These features provide a frame for describing, comparing, and analyzing the infrastructure of teacher learning across schools, districts, and programs of support. They imply a purpose and rigor, suggesting that teacher learning is serious business, a product of thoughtful design and collective system-wide participation, and that the rationale for participation and learning should be clear and compelling.
In the next two sections, we extend our discussion of teachers’ opportunities to learn in the organizational context of schools and departments and in professional development programs. We use examples to illustrate how the features listed above are enacted in professional development and to provide further evidence of the teacher and student learning effects of well-designed teacher learning opportunities. It is important to note that the above features are derived from a diverse body of research, much of which is not specific to science. Wherever possible we draw on science-specific examples.
For several decades, researchers have reported significant benefits of organizational changes that facilitate teacher collaboration, including increased student achievement in schools characterized by strong patterns of collaboration among teachers (Corcoran, Walker, and White, 1988; Ingersoll, 2004). When teachers work collectively in teams, work groups, or as a department, their efforts can yield important instructional results and measurable effects on student learning. Collective work and learning in groups is what Wenger (1998) and other researchers refer to as “communities of practice.” A community of practice involves much more than the technical knowledge or skills associated with the work. Members of a community of practice work collectively on core tasks that members learn to execute at increasing levels of proficiency over time, drawing on support and feedback from the group. Common tasks (and the underlying knowledge that supports them) serve as the focal point of the community. In a community of teaching practice, individuals engage in the shared work of teaching. For example, they collaborate in preparing units of study, analyzing student work or videotaped lessons, developing assessments, and coaching and mentoring one another.
When teacher teams, work groups, and departments function as communities of practice, numerous studies have shown strong, desirable effects on faculty willingness to implement instructional reforms, teacher relationships with students, and student achievement outcomes. For example, the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative works at the district, school, and classroom levels to promote systematic and continuous education improvement through building and sharing professional knowledge and fostering