Mrs A's Blog

My Rambling Thoughts on Teaching and Learning

A Professional Learning Community – A Personal Reflection

Evaluation of Learning

            While professional learning is a requirement to keep current in any profession, within education, it is essential in the quest to improve academic achievement and transform schools. Professional learning has been thought of as an individual pursuit within the educational field. However, In recent years schools have realised that there is a need to take personal knowledge and convert it into institutional knowledge (Basten & Haamann, 2018). This paper will discuss the how and the why of learning as part of a professional learning community within an independent K-12 school context. After a brief discussion about my knowledge and understanding of professional learning within educational organisations, the strengths and weaknesses of professional conversations, in particular, my own skills will be examined. Finally, this paper will examine where my workplace is in the journey of building capacity both for professional conversations and professional learning communities, along with my growth as a leader throughout this process.

A Rationale for Professional Learning in Educational Organisations

           To be a successful educator, you need to commit to lifelong learning; this has been my philosophy since I started as a high school accounting and economics teacher in 2005. It has always been a personal pursuit to expand my pedagogy, ultimately to improve my students understanding, enjoyment and results within my subject areas. Since then, my journey has expanded to include a professional learning network and, more recently, the realisation that it needs to include a community of practice. I have subscribed to Jarche (2014) Personal Knowledge Mastery framework, which involves the continuous process of seeking, making sense of and sharing knowledge through networks. This is supported by Corcoran (2018), who explains that an expert network, a peer network and a transfer network are required for learning to occur. Individuals within organisations will learn even if there is no systematic learning approach (Basten & Haamann, 2018). Organisational learning aims to use targeted activities to change organisational practices (Basten & Haamann, 2018). In contrast, professional learning communities aim to use critical reflection of the human experience to create knowledge (Stoll & Kools, 2016; Vescio et al., 2008). For schools to transform, it requires school leaders to encourage the growth of the whole community if the change process is to be successful, as change requires every member to make a change (Stoll et al., 2006). Trust and respect is the centre of this process (Bradshaw & Cartwright, 2012; Carpenter, 2015; Stoll et al., 2006). Learning organisations need to take all their members’ experience, talents, and capabilities and incorporate continuous improvement (Business News Publishing, 2014; Schein, 2013). Continuous improvement cycles require the whole school to be involved in frequent and deliberate adjustments to classroom practice to transform experience into knowledge, provided that it is relevant to the organisation’s core business – teaching and learning (Schein, 2013; Senge et al., 2011; Tichnor-Wagner et al., 2017).

            If schools are serious about being a learning organisation or even a professional learning community, every member of the establishment needs to be involved. An area my school struggles with is the inclusion of the leadership team within the professional learning community. Over the years, this removal from the professional learning community has led to a destructive environment that leaves teachers wondering why they bother. Carpenter (2015) suggested that this toxic culture enabled reduced job satisfaction and ineffective collaboration as teachers opted out. For professional learning communities to exist both structural (time to meet and talk, physical proximity, interdependent teaching rules, communication structures and teacher empowerment and school autonomy) and cultural conditions (social and human resources, openness to improvement, trust and respect, cognitive and skill base, supportive leadership and socialisation) need to be met (Fullan, 2006). While my workplace has successfully ensured that the structural conditions have been met, they have failed to guarantee the cultural conditions. The staff are given plenty of opportunities to hold conversations around pedagogy and research as we are all part of a single staff space. Through our appraisal system and classroom observations, staff have access to de-privatised practice and dialogic conversations where pedagogy and knowledge are shared, analysed, and refined. It falls short because the leadership team mandates it, and often staff believe that there will be punitive consequences. While a genuine sense of community exists within my department where shared values and vision, collective responsibility, and collaboration exist along with the promotion of group and individual learning, the benefits of the whole community are not supported as an entire school (Bradshaw & Cartwright, 2012; Stoll, 2012).

Evidence and Evaluation of Personal Learning

           Professional learning communities are based on open and honest communication. In developing a professional learning community for this paper, a focused conversation was carried out using Conway and Andrews (2018) protocols. The protocols are based on three key aims (Conway & Andrews, 2018). Where I excelled here was around using my individual experiences to contribute to the shared meaning and respecting the contribution of others, and attempting to build on them where I struggled was around the need to balance sharing my position with inquiring into my colleagues’ views (Conway & Andrews, 2018). This was a result of being too focused on trying to make sure I shared my position. In preparation for the focused conversation, I had gathered my notes around the framework questions we had determined as a group. Unfortunately, in preparing, I had taken a more theoretical approach to the topics rather than a practical approach as the rest of the group appeared to have taken. This left me feeling unprepared for the conversation. I realise that I should have clarified this further as the conversation unfolded. As we progressed, when I got lost in the discussion, I asked group member 1 (the recorder) to revisit what had just been discussed (Conway & Andrews, 2018). As the monitor/observer, I was very aware of making sure the no blame protocol was maintained and ensuring all participants contributed (Conway & Andrews, 2018). This was accomplished by subtly asking group member 1 about her experiences in nursing without drawing attention to the fact that she hadn’t been involved in the conversation. On the other hand, I should have tried to draw group member 2 into the conversation more by interjecting at appropriate points by asking the group to open up to all contributions (Conway & Andrews, 2018). I struggled to balance the observer’s role with making sure I contributed to the conversation. Throughout the focused discussion, I learnt just how adaptable I am and how much of my experiences and knowledge were beneficial to the progression of the group understanding.

My understanding of professional learning and professional learning communities improved as the conversation progressed. Listening to the experiences of group member 1, group member 2 and group member 3 and the knowledge that they possessed has improved my comprehension of professional learning in educational organisations around establishing a professional learning community. My key takeaway was around how much organisational culture and structure affects the building of trust and respect. It was interesting that trust and respect are the keys to success in building capacity for learning within educational organisations, whether that was part of coaching and mentoring, reflective practise or the setting up of a professional learning community. The need to have buy-in at all levels of the organisation is essential for a learning organisation to flourish and have effective collaboration (Carpenter, 2015).

Discussion of Learning and Aspirations for Leading the Development of a Professional Learning Community

            The continuum of professional conversation ranges from raw debate to dialogue (Conway & Andrews, 2018; Senge et al., 2011). Within my workplace, all levels of the continuum have been displayed. In professional conversations in my department, we tend to move between polite discussion and skilful discussion. While we tend to have skilful discussions when discussing our goals around feedback, collaboration, and reading comprehension, the goal is to come to an agreed census as to what this looks like in our classrooms (Conway & Andrews, 2018). On a few occasions, we have tried to conduct a focused conversation to investigate what good teaching looks like, however without an observer to draw the quieter members of the department into the conversation, the issue of ‘ping ponging’ occurred (Conway & Andrews, 2018). When the lead teachers meet, we tend to move between focused conversation and dialogue; each discussion has clear goals and involves exploration, discovery, and refining ideas and knowledge (Bohm & Nichol, 1996; Conway & Andrews, 2018). A couple of times within the secondary school, I have seen the highly adversarial raw debate occur within a professional conversation, especially when staff are passionate about the topic (Senge et al., 2011). While we all embrace professional learning as part of the requirements to remain registered teachers, most conversations are not used as a way to explore ideas and build meaning (Conway & Andrews, 2018).

            Leadership and the need to build capacity for professional learning has changed within educational organisations. The traditional view of leaders is no longer the way forward; leadership no longer sits with the person at the top of the hierarchy but rather with teacher leadership (Copland, 2003; Senge, 1990; Timperley, 2012). As a leader within my school, learning to be a designer, steward and teacher will ensure that I can develop and build capacity within the professional learning community (Business News Publishing, 2014; Smith, 2001). As a designer, I must help develop shared values and vision to foster lifelong learning (Business News Publishing, 2014; Smith, 2001). Stewardship runs on multiple levels, the stewardship of people and stewardship for the larger purpose and vision once created as part of the professional learning community (Senge, 1990; Smith, 2001). The final element, leader as a teacher, refers to the coaching and facilitating of learning within the learning organisation; as part of professional conversations, it is about taking the personal knowledge and convert it into institutional knowledge (Basten & Haamann, 2018; Smith, 2001). Shared leadership is central to professional learning communities. It starts with those in senior leadership taping future leaders on the shoulder and allow them to help build the organisations capacity for professional learning within educational organisations (Carpenter, 2015; Fleming & Thompson, 2004; Timperley, 2012).


           This paper has reflected on my knowledge and understanding of professional conversations, professional learning communities and professional learning within educational organisations. My philosophy and commitment to lifelong learning sets me up to be a leader within a learning organisation. While I still have lots to learn, I see the potential of setting up a professional learning community within my school. For it to work, both structural and cultural conditions will need to be met to ensure that the toxic culture does not develop. The benefits of having the entire school as part of the professional learning community can be experienced once these conditions exist. As I practise the protocols within my department and with the other lead teachers, my professional conversation skills will continue to improve. As I continue to develop as a leader, these skills will become more of a part of my practice.


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Special Education and Inclusion: The Opportunities and Challenges

Since 2008 the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has made it clear that all people, including those with disabilities, have a right to access an inclusive, quality and free education (UN General Assembly, 2007, Article 24). As a result, the inclusion of students with disabilities into the general education system within Australia has shifted from segregation to inclusion (Hyde, 2017). As educators attempt to make education accessible and inclusive to all students, many opportunities and challenges have developed. This essay will provide a brief overview of special education and inclusion, followed by a discussion of the key dimensions and issues of which the strengths and weaknesses will be examined. Finally, the essay will provide recommendations for action.

Brief Overview of Special Education and Inclusion

What is Special Education and Inclusion?

Special education is a subsystem of the general education system developed to cater to the unique needs of students with disabilities (Bateman & Cline, 2016; Tomlinson, 2012). As students with disabilities often require different supports not always available in general education, special education focuses on academic, physical, cognitive, and social-emotional education (Bateman & Cline, 2016; Sharma, 2014). Generally speaking, it aims to encourage both academic progress and personal and social development (Farrell, 2010). Special education is accomplished by ensuring students are provided with individualised modifications of teaching strategies and programs, including related services, which are systematically monitored to ensure student success (Bateman & Cline, 2016). Essentially, special education is provided to those students whose needs cannot be catered for in the “traditional” classroom due to disability.
Inclusive education has many variations in meaning, depending on the lens being applied. Most literature agrees that inclusive education is about valuing differences, embracing diversity and creating opportunities to access learning (Armstrong et al., 2011; Cologon, 2013; Forlin et al., 2013; Francisco et al., 2020; Webster, 2018). Inclusive education is a philosophy based in social justice, where diversity is seen as a resource rather than an issue (Cologon, 2013; Dixon, 2018). When everyone is different, education needs to adapt to those differences rather than trying to adjust the child to the system (Armstrong et al., 2011). Consequently, educational services need to recognise the rights of all children to be included regardless of their needs (Cologon, 2013). By adapting both the environment and teaching approaches, all schools, along with support services, can remove barriers and provide every student, irrespective of needs, with an education in an age-appropriate general education classroom to ensure the valued participation of all (Cologon, 2013; Francisco et al., 2020). While globally, inclusive education is shifting away from a focus on disability to diversity, Australia currently still views inclusive education through the disability lens (Dixon, 2018).

History and Legislation

Historically, special education has focused on the medical model where students were diagnosed, and as a result, were often withdrawn to specialised institutions (Graham & Jahnukainen, 2011). These institutions led to isolation as the children with disabilities were separated from society as they lived and learned together (Francisco et al., 2020). Mainstreaming and integration started as the solution to the issue of institutionalisation and segregation of students with disabilities (Graham & Jahnukainen, 2011). Mainstreaming focused on where a child was receiving their education rather than how, and thus many students formerly left in special schools were placed in local schools (Hyde, 2017). Meanwhile, integration looked to address the ‘how’ students with disabilities received their education and looked to include students based on their capacity and ability level; however, the education system was still not required to adapt to the students’ needs (Hyde, 2017). In some instances, this integration was still segregated as students were attending the local school in the same buildings but attending special classes (Francisco et al., 2020). “Inclusion is built on the principle that all students should be valued for their exceptional abilities and included as important members of the school community” (Obiakor et al., 2012, p. 478). As such, it challenged mainstreaming and integration, especially the restrictions they placed on access and participation in education (Armstrong et al., 2011).

International Legislation and Policy

The first significant international policy was the Salamanca statement and framework for action on special needs education (1994), of which Australia was an early signatory that looked at inclusive education as a philosophy of education for all. It set the standard by giving every child the right to education and to attend the local school if that was their preferred model of education delivery (Webster, 2018). From here, the United States implemented the No Child Left Behind Act 2001 (US), which ensures all children could obtain a high-quality education and reach proficiency at grade level. It introduced standardised testing as the yardstick to measure learning (Francisco et al., 2020). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act 2004 (US) mandates educational services for students. Outlining eight core principles around identifying students with disabilities, access to free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, it amended some of the issues of the No Child Left Behind Act (Bateman & Cline, 2016). In 2007 the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities became the second significant international policy focusing on the rights of persons with disabilities; the aim was to protect them from human rights abuses (UN General Assembly, 2007). When it came to children with a disability and education, it guaranteed the right to inclusive education at all levels without exclusion from the general education system and receiving the support they required to ensure their access to education (Forlin et al., 2013; Hyde, 2017; UN General Assembly, 2007).

National Legislation and Policy

Within Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) aimed to prevent discrimination based on disability and set out to ensure that persons with disabilities have the same rights to equality as the rest of society. From this, the Disability Standards for Education 2005 were developed to clarify the Act and provide clear guidelines around enrolment, participation, curriculum development, support services and harassment and victimisation (Conway, 2017; Forlin et al., 2013; Ruddock, 2005). This Act introduced the requirements of schools to make reasonable adjustments so that students with disability can participate on the same basis as other students (Cumming et al., 2013). In 2008 the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians goals were developed. These goals were set for all students regardless of their needs, and as a result, inclusive education focused on the success of all (Anderson & Boyle, 2019; Barr et al., 2008). The establishment of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, ensured a national curriculum, along with a national testing regime, was developed to meet the goals (Anderson & Boyle, 2015; Conway, 2017). Building on the Melbourne declaration, the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration in 2019 updated the goals to focus on the partnership with students, families and the broader community to ensure that the right to inclusive education set up in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is maintained (Berry et al., 2019).

State Legislation and Policy

To ensure that Queensland students can experience inclusive education, the government introduced the Inclusion Policy in 2018, ensuring that students are “supported by reasonable adjustments and teaching strategies tailored to meet their individual needs” (Education Queensland, 2018). To guarantee that schools were supported to meet both the Inclusion Policy and the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration, the Every Student with Disability Succeeding Policy was developed in 2019 (Education Queensland, 2019). This policy outlined the plan on how the government, in conjunction with schools, families and communities, would ensure that students with disabilities are to be included and supported, along with a reduction in planned restrictive practices and support and training for teachers (Education Queensland, 2019).

Key Debates and Controversies About Special Education and Inclusion


Funding for inclusive education is a complex and problematic issue in Australia (Anderson & Boyle, 2015; Cologon, 2013). It is shared between both the State and Federal government, and the state or territory a student with disabilities lives determines the amount the school will receive (Anderson & Boyle, 2015; Cologon, 2013). Most funding comes from the State government; however, the Federal government funds non-government schools while providing minor financing for public schools (Boyle & Anderson, 2020). Rather than fostering inclusion, the amount received by independent and catholic schools contributes to the segregation of those with low socio-economic backgrounds and students with disabilities, thus exacerbating inequalities across the education system (Anderson & Boyle, 2015).
Initially, funding for inclusive education was based on medical diagnosis, which led to an increase in assessments (Barrett, 2014). The increases in assessments resulted in some students being diagnosed unnecessarily. In contrast, others who may have had mild disabilities were given eligibility codes for more severe conditions to increase the funds provided (Barrett, 2014). The categorical approach resulted in an increase in labelling, which lent itself to lower expectations and, in extreme cases, removal from regular education altogether, which was not in the spirit of inclusion (Barrett, 2014; Cologon, 2013). The introduction of the NCCD emphasised adjustments for students rather than diagnostic categories of students; accordingly, funding was no longer based on the disability label (Cologon, 2013). Even with two reviews of government funding, the model has remained complex. The Gonski Review proposed a national needs-based model that would address these issues (Anderson & Boyle, 2019), while Barrett (2014) proposed “an inclusive funding model based on population demographics” (p. 78) to remove the financial incentives to label students with disabilities.


Inclusive education is challenging, and it is an educators’ attitude which will determine its success (O’Rourke, 2015). In most cases, the outlook is based on practical concerns about how it will be implemented in the classroom (Vaz et al., 2015). Concerns can centre around additional workload, the type and severity of the disability, lack of training, support services and confidence, time constraints in the classroom of working with a student with a disability without disadvantaging other students (Jordan & McGhie-Richmond, 2014; O’Rourke, 2015; Vaz et al., 2015). While a student’s right to reasonable adjustments under the Disabilities Standards for Education must uphold the integrity of the course and assessment (Dickson & Cumming, 2018; Ruddock, 2005). Adjustments to make the program accessible depend on consultation with the student and their parents (Dickson & Cumming, 2018). Best practice is to differentiate the curriculum to cater for the needs of all students; however, this requires planning, preparation and expertise (Forlin et al., 2013). Teachers need better preparation for inclusive education, and this lack of skill is the barrier for inclusive education (Anderson & Boyle, 2019; Cologon, 2013). Professional development alone will not reduce anxiety in teachers; related support services need to be in place to support teachers if the goal is to implement inclusion (Forlin et al., 2013; Vaz et al., 2015). ACARA has supported teachers by providing guidance and resources for the implementation of the Australian Curriculum for students with disabilities (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), 2020; Forlin et al., 2013). While Pearce (2009) argued that attitude outweighed expertise in the implementation of inclusive education (as cited in Anderson & Boyle, 2015), it is the whole support system that will ensure success.

Curriculum and Assessment

In Australia, when the mandated Australian Curriculum was introduced, there were concerns that it would not allow flexibility to meet the needs of students with disabilities (Anderson & Boyle, 2015). With the implementation of any standardised curriculum, there will be students who find it accessible and those who will not; unfortunately, it is generally minority groups, students from low socio-economic backgrounds and students with disabilities who commonly miss out (Boyle & Anderson, 2020). When brought to ACARA’s attention, the response was to provide supporting documentation, resources and examples on how to address student diversity within the Australian Curriculum. (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), 2020). Additionally, the assessment of students with disabilities should be against the achievement standards based on their individual goals (Forlin et al., 2013). With these adjustments, inclusive education is attainable.
The introduction of a National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy has been the most controversial reform to date (Anderson & Boyle, 2015). The purpose of NAPLAN is to determine if students are meeting the educational outcomes outlined in the Melbourne Declaration (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), 2016). While this may have been the purpose, NAPLAN has become a high-stakes test which hinders inclusive education (Anderson & Boyle, 2015). Students do not have access to the supports they would generally receive in the classroom for accessing assessment (Boyle & Anderson, 2020). The limited range of adjustments provided in itself conflicts with the Disability Standards for Education as reasonable adjustments are not being made to ensure all students can participate (Anderson & Boyle, 2015). There is an increase in the number of students choosing to withdraw from the national testing regime of which students with disabilities or additional learning needs have been disproportionately represented. The result is that the educational outcomes are not being met for students with disabilities (Forlin et al., 2013). The absence of students with disabilities from the national testing regime prevents valid and fair judgement of the effectiveness of the Australian Curriculum and other educational outcomes (Sharma, 2014). With the lack of NAPLAN data on students with disabilities, one could easily believe that these students do not exist in the Australian Education System (Sharma, 2014). This would affect funding, resourcing and does not provide inclusive education.
The Australian government is aware of the challenges with implementing a standardised curriculum and assessment program and continue to implement new initiatives to address these. However, as the governments continue to change at both the state and federal levels, the issue will not be inclusive education; the problem will become the lack of progress on educational initiatives (Sharma, 2014).

The Way Forward for Special Education

Inclusive Education

Overall, the implementation of inclusive education is beneficial for all Australians—the various stakeholders in education support this assessment. All students require a variety of strategies to learn, whether that is more time, more practice, fewer tasks, differentiated tasks regardless of their circumstances (Haug, 2016). As a result, when students with special needs are included in general education settings, they tend to achieve closer to grade average than those who are segregated (Cologon, 2013; Winter & O’Raw, 2010). However, the dropout rates were higher for those students with disabilities who were being educated in a general education setting rather than a special education setting (Winter & O’Raw, 2010). The merit of inclusive education is shown through the benefits all students, not just those with disabilities, gain through the development of friendships and self-worth that would not have been encountered otherwise (Cologon, 2013).
Research has shown that the more multicultural a school is, the easier it is to implement an inclusive education as the culture of the school is already inclusive (Graham & Spandagou, 2011). The change needs to be to the definition of ‘inclusive’ to be expanded to include all aspects of inclusion, not only ethnic differences (Graham & Spandagou, 2011). The other area to ensure the success of inclusive education is to encourage schools to work with all stakeholders, including parents, support services and community members, to support students with learning needs as this provides the whole picture of the child (Hardy & Woodcock, 2015; Winter & O’Raw, 2010). The last piece of the puzzle is for government policies to support and provide guidance for teachers, support staff and administration to ensure success by acknowledging and valuing the work and effort in the implementation of inclusive education (Hardy & Woodcock, 2015).


For schools to be successful in the implementation of inclusive education, they need to acknowledge inclusion as an evolving process (Winter & O’Raw, 2010). As such, it is recommended that the following is implemented:

  • Governments
    • Foster collaboration between government departments, schools, families professionals, education systems and communities to build the infrastructure necessary to support inclusive education (Forlin et al., 2013).
    • Commonwealth and State funding for inclusion must be based on population demographics and a needs-based model (Anderson & Boyle, 2015; Barrett, 2014; Forlin et al., 2013).
    • Review both the national curriculum and national testing to ensure they meet the needs of all learners (Anderson & Boyle, 2015)
    • Ensure that educational policies regarding inclusive education are consistent across all jurisdictions (Hardy & Woodcock, 2015)
  • Schools
    • Design a comprehensive schoolwide approach to the integration of curriculum and assessment along with classroom management to meet the diverse needs of all students (Grima-Farrell, 2011).
    • Support the strengthening of the relationships between teachers, parents, students (Winter & O’Raw, 2010).
    • Provide educational settings that focus on reducing barriers to learning (Winter & O’Raw, 2010).
    • Make adjustments to school culture, policies and practices which develop support structures and the provision of and access to equitable learning opportunities (Forlin et al., 2013).
    • Provide professional development for all staff which includes students with special education needs to encourage both relationships with students and foster the importance of listening to student voice (Kaikkonen, 2010).
    • Provide professional development for all staff which focuses on best practice and the why and how of inclusive education (Anderson & Boyle, 2015).
  • Teachers
    • need to create learning environments that respond to the needs of all learners, not just students with disabilities (Forlin et al., 2013; Winter & O’Raw, 2010).
    • focus on good quality teaching of all students (Forlin et al., 2013).


As educators, there is both a legal and moral requirement to provide an inclusive education system in Australia. To address the key issues and controversies, all stakeholders need to work together to address the recommendations provided, thus providing the right to access quality education. 


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Community of Practice

Over the last few years, communities of practice have become the latest thing to be implemented in education. A concept that started as “a social learning system” (Wenger, 2010, p. 179), it has since grown to a “field of knowledge management” (Wenger et al., 2002, p. 5), thus becoming an easy way to share knowledge in the ever-evolving field of education. Simply defined, communities of practice are “groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better” (Wenger, 2002). This essay will discuss the benefits and challenges of using a community of practice for economics teachers within a high school context. After a brief discussion of what a community of practice is, the strengths and weaknesses within an educational context will be examined. Finally, the essay will investigate the sustainability of a community of practice. This essay will argue that with the constant changes to the education system, teachers need to embrace communities of practice in order to improve their knowledge, skills and understanding.

Knowledge and best practice within any field is not just about concepts, policies and procedures. In fact, in most industries, it is impossible to capture all knowledge on a topic as knowledge is not just the information but also the application of that information (McDermott, 2000). This knowledge is invisible and often only comes to mind when attempting to answer a question or solve a problem (McDermott, 2000). Within this space, there is a need to honour the history of practice and the exploration of perspectives along with the history of research, teaching, management, and regulation (Wenger, 2010). Communities of practice are required to make sense of “what researchers find, what regulators dictate, what management mandates, what clients expect and what practitioners end up deciding” (Wenger, 2010, p. 182). When they are combined, they often conflict with each other. These complex issues require multiple perspectives for practitioners to be able to solve; as such, communities of practice will develop naturally on their own within an organisation (Wenger et al., 2002). The strength of the community of practice will depend on the engagement of members and the support of management (Wenger et al., 2002).

What makes a community of practice different to a team, department, or workgroup is that communities of practice are a group of practitioners who select themselves based on passion, commitment, and expertise (Wenger & Snyder, 2000). From here, they set their own agenda and establish their own goals and leadership based on the needs of the group (Wenger & Snyder, 2000). In contrast, a team initiated by management usually to complete a project, and members are selected based on the job requirements and shared goals (Wenger & Snyder, 2000). Management needs to step in to identify potential communities of practice and cultivate these communities by providing infrastructure and budget so that they can reach their full potential (Wenger & Snyder, 2000). Communities of practice can take many forms whether they begin spontaneously or intentionally; they can be small groups of under ten to large groups of hundreds that belong to the same industry or are an interindustry group (Wenger et al., 2002; Wenger & Snyder, 2000). They can exist for a few years or centuries where knowledge is passed from generation to generation, whether locally or globally, within the organisation or across organisational boundaries (Wenger et al., 2002; Wenger & Snyder, 2000). It is the shared context, concern, or issue that will determine how each community of practice will look, provided it suits the members’ needs (Monash University, 2020; Wenger et al., 2002; Wenger & Snyder, 2000).

Regardless of the type of community of practice, they all share a combination of three fundamental elements – domain, community and practise (Wenger, 2002). The domain is the common ground, the shared inquiry, the key issues (Wenger, 2002; Wenger et al., 2002). It is what motivates people to join the community of practice and ensures relevance and focus over time (Mercieca, 2016). While the domain is not always “recognisable to outsiders, it is known and valued by the members of the community of practice” (Gardner, 2020, p. 25). Community is the glue that holds the domain and practice together; it is what sustains the community of practice and ensures participation (Mercieca, 2016). A community of practice is “a group of people who interact, learn together, build relationships and in the process develop a sense of belonging and mutual commitment” (Wenger et al., 2002, pp. 34-35). Community is about relationships and the need for recurring connection to share an understanding of their domain and an approach to practice (Mercieca, 2016; Wenger, 2002; Wenger et al., 2002). It is the interactions which “are necessary for the advancement of knowledge” (Gardner, 2020, p. 25) and practice. Practice allows members of a community of practice to explore the existing body of knowledge, along with the latest advances in the field (Wenger, 2002; Wenger et al., 2002). It is the ongoing sharing of experiences, ways of addressing recurring problems and a repertoire of resources, working together to refine, develop and add value to the existing body of knowledge (Gardner, 2020; Mercieca, 2016). It is the honing of practice with the support and combined wealth of knowledge that crystalises the experiences and shared knowledge to develop best practice (Gardner, 2020; Mercieca, 2016). Communities of practice aim to promote positive change (Gardner, 2020), and it is through the domain, community and practise working together “to create a dynamic learning community” (Mercieca, 2016, p. 12).

Within education, communities of practice become necessary to connect educators, most notably when curriculum, assessment and the education system are changed. In 2019, the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) introduced a new certificate of education system for senior students, which included an internal and external assessment system never seen before in Queensland (Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 2020). This new system saw a significant change in how the curriculum and assessment are now delivered to students (Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 2020). In economics, teachers are often the sole practitioner in their school. As a result, economics teachers have reached out, and there is a need to develop a community of practice to enable dialogue, capturing existing knowledge and best practice while creating a collaborative environment to help them organise and generate new knowledge around the new system (Cambridge et al., 2005).

The benefits of a community of practice for economics teachers are dependent on the individual situation of each educator. In most cases, the benefits are to the individual educator; however, there are several advantages for the school they work for and the students they teach as well. For an isolated teacher, as the only discipline practitioner or as a result of location within the state, the benefit of being able to unpack the new syllabus, emerging knowledge and practice will provide confidence that the chosen approach will be the right one (Duncan-Howell, 2007; May & Keay, 2016; Reaburn & McDonald, 2016; Wenger et al., 2002; Wenger & Snyder, 2000). Ultimately, this enhances the learning experience for students, provides a larger pool of resources, especially for topics not taught in previous syllabi, while saving time with quick answers and access to expertise, along with new strategies for handling and teaching the subject from graduates (Akinyemi et al., 2019; Fuller et al., 2005; May & Keay, 2016; Wenger et al., 2002; Wenger & Snyder, 2000). With the introduction of a new assessment system, the need for standardisation across schools has become paramount, especially when students across the state experience the same external exam (Wenger et al., 2002). Communities of practice provide economics teachers with the ability to seek advice and clarification, specifically where the initial training provided by QCAA was not attended (Fuller et al., 2005). Overall, the biggest strength a community of practice offers any educator is the “pool of goodwill” (Wright, 2007) which would be beneficial for economics teachers to improve their practice overall.

Many of the issues with communities of practice tend to be extreme versions of the qualities that make a community successful; as such, the weaknesses need to be recognised (Wenger et al., 2002). The main weakness is the issue of power and identity, which will require clear guidelines, and protocols to foster a culture of risk-taking and recognition of all (Cattaneo, 2019; Roberts, 2006; Vangrieken et al., 2017; Wenger, 2010). Powerplays can shape meaning and direction without intending to, while reducing creativity and the want to share knowledge (Cattaneo, 2019; Wenger, 2010). The installation of a coordinator role will be critical to the long term survival of an economics teachers’ community of practice (McDermott, 2000). Other issues for teachers will be time and infrastructure (Duncan-Howell, 2007; McDermott, 2000). Both can be solved through the selection of technology that easily “integrates with people’s daily work” (McDermott, 2000, p. 9) and support from school leadership (Wenger et al., 2002).

The sustainability of a community of practice is about positioning the group, dealing with the challenges and ensuring all members have buy-in (Cambridge et al., 2005). This will be achieved through effective facilitation and by building relationships of trust, and mutual respect (Akinyemi et al., 2019; Cambridge et al., 2005; McDonald et al., 2012; Wenger et al., 2002). A focus will be on cultivating a willingness to share, exposing ignorance, asking questions and listening to what others have to say (Akinyemi et al., 2019; Cambridge et al., 2005; McDonald et al., 2012; Wenger et al., 2002). Furthermore, a relationship will be developed with the Queensland Economics Teachers’ Association (QETA), as according to Cambridge et al. (2005), “successful and sustainable communities have focused, well-defined purposes that are directly tied to the sponsoring organisation’s mission.” (p. 3). QETA aims to support economics teachers in Queensland; as such, they are in the best position to assist the community of practice.

With the changes to curriculum, assessment and the education system in 2019, economics teachers have needed to embrace communities of practice in order to improve their knowledge, skills and understanding. It is through the use of the elements of domain, community and practise economics teachers can make sense of the relationship between research, regulation and pedagogy. Provided that the weaknesses are recognised and addressed, a community of practice for economics teachers will be successful and sustainable over time. Along with the relationship with QETA, this will safeguard the benefits for the school, the economics teacher and, of course, the students.

Reference List

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Roberts, J. (2006). Limits to Communities of Practice. Journal of Management Studies, 43(3), 623-639.
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Wright, N. (2007). Building literacy communities of practice across subject disciplines in secondary schools [Article]. Language & Education: An International Journal, 21(5), 420-433.

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PKM Routines

I have for years wondered how people find their info, process it and then if worthy share it. Today I read a piece for my current subject at Uni about PKM Routines ( The penny has suddenly dropped.

Personal Knowledge Mastery is about how you seek, sense and share what you know. So over the years, I have narrowed down my way of finding information to the following routine…

Seek – I read through my newsfeeds in Outlook, Twitter and good old Google searches

Sense – I read, notetake, draw and talk through my thoughts in OneNote

Share – when I find a good idea I share through my networks on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and if I have the time I’ll write a blog post.

So below is my first version of my PKM routine! Would love to know what you think!

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