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Communities of Practice

"They don’t get a ‘badge’ or a trophy. They get deep community support.” (Kristen Watkins)

Overview

Challenge: How to support innovative teachers to continue to stretch their practice over time.

Context: In the Dallas ISD, TX, district leaders have created a number of pathways for teachers and school leaders to deepen their knowledge in blended and personalized learning. One of these is voluntary participation in a “community of practice” (CoP) with other educators.

The communities of practice evolved as an extension from the Innovation in Teaching Fellowship. Teachers who had spent a year redesigning their classrooms wanted to continue their work into the future and not lose the support and community developed in their fellowship cohort. District leaders, guided by teacher and principal demand, created voluntary communities to maintain strong peer-to-peer support amongst practitioners,giving them space and time to talk about their practice.

Action Steps: Some facets of the communities of practice include:

  • A focus area. District leaders put out a call for different themes that would guide a community of practice. Pathways include: personalizing PD, leading effective PD for emerging teacher leaders, coaching and support, and Blended Learning 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0.
  • Monthly time commitments. Teachers and principals can engage in a number of ways, including a face-to-face or virtual check-in with a coach, time spent learning online using playlists, or meeting with others in their CoP.
  • Planned visits to other districts and schools, attending or presenting at conferences, or engaging in district PD.

Many of the teachers and principals who participate are also often involved in personalized learning schools or blended learning feeder patterns, which reinforces opportunities for peer mentorship and community building within close geographic areas. Director of Personalized Learning, Kristen Watkins, acknowledges that some of the communities have gathered more momentum than others, which helps the district understand what focus areas are the most important.