What is a community of practice?

community diagram

A community of practice is a group 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 Wenger, Beverly Trayner, and Maarten de Laat

In a State Support Network Community of Practice (CoP), leaders of state education agencies and districts come together to learn, share knowledge, and collaborate on a specific focus area. The CoP serves to support the needs and preferences of individual learners through targeted technical assistance supported by an online environment.

What are the cop’s objectives?

  • Create a shared space for states and districts to learn from and with one another.
  • Provide opportunities for states and districts to learn from research and policy experts.
  • Build knowledge around a particular challenge or area of interest.
  • Leverage the community’s expertise to create products, tools, and resources.

What does a CoP look like?

We offer a variety of mechanisms through which CoP members can engage with the community. Learning within the CoP will be cyclical in nature, with synchronous webinars serving as anchors for engagement. Pre-work will be used as a means to prime CoP members’ thinking and prepare them for the webinars. During these live sessions, participants will actively engage in dialogue and discussion. The format will be interactive—not simply a “sit and get”—with the expectation that all CoP members will participate in the dialogue. Guest experts may deliver presentations, or CoP members themselves may share their experiences.

Group of Learners

After the webinars, follow up activities will be provided to help CoP members move their actions forward and prepare for the next synchronous event. Activities and support will be planned and delivered based on the needs and interest of the CoP members. Throughout the learning cycle, threaded discussions will be encouraged within the CoP private community space on this web site. To help CoP members better understand a topic of interest, State Support Network staff may curate condensed, annotated lists of relevant tools, resources, and research for participants’ review. Curation may also be used to pull together key lessons learned from the CoP discussions. The Network staff will review conversations from live webinars and threaded discussions to create a work product that represents the CoP’s thinking on a particular topic. The members may also decide to co-create a work product on their own as part of the learning cycle activities (e.g., a communications tool for states to share information with LEAs).

The duration of the CoP will depend upon the purpose of the community and member interests, although its longevity may range from a few months to a year.

What topics are covered?

Within the Network, CoPs will focus on school improvement challenges or topics identified as a result of needs assessments and other feedback from states, districts, and technical assistance partners. At least six CoPs are organized annually to increase state and district capacity by building knowledge and relationships among participating states, districts, and subject-matter experts. Current CoPs already launched or in development are focused on Evidence-Based Practices, ESSA State Plan Development, English Language Proficiency Accountability, Scaling Needs Assessments, District Strategic Planning and Resource Allocation, and Data Systems.

Learn more the Network's CoPs.

What is the difference between a CoP and a Peer to Peer (p2p) State Exchange?

These two forms of technical assistance are quite similar in that they both act to bring together groups of individuals for the purpose of collaborative learning. While P2P exchanges often bring together more than two peers, they typically engage a smaller set of participants than do CoPs. Also, P2P exchanges typically focus on a single event or a limited series of events, while CoPs engage their participants over longer periods of time. In addition, a P2P exchange is a synchronous event during which all activity occurs in real time in a specific place, either virtual or physical. A CoP uses synchronous collaboration as well, but it also features asynchronous interaction through various mechanisms such as online discussion forums, blogs, and collaborative workspaces.

Learn more about the Network's Peer to Peer Exchanges.

Who participates in a CoP?

Each CoP has an identified target audience comprised of member teams from states and/or districts for its respective community based upon the CoP’s focus. As each CoP is planned and developed, the Network CoP team makes recommendations on what types of staff (organizational departments, staff in specific job roles, staff with specific content expertise) should be recruited to participate in a member team from a prospective state or district.

woman on webinar

How can I join a CoP?

If you are interested in learning more about one of the active CoPs, how you can participate, and what it means to be a member of a CoP, please contact the State Support Network at statesupportnetwork@air.org.  


Please contact the State Support Network at statesupportnetwork@air.org.