Improving Teaching and Learning Through Communities of Practice

Nov 10, 2017

The Future Ready Librarians (FRL) framework shapes conversations and anchors professional learning to grow teaching and learning practice in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). To deepen learning on building instructional partnerships, BCPS implemented the Communities of Practice (CoP) model for its secondary-level (grades 6–12) library media specialists (LMSs).

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger define Communities of Practice as “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” (Lave, Wenger, 1998). This perfectly defines BCPS’s LMSs and their shared interest in being FRS librarians.

BCPS designed professional learning and worked collaboratively with the secondary community while focusing on improving professional practice through sessions on (1) meaningful and measurable objectives, lesson planning, and rigor; (2) learner-centered instructional strategies; and (3) the use of formative assessment to drive instructional practice, and customized learning for students. BCPS defines these elements as the building blocks of effective instruction. The graphic below provides a quick reference to essential components of lesson planning and delivery.

In order to extend the district’s professional learning from theory to practice, BCPS implemented the CoP model. This shift was a natural next step and one the community bravely embraced.

After professional learning sessions on the model, protocols, and intended outcomes, middle and high school jobs like LMSs were grouped into cohorts of 3–4 members, who collaborated to set dates and times for visitation. The host shared a preview of the lesson in advance with their cohort members. Members were provided time to reflect and respond before observing their peers. The LMSs courageously opened their doors to their cohort and embraced a willingness to learn and grow from and with each other. The host LMS identified areas of focus for the observers. At the conclusion of the lesson, the team debriefed the lesson using an established protocol rooted in evidence and reflection. The experience was transformative! Feedback from many in the community indicated that it was the most powerful professional learning experience they ever had. These small groups visited each other in turn filling the roles of observers and hosts.

BCPS continues to implement the CoP model as it moved into the 2017–18 school year. Rooted in the belief that exposure to other talented and passionate LMSs provides ways to transform instructional practice and professional growth, BCPS’s upholds this model as evidence. The goals to transform teaching and learning in school libraries to create dynamic learning spaces with students engaged in lessons that include integration of information and technology literacies with core content, critical thinking, problem solving, reading competencies for academic and personal pursuits, interactions with information resources, and choice in communicating new meanings and understandings is rooted in a shared vision within the BCPS staff, who found the CoP model to be a perfect way deepen the district’s work and build a sense of community.


leaguevisitFran Glick serves as coordinator of the office of digital learning for Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). She is a former elementary teacher and elementary and secondary library media specialist. In her current role, Glick supports instructional technology and the K–12 school library program for BCPS. She was a member of the Standards and Indicators Task Force for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and contributor to Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action (AASL, 2009). Glick is a passionate advocate for re-imagining school librarians and libraries.


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