How Communities of Practice Work in Education

A community of practice meeting in the field of education“Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.“ – Marian Wright Edelman

After decades developing leaders in the field of education, I came across the concept of a Community of Practice (CoP), and it forever changed my perspective of how educators can work together to make the biggest difference in their community and the world. I learned that the guiding principles behind Communities of Practice have existed long before the terminology was invented—in reality, as long as humans have come together to share ideas on common goals. 

I was thrilled to observe the results of a Community in Practice in the field of education when I served as the team leader on a three-year Site Leader Community of Practice (SLCOP) study in seven school districts across California. Before the Community of Practice was instituted, the site leaders (school principals) were isolated from any peers, and as a result, there was little opportunity for them to network. 

The goal of the SLCOP was to bring these principals together to share their successes and challenges. The Community of Practice also allowed the principles to practice reciprocal learning in order to learn as an aggregated whole. 

This three-year project was a resounding success and it illustrates the benefits of Communities of Practice in educational contexts. Why did this project work out so well? How do Communities of Practice work in education? Let’s explore how it works. 

Why are communities of practice such a good fit for the educational field? 

In the field of education, peer learning is vital. 

In a community, we learn and grow by observing and practicing in a safe space with other learners. This is relevant because now, more than ever, educators are facing knowledge challenges. There is a new focus on social-emotional learning, digital literacy, computational thinking, cross-cultural skills, etc in education today—the ways that we define student success are changing rapidly. 

However, in order for educators to teach these skills to students, they must first master these same skills. In CoPs, educators can help one another grow and learn, and most importantly, make a lasting impact on their students.

Communities of Practice allow educators to work toward common professional development goals by forming connections and sharing ideas, practices, and tools. CoPs can be constructed by a district, school, or by the educators themselves. 

How do communities of practice work in education?

CoPs have been used in teacher training and in providing isolated administrators with access to colleagues and mentors. CoPs can meet in person or virtually. Virtual connections allow teachers to interact with others from around the world. It extends the reach of interactions beyond geographical limitations and expands the possibilities for communities based on shared practice. Changing the learning theory can constitute a much deeper transformation. 

Often, there is a level of competitiveness among schools and districts, especially at the high school level. But, what if, instead of pushing each other to succeed via competitiveness, schools collaborated and shared understandings? This is the heart of a Community of Practice—mutual assistance leading to shared benefits. 

Are you an educator looking to achieve greater success through a Community of Practice? Contact me to learn about customized Community in Practice trainings for educators looking to harness the power of collaboration.

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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