Communities of Practice

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Photo by Allison Shelley

Working Definitions and Frameworks

Communities of practice 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.

– Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, 2015

Learning in a community of practice is a social activity, generated from the relationships and participation from the members of the group. Within each community of practice, members bring their identities, experiences, beliefs and culture as they contribute to meaning-making conversations that foster learning and develop knowledge.

21CSLA Regional Academy (RA) Communities of Practice provide a space for leaders in similar roles to come together to leading communities of practice that center on equity-centered problems of practice using continuous improvement, while championing transformational leadership.

For the Field: What Defines a Community of Practice?

The three defining characteristics of a Community of Practice are the Domain, the Community, and the Practice.

“It is the combination of these three elements that constitutes a community of practice. And it is by developing these three elements in parallel that one cultivates such a community.”

– Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, 2015

Venn diagram with 3 circles—Domain, Community, & Practice. Overlap is labeled Community of Practice.

The Domain

A Community of Practice (CoP) is not simply a network or a connection between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people.

The Community

Members of the Community of Practice engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice unless members interact, learn together and engage in the practice.

The Practice

A Community of Practice is not merely a community of people who share interests. Members of a Community of Practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems. This takes time and sustained interaction. (Wenger, 2002)

Elements of Effective Communities of Practice

1.Joint Enterprise\What is the practice of our Community of Practice and have we developed mutual accountability for participation?
2.Mutual EngagementHow are all participants in the Community of Practice engaged in the shared practices of the community?
3.Shared RepertoireHow are we supporting our Community of Practice to develop its own shared repertoire of practices, tools and artifacts?
4.Negotiation of MeaningHow are we providing opportunities for the Community of Practice to negotiate its own meaning of material presented?
5.ParticipationHow are we looking at how members of the community participate (can participate)? Are we arranging for shifting participation over time? What is the difference between collaboration, engagement and participation?
6.Identity (Positionality)How are we centering the formation of identity as a part of the community’s learning?

Area 6: Communities of Practice

Facilitate small, sustained, and role-alike professional learning cohorts grounded in leadership for equity and improvement science.

Participant Testimonials

“It meant so much to have this space, to share and hear other site leaders’ struggles, and be honest about the challenges we are facing. In fact, this has been the only place I could be vulnerable for the last several weeks.”

“I admired the process we went through with the Community of Practice. We told our superintendent about this, and the process we went through, and how we can use that for other things in the district in the future. That was a good learning experience.”

“I liked the balance between readings, discussions around the readings, and our inquiry work.”