What it means to establish a community of practice (CoP)

Inga Wilson, principal at Sunbury West Primary School, collaborated with a number of primary and secondary principals in her network to establish a CoP dedicated to improving numeracy outcomes.

Establishing the CoP

In 2017, nine schools in the Hume/Moreland network – seven primary and two secondary – formed a CoP to collaboratively improve student learning outcomes in numeracy.

Principal Inga Wilson explains that the CoP started their journey by developing a common understanding of what their role was going to be in the improvement process.

'Defining what it is, and what it isn't, is vital during the establishment phase of the CoP,' said Inga.

From there, the nine schools used common data sets such as the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) to determine their focus areas, as well as a theory of action around content knowledge and explicit instructional practice.

Schools came together to develop a common understanding and direction, identifying opportunities to enhance their collective numeracy capabilities.

'We also conducted audits with our teachers and the principal group to establish common concerns, and then agreed on our positive-progress indicators', explained Inga.

The CoP in action

Using an inquiry cycle, members of the CoP collected evidence of student achievement and learning. Working together, the nine schools were able to pull together a summary of the key elements and findings to identify common goals for the CoP.

Reflecting on what would work in their given schools, the CoP then began the process of implementing some of the teaching strategies and practices that would improve student outcomes in numeracy.

'Our goal was to document and embed the agreed consistent practices across our schools, supporting the development of a guaranteed and viable curriculum in numeracy', explained Inga.

Members of the CoP participated in learning walks, classrooms observations and photo chats within and across schools to understand how the work was evolving.

Over time, it became clear that data from all schools within the CoP demonstrated common patterns of growth.

Anecdotal evidence also suggested that there was a collective shift in the mindset of staff regarding what numeracy actually is, marking a change in their preconceptions. In addition, there was also a drive to ensure consistent practices in all classrooms across the community's schools.

Linking the work of the CoP to the whole school direction

The biggest support for success of the CoP was having an authentic purpose that was articulated within the school's Annual Implementation Plan and School Strategic Plan.

'We ensured that our work within the CoP was directly aligned with the work we were doing in our own school', said Inga.

Schools were able to create a line of sight between the goals of the CoP and individual Performance and Development Plans (PDPs).

Prioritising time for the CoP

'We knew for this to work, that professional learning and CoPs shouldn't be seen as an add-on', explained Inga.

Time for professional learning, in line with the CoP's focus, was prioritised and as a result, became an authentic part of the daily routine.

In addition to Hume/Moreland area meetings, the CoP also carved out dedicated time during formal Sunbury Diggers Rest network meetings to discuss the progress of the Middle Years project team, which in turn informed the future work of the CoP.

'Having the opportunity and time to meet as a CoP was critical to the success of the group', said Inga.

Principles of a successful CoP

  • Create an effective network that collaboratively develops a culture of learning excellence that improves student outcomes.
  • Have an authentic purpose that is shared.
  • Establish protocols and use of common language.
  • Use a range of data and evidence to inform decision-making, using the FISO Improvement Cycle.
  • Build a culture of collective responsibility for professional growth.

Explore the latest professional practice note

A professional practice note has been developed to support you and your colleagues in implementing purposeful collaboration practices within and across a number of schools, for achieving excellence in practice and student outcomes.

Professional practice note 17: purposeful collaboration for excellence

For more information, or to share your feedback, email: professional.practice@edumail.vic.gov.au.