We use the word communities to represent the multiple communities that teacher candidates and faculty members engage in during the preparation of new teachers. These include, but are not limited to:
- B.Ed. classrooms
- Practicum classrooms
- School communities
- Global communities
- Research communities
- Service learning communities
- Virtual communities
Our focus on communities is grounded in work on situated learning and communities of practice which suggests that social practice is the primary, generative source of learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). Opportunities to dialogue and engage in meaningful and sustained collaborative work are well recognized as ways of encouraging inquiry into teachers’ classroom practice and supporting the enactment of new ideas (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Fullan, 2001; Hargreaves, 2009). Teachers, both beginning and experienced, derive support, motivation and direction from collaborative work and discussion as they grapple with new thinking, practices and understandings that emerge through research, policy, classroom practice or readings.
The focus on communities is not new in our thinking about teacher education at the University of Ottawa but rather, this focus helps to articulate and focus on some of the work that is already happening within our Faculty of Education. While we recognize that all B.Ed. classes can be seen as strong communities, and that teacher candidates move into school and classroom communities, there are particular initiatives that extend this notion of community. For instance, some professors have made connections with school classrooms and take their teacher education students to those classrooms to observe, assist, and then through discussion, connect the school classroom experience to the more theoretical discussions they have in their own courses. Other professors send their students out into the community to provide service to a variety of educational communities and to discuss those experiences in their teacher education classes with the view of linking theory and research to those experiences. Hence, the notion of community not only includes the courses and classrooms within the teacher education program but also extends to communities beyond the program, all of which helps to provide forums for inquiry and learning.
We use the word ‘inquiry’ to reflect our view of teachers as both ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ as they engage in examining what it means to teach and what it means to learn. In some cultures, teacher and learner are not separate words, which would better represent the idea that both teachers and learners play these dual roles. For instance, in Maori, the word ‘ako’ is used to mean to learn, study, instruct, teach, and advise.
We do not see the role of the Faculty of Education as creating teachers as technicians, merely implementing prescribed curricula, instructional techniques, and policy. Rather we see our role as supporting beginning teachers as they bump up against relevant literature, current thinking, curricula, educational policies, and the actions and thinking of teachers as they engage in inquiry into their own views and practices. Thus as well as developing the skills and knowledge of beginning teachers, we also present opportunities and experiences for them to develop a stance of inquiry (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). Therefore, within the various communities, teacher candidates are encouraged to critically examine and inquire into:
- Classroom practice (in general, their own, and the practices of those they observe through the program)
- Student learning and understanding
- Ontario curricula and initiatives
- Domain-specific understandings
- What it means to create and take part in communities of learning
- Perspectives on schooling
- Issues of equity and diversity
We view the teacher education program as an opportunity for beginning teachers to engage in a dynamic and iterative cycle of inquiry within a variety of communities. It is within these communities that our teacher candidates are exposed to ideas of teaching and learning, engage in discussion about these ideas, and are provided with opportunities to test out their professional knowledge and practice in a variety of settings.