LIVE@CoSN2024: Exclusive Coverage


Using online communities of practice for continuous improvement

Online CoPs enable like-minded educators to share ideas, questions, successes, and failures, while collaborating to find solutions

online-communitiesToday’s smart educator needs to become better connected to resources, tools, learning activities, and peers—both inside and outside school. The growth of online communities of practice (CoPs)—often a chief component in professional learning communities—reflects a continued commitment to working collaboratively with your peers toward improving student success.

You might be asking, what are communities of practice?

By definition, a community of practice is a collection of people who engage on an ongoing basis in a common endeavor, such as a bowling team, a book club, a friendship group, or a church congregation. Two crucial elements of CoPs are a shared experience over time and a commitment to shared understanding (Penelope Eckert, 2006). The progress of CoPs in education is reflected in the growing number of educators collaborating through online communities, most apparent via Google and other social media platforms.

(Next page: How effective are communities of practice?)

Proven effectiveness

Online CoPs should be used to help district leaders by facilitating a dialogue that both stimulates and deepens the conversation, ultimately working toward continuous improvement of the learning environment for students and their teachers.

The benefits are clear. Online CoPs enable like-minded educators to share ideas, questions, successes, and failures; work with other school leaders who understand their unique challenges in education; and operate on a platform together to find solutions, provide resources, develop ideas, give feedback, and discuss the successes and challenges of infusing classrooms with digitally rich learning materials.

Through two CoSN-led initiatives—Teaming for Transformation and Collaboration for Innovation—we have leveraged online CoPs as part of hybrid professional learning opportunities for district and school leadership teams. These efforts enhance digital instruction and find solutions to ensure students graduate from high school and are college- and career-ready. With participants who include superintendents, principals, and leaders specializing in curriculum, assessment, finance, and technology, these projects have given participating leadership teams an opportunity to see firsthand through site visits how to create interactive and results-oriented learning environments. The on-site visits provide multiple opportunities to engage with students and hear from district leaders about lessons learned and the specific areas of focus they deem important in their subsequent participation in the online CoP.

Hybrid professional learning opportunities also provide insights into the effective facilitation of dialogue, stimulating and deepening the conversation geared toward student and teacher success. Programmatically, district and school leaders recognize the value in “seeing” educational success in action. They value opportunities to have on-site conversations with district leaders, principals, teachers, and students to ask the hard questions that will help them move forward with overcoming challenges.

Continuing the robust, results-oriented conversation

For the dialogue to continue effectively in the online community, it remains important to identify the specific sub-topics districts believe are important to planning their future success. For example, while the goal of moving toward a student-centered learning environment remains important, moderating the dialogue around the specific, agreed-upon topics moves the strategic work closer to the general goal. It’s helpful to identify the members of the online community who best know these specific topics early on, so they can lead the discussions. Districts also appreciate peer leaders in the community who are willing to “mentor” them during their participation in the online CoP.

Moving forward, teams should develop a regular schedule of activities and responsibilities to keep building the conversation. This should not be a “one-size-fits all” solution—the districts should constantly cultivate lessons learned and allow for continuous adaptability and improvement.

One method to take a step forward is developing an online activity calendar with resources that support agreed-upon areas of focus and responsibilities for each district. This could be the framework for effective recurring online activities for districts—generating greater participation from afar—to share progress and challenges, including a monthly communication with calls to action and curated resources and informal online chats, such as Google Hangouts. In addition, brief polls help give a formative assessment of the online community’s progress to make adjustments that better meet the identified goals.

Establishing an online community that facilitates and, importantly, curates knowledge will allow district leaders to heighten the collaborative discussion and ensure their schools are steadily moving toward becoming digitally-centered ecosystems. It’s time to collaborate and connect!

Keith Krueger is CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN):

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.