Skip to main content

Engagement through Communities of Practice

STRATEGY: Encourage engagement across schools and districts through traditional networking, social media, and professional learning communities.

Successful school leaders encourage staff members to engage with colleagues, parents, community members, and others to share responsibility and accountability for improving teaching and learning. Through this engagement, collaboration has the chance to increase ten-fold and in a variety of directions: vertically, horizontally, locally, globally, online (virtually), and offline (face-to-face). When encouraged by school leaders, collaborative efforts support diffusion of best practices and innovation throughout the organization; these leaders advance conditions necessary for staff to develop collective efficacy, an attribute well documented in research to improve student achievement (Hattie, 2008). Additionally, through these actions, school leaders expand the reach of teachers to build a collaborative culture of learning that extends beyond the classroom and school.


Traditional networking, social media, and professional learning communities represent various ways educators connect within and between different levels of the education system. Each serve as a pathway for collaborative conversations that can lead to innovative solutions to shared problems of practice. Within each set of interconnected educators, knowledge, skills, and resources are exchanged, allowing reciprocal benefits to be realized. Organic in nature, traditional networking, social media, and professional learning communities do the following:

  • Advance shared decision-making.
  • Create shared responsibility for outcomes.
  • Foster conditions necessary for synergy among staff members.
  • Invite knowledge-sharing and dissemination of practice.
  • Accelerate innovation and transference of best practices to the classroom.
  • Extend professional development opportunities.
  • Promote capacity-building in schools.
  • Optimize time and resources.

By assigning value to these connections and promoting teacher engagement through traditional networking, social media, and professional learning communities, school leaders advance equity, efficiency, and quality of professional learning and introduce avenues for pioneering new policies and pedagogy.

First Steps to Consider

An effective school leader encourages staff members to reach out to and connect with others to positively influence teaching and learning. School leaders understand that these communication channels provide multiple avenues for meeting individual needs and achieving shared goals. Quick wins

  • Develop a shared vision for traditional networks, social media, and professional learning communities and reference the vision consistently in all communications.
  • Attend to structural needs of these communication channels to support efficiency and effectiveness and mitigate teaching in isolation.
  • Dedicate time for teachers to communicate with others.
  • Promote communication within and between schools to increase the degree of impact.
  • Encourage experimentation with these communication channels that is aligned with school, teacher, and student needs.
  • Leverage technology in support of communication goals.

First steps

  • Establish a clear vision for communicating through traditional networks, social media, and professional learning communities.
  • Provide focus through development of clear and shared goals and routinely review and revise them in response to needs.
  • Develop with staff members the process and structure of communication-focused work.
  • Ensure that staff members are supported with necessary resources.
  • Identify data on engagement to be collected and commit time to evaluate impact of this work.
  • Create mechanisms for receiving feedback on engagement activities from participants.

Complexities & Pitfalls

When encouraging engagement across schools and districts, school leaders may encounter complexities related to trust, group dynamics, and demands on teachers’ time. School leaders also must ensure that both the focus and priority of these connections remain on what is happening in the classroom in relation to learning goals. Common pitfalls

  • Misaligning goals in relation to learner outcomes.
  • Lacking clarity, structure, resources, and ongoing support.
  • Using a pervasive culture of teaching in isolation and resisting change.
  • Lacking an attention to planning for sustaining and growing connections.
  • Encountering attrition that contributes to continually shifting group dynamics.
  • Overemphasizing the process as the priority versus relationships as the driver of effective connections.

Guiding Questions

  • What value will traditional networks, social media, and professional learning communities bring in support of learning and professional development?
  • What communication-related competencies are needed by educators to function effectively?
  • Who will drive, lead, and maintain processes associated with this work?
  • How will school leaders promote broad-based use of these communication channels by teachers as opportunities and not obligations?
  • What resources are necessary for traditional networks, social media, and professional learning communities to thrive?
  • How will school leaders leverage input obtained from these communication channels to inform decision-making and system alignment?