration of the internet in the distance education domain (Roblyer, Davis, Mills, Marshall, & Pape, 2008), focus on either learner characteristics or the learning environment, Harrell does not make this distinction.  Corroborating this approach, through an extensive research effort culminating in a readiness instrument for [prospective] online learners (the Educational Success Prediction Instrument [V2]),  Roblyer, Davis, Mills, Marshall, & Pape (2008) state that their “findings indicate that a combination of student factors and learning conditions can predict success” of online learners, “though predicting success is much easier than predicting failure” (99).  The orientation of the piece is higher education – the author is an assistant professor and the coordinator for student affairs at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, presumably writing from his own context; however the references used and the message is more broadly applicable. While Harrell’s piece is not revelatory, it reinforces certain best practices, espoused by related studies, relevant for online learning program development.


“Positive impact on online student success”

When an individual embarks on anything new, preparation for their new environment, expectations, relationships, and skills required is integral to his/her capacity to endure what’s ahead positively and productively.  Harrell recommends assessing student readiness for online learning prior to a student beginning coursework, then using this information to either counsel students against the online option or to build an individualized support strategy for each student, based upon their apparent strengths and weaknesses. An orientation should follow, possibly in the form of entire course (as exemplified by Beyrer (2010) and the Online Student Success online education orientation course).  The author favors online (vs. face-to-face) orientations, to get students navigating the technologies and program expectations in the realm and in ways that “mimic” their educational program immediately, before coursework becomes distracted by the student’s [inevitable] technical struggles.  Student technical support that is as accessible and available as the “anytime, anywhere” coursework is absolutely necessary.  The useful suggestion is made to leverage the skills of student workers and others within and beyond the school community to optimize support in this way (without requiring financial and human resources to which many schools lack access).


Enabling students to feel and cultivate their own sense of community and belonging is critically important – to student’s individual achievement and to the success of the program. The author cites studies that have recorded students’ reasons for withdrawal as very often being a sense of isolation, or not feeling a part of something (bigger than themselves).  A community among online students is relevant for facilitating a peer culture with mutual engagement, contributing to the student’s school support system, and creating opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and shared “real world” experiences.  Tools to communicate regularly and without pretense, e.g. instant messaging and social networking, and generating online spaces, e.g. “virtual lounges,” for students to connect on topics academic or of personal interest can support the development of communities.  “The more students integrate into the formal and informal social and academic culture of the institution, the more successful they will be” (Harrell, 2008).  In addition to these important features of an online program that supports student success Harrell focuses on, Roblyer et al (2008)emphasize that “initial active involvement in online courses predicts success. That is, students who are active in the first few weeks of the class are more likely to be successful in the course; dropout behavior is most likely to occur in the early weeks of the course” (106).


The development of a “sense of community” is different from developing a community of practice.  “Communities of practice [as defined by Etienne Wenger-Trayner] are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” ( Perhaps the more inclusive (for both the participants and the institution) and ultimately impactful approach is to develop a community of practice among online learners.


Peers – in multiage groups spanning grade levels –might organize an action research agenda around a theme or specific research question, as an example constructing empowered communities of practice among online student populations.  They could do this on a semester, annual, or episodic basis, but continual throughout their postsecondary career.  Each student would have a position in the community, defined in part by their experience and budding expertise (or competences as Wenger [2000] discusses this).  The shared research agenda, with each individual engaged in and accountable for some aspect of the process, as well as coordinated action steps to maintain the group’s “alignment” to the co-constructed vision and mission, the students would gain invaluable experiences navigating the worlds in their research purview, collaborating with each other, and working toward a common purpose (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013; Wenger, 2000).  The community of practice would serve students’ development in ways applicable to and that transcend academia – arguably supporting their “success”.  Moreover, the likelihood of their retention would be significantly improved.



Harrell uses “success” and “retention” nearly interchangeably.  Is student success no more than an enrollment number?  Many days, given considerable budget constraints and the overly convoluted ADM calculations process (average daily minimum [ADM], which refers to the compensation charter schools receive per pupil) for online schools in the state of Arizona, retention feels so crucial to institutional “success” (read: viability and sustainability) that it doesn’t seem a stretch to conceptualize student success in the stark terms of attendance vs. withdrawal.  However, the effort and heart involved in establishing a new school is likely not just for the warm bodies and smiling faces (hidden behind various screens).  The purpose is more plausibly to provide a better, alternative, or altogether unique educational opportunity to some subset of students.  Defining success in this narrow way unquestionably narrows the exploratory purview: if the investigator is interested only in conditions and learner characteristics that lend themselves to a student’s staying in or leaving a school, will the data capture include relevant life circumstances (e.g. having a baby, needing to care for an ailing family member, having to prioritize income generation, or an onset of a mental disability)?  In other words, will this highly limited conceptualization of success skew the perspective on online educational program quality?


On a personal note, I had a meeting this week with a student who “dropped out” of our brick-and-mortar school in her eleventh grade year, due to a sudden emergence of debilitating expressions of a mental condition.  This would be a “failure” – on the student’s part and on our part – with respect to Harrell’s use of “success”.  However, she returned.  Several months later, she feels, once again, capable of course work.  Success!  (For now.)  A more comprehensive investigation would seek an understanding of: what kept the family connected to our school; why they felt they could trust us during her leave and now upon her return to care for her appropriately; and, what sorts of support they have received from us that kept their family loyal.

Roblyer et al (2008) suggest that “virtual schools … must come to gauge their success not only in terms of numbers of students served and courses offered but also in terms of how much they provide access and support to students most in need of an educational edge (107).”  The intent of this post is not to interrogate the author’s use of “success,” but perhaps that inquiry will emerge in the future. What is most interesting about this examination is what it signifies for program development: the benchmarks for programmatic evaluation and metrics of success are, by necessity, predicated upon the institutional imagining of Success – at the student level and at the organizational level.  When we speak of “excellence” in our contexts and consider an action research program to improve upon some aspect of or to, more generally, strive toward excellence, it is unlikely that retention emerges as the lead indicator.


Bautista, Mark A.; Bertrand, Melanie; Morrell, Ernest; Scorza, D., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory action research and city youth: Methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from

Beyrer, G. M. D. (2010). Online student success: Making a difference. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(1). Retrieved from

Roblyer, M. D., Davis, L., Mills, S. C., Marshall, J., & Pape, L. (2008). Toward practical procedures for predicting and promoting success in virtual school students. American Journal of Distance Education, 22(2), 90–109. doi:10.1080/08923640802039040

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246. doi:10.1177/135050840072002

Wenger-Trayner, E. (n.d.). Communities of practice: a brief introduction. Retrieved June 05, 2014, from

How do they do it?

I’ve always been intrigued when hearing about Carl Hayden High School’s robotics team. I know nothing definitive about them, and I feel like I haven’t heard about them for a few years, but if I’m remembering it correctly, this high school from the west side of Phoenix competed with and won national robotics competitions against colleges like MIT.


At the time, I could not understand how this small high school could compete with some of our nation’s most prestigious universities. Learning about communities of practice has made it clear how this happened. My assumption now is that a culture was fostered, started by strong leadership and kept going by team members who cared about the individual members of the team but cared also for the community as a whole and most likely fought hard to keep that culture going after they graduated.

I saw that too in my high school, Brophy, with one of our recent grads. A few years ago, a member of our robotics team set out to bring robotics down to the grammar school level. Our wonderful student Gabe started a team with our adjacent middle school Loyola Academy. Loyola Academy is a grades 6-8 school that only students who qualify for free tuition can attend. Brophy is an expensive school that many wealthy parents send their sons to, but we also have ample scholarship students who enrich our campus, attending Brophy for free because of scholarship donations. Loyola Academy, though very rigorous in curriculum, has none of the affluent-type students you’d find at Brophy – Loyola students predominantly come from south Phoenix and many live in Boys Hope, an organization that helps children without parents find a family structure.

brophy robo

Well, our student Gabe started this robotics team at Loyola. Many of the members of the Brophy robotics team were perturbed because he left our team to do so. They were also disappointed because the middle schoolers began to beat the high schoolers in completions. And, by the way, Gabe has since gone on to the aforementioned MIT to study both medicine and robotics.

I will add that the Loyola team hasn’t been the same without came and this gets me back to our readings on communities of practice, especially the Jordan and McDaniel piece on robotics specifically, teams or communities need a strong group of peers to fall back and to strengthen the community when needed. Jordan and McDaniel (2014) wrote, “Learning to participate in engineering practices is one context in which uncertainty is particularly relevant. Engineering is an enterprise in which dealing with uncertainty is a central figure” (p. 4). This is why I see the role of a strong peer group so important to groups like these. I also see the importance of one transcendent peer who is able by personality or sheer force of will to keep the group together. Jordan and McDaniel studied how groups of your peers deal with uncertainty. I see my former student Gabe in this study. Jordan and McDaniel set out to study how peers deal with uncertainty in engineering and robotics. The authors detailed the disparate backgrounds of the students in this robotics group and went to discuss the group’s leader. Jordan and McDaniel (2014) wrote, “The teacher of this class, Ms. Billings, had more than 20 years of classroom experience and was recognized on her campus and across the district for her expertise in science and technology instruction” (p. 8). My assumption is that if you look behind the veil of the Carl Hayden High School robotics program, you’ll find a ‘Ms. Billings.” Certainly, in my story, Gabe served that role as well, and I believe that successful groups like these – robotics or any other from band groups or sports teams – will have someone to guide the community of practice through times and situations of uncertainty.


Jordan, Michelle E., and McDaniel Jr., Reuben R. (2014). Managing uncertainty during    collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: the role of peer influence in       robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 00, 1-47.




Participation Action Research; Uncovering the Ugly Truths

Critical analysis of “Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights from the Council of Youth Research”


The aim of this blog is to analyze and evaluate the article “Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights from the Council of Youth Research” (Bautista et al, 2013), as it relates to this week’s theme; communities of practice within action research and leadership. The article explores how inner city youth of color get involved in the process of action research within their community of practice. The authors define this type of research as youth participatory action research YPAR (Bautista et al, 2013). From the beginning, I started to immediately connect with the scope of the study. As a product of a failing inner city school, I found the research to be insightful and I identified with many of the problems unearthed by the study. The inquiry proved to be of great value to the youth that participated in it, as they were forced to examine their “community of practice”, which was various high schools in and outside of their areas. At first the concept of social injustices in schools seemed to be quite ordinary, however the study revealed a much deeper, uglier side to inequalities in inner city education. What I thought was unique about this was, again the youth themselves were uncovering this information by contrasting their high school environment with other schools.

The field notes taken by the researchers provided in depth data and also generated new information for community members to share experiential knowledge. This rich information will allow for the community members to act as agents of change on issues that impact them directly (p.4). As I became engrossed in the findings of the study, I began to reflect on the article; Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College Going Information Networks (Liou et al, 2009). This article touched on some of the same inner city school inequity issues that the Bautista article did. The concept I focused on in my analysis of both articles was impact. How in the Bautista article (2013), the impact was powerful. Powerful for the youth council researches as they saw the striking differences. At times it almost seemed unfair, like a slap in the face, or a punch to the gut. Inequality screamed out as the researcher describe their tour of Richside High School, with its planetarium, three cafeterias, and brand new science and technology building (p.10). Impact can also be seen and valued in the Liou article (Liou, 2009), as it examined the impact of socioeconomic factors leading to young people of color not having equal access to educational advancements. The impact of the lack of caring school adults such as counselors (p.549). According to the Liou article, studies show that students who have caring supportive adults involved in their lives perform better academically (Liou, 2009).

Both articles take an in-depth look at the inequalities of inner city schools and for the purposes of this blog they shall be considered communities of practice. The Bautista article however, struck a nostalgic and emotional chord with me. As the article described inner city schools with dirty bathrooms, bars on windows, and overcrowded classrooms. I reflected upon my high school environment, the stench of cigarettes and urine in the bathrooms, dirty cafeterias, and desks covered with gang affiliated graffiti. As an inner city youth I didn’t even realize there was anything wrong with my learning environment. I thought all high schools looked and smelled like that. And that is because I had never been to a nicer high school. In my opinion that is what makes this study so impactful. The youth in the YPAR got to experience these disparities first hand.

In conclusion, the examination of not only the Bautista article (2013) but the Liou (2009) article as well, provided me with a shocking and disturbing view at the impact of the inequalities of inner city schools. As shocking and impactful as the image of Arnold Schwartzeneggar hold a knife large enough to carve a buffalo with the caption “we’ve got to give every child in this state equal opportunities, equal education, equal learning materials, equal books, equal everything (p. 16).”


Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action   Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research.   Teachers College Record, 115(100303), 1­23.

Liou, D., Antrop­González, R. & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community   Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College­Going Information Networks.   Educational Studies, (45), 534­555.

Creating Culturally Relevant Communities of Practice

I have to say…I love Etienne Wenger’s (2000) article, “Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems.”  Why?, you ask.  Because I have realized how broken our communities of practice are in my community…not only with the administration, teachers and other staff, but with our students and community members as well.

When I think about the various communities of practice that are visibly present, I come up with two very distinct ones, the tribal members (insiders) and the non-tribal members (outsiders).  I navigate between the two communities of practice on a regular basis.   As Wenger (2000) would call me, I am a “roamer” who has the ability to make connections with members of other communities of practice and bring to them the knowledge from other communities.  I can relate to the outsiders because I’m an urban Indian, meaning I grew up in the city.  And, I can relate to the insiders as I am a tribal member.  Wenger (2000) talks extensively about the boundaries that communities of practice create that are both positive and negative.  In this case, oftentimes, the boundaries established by the insiders create a great disconnect between itself and others.  More often than not, the outsiders’ personal experiences and their competence about Native American culture, in my case Tohono O’odham culture, is so disconnected that fostering learning can be very difficult.  The boundaries are not meant to spotlight what you do not know, but the very idea of communities of practice require it (Wenger, 2000).

Is it possible to create a community of practice that involves both the insiders and outsiders?  I am pretty sure we could.  Of course, both the insiders and outsiders would have to connect enterprise, mutuality and repertoire with engagement, imagination and alignment (Wenger, 2000).  This not only applies to the outsiders learning about the culture that they serve (the insider’s culture), but it will require the insiders to understand the different cultures the outsiders bring to the Nation.  I, unfortunately, have only been looking at this from an insider perspective…the outsiders must learn about our students and our community.  I really did not see a value in it being the other way around.  And, now that I have, I am intrigued by the idea of creating a community of practice that involves both sides who truly have an interest in becoming one cohesive group that all have the same goal in mind…providing the best education possible.

These very boundaries and the ability to access an educational community of practice may very well be as the cause of lack of parental support.  Education itself has its own set of boundaries.  Gregory Cajete’s chapter titled, “Seven Orientations for the Development of Indigenous Science Education” in Denzin, Lincoln and Smith’s (2008) book, Handbook of Critical Indigenous Methodologies, Cajete wrote “the sustained effort to ‘educate’ and assimilate American Indians as a way of dealing with the ‘Indian problem’ inevitably played a key role in how American Indians have historically responded to American ‘schooling.'”  He later writes, “early missionary and government teachers naively assumed that American Indians had no education at all and that their mission was to remedy this ‘great ignorance'” (Cajete, 2008).

Unfortunately, the assimilation process that many of our elders experienced in boarding schools has created a great dislike for the education system.  The way the American schools operated were very different than the way Native American’s education system operated.  Native Americans education was “characterized by observation, participation, assimilation, and experiential learning rather than by the low-context, formal instruction characteristic of Euro-American schooling” (Cajete, 2008).  Thus, many of our parents and grandparents (who may be legal guardians) do not care to participate in the communities of practice within the educational system.  They have no vested interest because of the disconnect between their personal experiences and competence in the modern educational system.

By possibly creating new communities of practice that do not initially have a focus on education may be a way to draw in our community members who do not see education positively.  These individuals would have to connect with other community members in the same way that the insiders and outsiders as mentioned above.  Communities of practice cannot make an impact if they do not have buy-in from all members.  As relationships continue to build and mutuality is strengthened by engagement, imagination and alignment, the direction of this new community of practice can begin to shift its focus on educating our youth.  This community should include administrators, teachers and staff (both tribal and non-tribal), parents/guardians, students and community members.  Much of what people learn about what is going on in the community comes by word of mouth.  If we can create a strong community of practice, the word will get out and we can then begin to expand it to reach and include more members.

Redefining communities of practice on our Nation will be critical to changing the mindsets of all administrators, teachers and staff members, as well as community members, in regards to the educational system present on the reservation.  In order for us to build a successful school system, all of us must meet in the middle to ensure that we are preparing our students for the best possible future.  And, who doesn’t want that?


Cajete, Gregory.  (2008).  Seven orientations for the development of indigenous science education.  In N. K. Denzin, Y. S. Lincoln, & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical indigenous methodologies (pp. 487- 496).  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.

Wenger, Etienne.  (2000) Communities of practice and social learning systems.  Organization, (7)2, 225-246.

Success Through Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems by Etienne Wenger was a scholarly article that I enjoyed reading this week. The report focused on the roles of communities of practice and the successful environment they promote in organizations. Etienne Wenger, “argues that the success of organizations depends on their ability to design themselves as social learning systems and also to participate in broader learning systems such as an industry, region, or a consortium.” As I launched into reading this essay I instantly found myself in agreement with the research and findings that were being presented. I almost immediately began to reflect on current and past experiences from my professional community, that helped me grasp the point the author was trying to drive home with readers, of how imperative social learning systems can be to organizational success.

The article provided great insight on how communities of practice have been around, since the beginning of history (Wenger, 2000). The piece uses examples that portray the use of social learning systems from the beginning of time to current practices used in organizations of today. According to Wenger, “participating in these ‘communities of practice’ is essential to our learning.” The point being made was; communities of practice are the basic building blocks of social learning systems because they are the social ‘containers’ of the competences that make up such a system (Wenger, 2000). The author explains that social learning systems both inside and outside of our organization will encourage success.

I found myself reflecting on instances of my professional life that mirrored the experiences in some of the cases that were given in the reading. The examples varied from an eye opening experience you have when in your current place of work, or when removed from your everyday work environment and are able to engage a person or group of people who help open your eyes to a different perspective. The skills to help gain or share knowledge and formulate ideas in a community is important to the development of the culture and environment that established by group or community. Other illustrations presented in this writing of interacting at the dinner table, or working in cross-departmental work groups, all helped to reinforce my own belief that it is vital for people within an organization to break out of their silos and expose themselves not only in their own community, but also in other communities. By not being afraid to broaden your perspectives and open up to other communities of practice, individuals and organizations can help nurture growth and development while opening community members up to new perspectives.

Although encouraging interplay amongst various areas both internally and externally is great, I agree with the author’s point that, “social learning systems often run counter to traditional management practices” (Wenger, 2000).When groups or people start to engage with various parties, the potential for barriers or boundary issues can occur. “Boundaries can create divisions and be a source of separation, fragmentation, disconnection, and misunderstanding” (Wenger, 2000). Hence organizations must tread carefully as they encourage learning communities at all levels. From my perspective, the potential benefits of fostering communities of practice outweigh the downside to not encouraging this type of work.

I trust that for individuals and groups alike, finding a good mix of communities to engage with will help inspire cultural awareness, the sharing of knowledge, and the receiving of knowledge. Social learning systems will boost people to open their eyes to a variety of perspectives and, utilize these types of practice to help shape their identities (Wenger, 2000). As you reflect on this blog, think about the social communities that you interact with today, and contemplate where you might be without the interactions that have help mold you today. Consider times when you were able to cross your typical personal or professional lines of work. Where would you be without these experiences? I know for me being able to expose myself to a variety of communities, people, organizations, and practices, it has helped me to develop my knowledge base across various topics of social and professional settings for the better. Success by way of communities of practices is key.


Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.

Joining a new community

We’ve all had the experience of walking into a new environment and wondering how best to fit in and succeed. We are experiencing it now as we start this program. In “Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems” (Wegner, 2000), the author presents the complexity around learning and outlines the scope and purpose of learning communities. It presents definitions and explanations of how communities are formed and knowledge is built. It discusses the complexity around learning and how learning is not just about displaying competence.

As I read the article, it put an experience of my own into context. Two years ago I was laid off from a job. I had worked in that school for 12 years. I had been actively involved in creating many of the tools, processes, and resources we used in student support. I was extremely active with a professional network and had a reputation of success throughout our industry. Then, I moved to a completely different School within ASU. I realized an entirely different community existed within undergraduate advising. Although I had worked at ASU for 12 years, it was as-if I came into a brand new organization. Our communities of practice shared some basic technology resources and facilities, but other than that, were extremely different. It was shocking.   It required that I modify my own definition of my success based upon new criterion. As the article stated “we define ourselves by what we are not as well as by what we are, by the communities we do not belong to as well as by the ones we do”. And, my community was entirely different. As I read the article, I pinpointed much of what I had experienced: the boundaries of moving within communities, the jargon, the internal tools and resources, etc. On the other hand, I’ve also been able to bring a new perspective to my new community. It was a growth experience, but I have definitely broadened my own ‘knowledge’ and can now exist within these two communities.

As I prepare for conducting my own research in a community, I recognized a broader application for understanding communities of practice. It took some time to learn what I did about the new community, but I learned it. In the article about “Participatory Action Research and City Youth”, the authors established the rationale for engaging in Participatory Action Research (PAR). After reading the article by Wenger (2000) I found significant value in considering PAR in relation to communities of practice.

In regards to PAR, the authors discussed the rules, norms, leaders, and boundaries of the youth action research and I found such great guidance for outlining my own approach to my research area. (Bautista & Morrell, n.d.) I’m interested in measuring the effectiveness of advising practices as well as advisor performance. While their case study discussed the engagement of youth, the application to my research that I identified was the need to ensure advisors and students (my communities of interest) are actively engaged. This article even made the clear point that these communities should be engaged in the creation/identification of the problem itself.

With the influence of these two articles, I reflected on various questions. How can I contribute to the action research of my own advising community? What are the parameters (boundaries) by which I can answer questions about my own proficiency? Isn’t that understanding really critical before I start questioning others’ proficiency? And, shouldn’t I be sure to involve them when I start asking?

“Identity is crucial to social learning systems for three reasons. First our identities combing competence and experience into a way of knowing…Second, our ability to deal productively with boundaries depends on our ability to engage and suspend our identities…third, our identities are the living vessels in which communities and boundaries become realized as an experience of the world” (Wenger, 2000, pg. 239)


Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303), 1­23.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246.





Hand in Hand, We all Learn

  “Ultimately, there are two kinds of schools; learning enriched schools and learning impoverished schools.  I have yet to see a school where the learning curves of the adults were steep upward and those of the students were not.  Teachers and students go hand and hand as learners…or they don’t go at all.”

                                                                                  (Barth, 2001)

Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, by EtienneWenger (2000), Wenger argues that the success of organizations depends on their ability to design themselves as social learning systems.  We all are participants in social learning systems as we have developed our knowledge through experiences and interactions within our world (Wenger, 2000).

One facet or social learning systems are Communities of Practice.  In a Community of Practice, groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger, 2000).  Members of a community practice share information and best practices in their area of expertise or focus.  In order for a Community of Practice to be effective over the long term, three elements must exist.  The three elements include enterprise, mutuality, and repertoire.  Without them, the Community of Practice risks the potential for stagnation and unproductivity (Wenger, 2000).    When considering enterprise in this context, a Community of Practice must show leadership in pushing learning and development further along.    There must also be a sense of mutuality and trust within the community.  This trust should be on a personal level but also at a professional level where the members trust that their information sharing will be reciprocated with the members of the group and also trust in the members’ ability to contribute to the community in a valuable way.  The last element is repertoire which is a certain level of self awareness to know where the community stands and a sense of where it is heading (Wenger, 2000).

During the last three years, Mesa Public Schools has dedicated a lot of funds in the area of training teachers in Communities of Practice.  Teachers are trained by their administration staff and some teachers even got to attend a professional three day training conducted by Solution Tree to receive formal training in this area Professional Learning Communities (PLC).   Some of the trainers included many researchers in educations such as, Rebecca Dufour, Richard Dufour, EdD, Robert Eaker, EdD, Robert Marzano, PhD, and Anthony Muhammad, PhD.  Information regarding educational Communities of Practice and the Solution Tree program can be found at

Creators of the PLC Community of Practice argue that it is an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators (Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, 2012).

As a teacher in Mesa Public Schools, I participate in a Community of Practice called Professional Learning Communities (PLC).  I meet with my team members (the other kindergarten teachers at my school) once a week for about an hour and a half formally but also informally as needed.  Four questions guide each formal PLC.  They are:

  1.  What is it that we expect the students to learn?
  2. How will we know when they have learned it?
  3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?
  4. How will we respond when they already know it?

(Dufour et al., 2012)

During a PLC, our team work collaboratively to examine all teaching practices and study their impact on learning.  Team members share ideas and discuss progress of their students.  In a PLC, the students are not just the responsibility of their classroom teacher, but the responsibility of the whole team.  Expertise from each teacher on the team is utilized in an effort to help all children be successful across the grade level.

One of the most important aspects of a PLC is that the time is protected.  If the discussion does not relate to the four guiding questions listed above then it cannot be discussed at that during a PLC.  There is a lot of value that comes from having a protected time to meet in a Community of Practice.  It assures that knowledge and information is being shared in a regular basis and that each child is being monitored by the entire team of teachers so that they can receive the best education possible.  It also provides teachers a time without other sidebars or distractions where student achievement is the only focus.


Barth, R. (2001). Learning by heart. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass

Dufour, R., Dufour, R., Eaker, R. (2012). Proceedings from Solution Tree Summit 2012: PLC at Work. New Insights for Improving Schools. AZ: Phoenix.

Wenger, E.  (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.

Imposter Syndrome?

In the article Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, Wenger (2000) highlights the importance of organizations designing themselves as social learning systems and participating in broader learning systems. (p.226) The author suggests that within social learning systems there are different modes for belonging. (Wenger, 2000, p. 227)

Wenger (2000) reminds us “Sometimes we are a newcomer. We join a new community.   We are a child who cannot speak yet. Or we are a new employee. We feel like a bumbling idiot among the sages. We want to learn. We want to apprentice ourselves. We want to become one of them.” (Wenger, 2000 p. 227-227.) As I read this quote, it brought me back to when I first started in my current position. I was joining a new organization, had a new role and felt like an outsider. I did not feel as though I had the competence or experience to be one of “them.” During this transitional phase in my new role, I was talking with a colleague who said perhaps you have Imposter Syndrome. He was right. I felt like an imposter in this new community of practice. Even though my new role was still in the field of education, I didn’t understand the processes, artifacts or discourse within this community of practice. In fact there were so many acronyms, I felt like I was learning a new language.

As I embarked on my new role I relied heavily on what Wenger (2000) refers to as mutuality: the depth of social capital which he further describes as “people must know each other well enough to know how to interact productively and who to call for help or advice.” (p. 230) Developing these trusting relationships allowed me to ask questions about the processes, artifacts and discourse in a non-threatening way within our community of practice which increased my confidence in my competence. I slowly felt less like an imposter and more like I belonged.

As Wenger (2000) dedicated time in the article to newcomers to a community he also focused on what he calls “old-timers.” He discusses possible pitfalls in the area of competence and experience for a community of “old-timers” or people who have been with the same community for an extended period of time. One of the pitfalls the author describes is “If competence and experience are too close, if they always match, not much learning is likely to take place. There are no challenges: the community is losing it dynamism and the practice is in danger of becoming stale.” (Wenger, 2000, p. 233) This reminded me of complacency. If we are not taking risks, make changes in our experiences then we are not going to move forward in our practice. Wenger (2000) warns communities not to become a hostage of their history. (p.33) We don’t want to keep processes and artifacts in place just because that is the way we have always done things as a community. In the article, the author encourages us not to discount the role of brokers in communities of practice. Wenger (2000) defines brokers as individuals who “love to create connections and engage in ‘import-export’, and would rather stay at the boundaries of many practices than move to the core of any practice.” (p. 235)

One benefit of people who have been part of a community for an extended period of time is they are able to use their experience to introduce new ideas, artifacts or discourse and “pull their community’s competence along.” (Wenger, 2000, p. 227)
As I enter this new community of practice of doctoral students, I do feel like an imposter. Wenger’s article on Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems confirmed the benefit of mutuality and I am looking forward to learning from everyone in our journey as a doctoral student.



Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization. doi:10.1177/135050840072002