What's a Community of Practice and Do I Need One?

What's a Community of Practice and Do I Need One?

Have you ever worked on a group project or participated in a book club? Then you've experienced a community of practice!

Despite its fancy name, a community of practice is a very simple concept: it's an age-old phenomenon representing teamwork, especially when it extends over time. Whether it's students working together to accomplish an academic pursuit, researchers developing treatments for a disease, or educators sharing best practices to enhance early childhood learning, communities of practice are about connection and shared purpose.

You may be thinking, "Group work with a shared goal is great, but why do I need to join a community of practice? How will a community of practice benefit my life and my career?"

Research shows the efficacy of communities of practice.

Numerous studies report that communities of practice provide significant enrichments for educators and the children they serve. They contribute to improved teacher efficacy, reduced isolation and attrition1; enhanced collaboration2; and increased student learning outcomes.3 As with most group endeavors, a community of practice will help you to learn collaborative problem-solving skills, foster a sense of connectedness, and enhance your professional learning experiences.

Communities of practice provide educators unique opportunities.

These groups offer educators (and professionals of all kinds) safe and supportive spaces to share, learn and grow. Members are encouraged to share resources and ideas, explore and question their own understandings, solve challenges, and make shared commitments to improve. Key benefits include:

  • An ability to focus on the needs of the individuals, not just the organizational improvement goals
  • Voluntary membership that happens organically
  • Leadership from within the group rather than from external facilitators
  • Access to professional development that does not fit into organizational-improvement plans
  • Meetings outside the workplace, allowing for more freedom, flexibility, and time for exploration

Are you ready to find or create your own community of practice?

Find more tips on how to build your own community of practice in Growing Together, available for pre-order now, and officially published December 1, 2019.

Laura Bailet, PhD, chief academic officer, Kaplan Early Learning Company has more than 30 years' experience in the field of early childhood. She earned her BA at Wake Forest University and her MA and PhD from Northwestern University. She is a licensed school psychologist and has expertise on a wide range of early childhood topics and learning disorders, including dyslexia and autism. The former Operational VP at Nemours Children's Health System and Assistant Professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, she has published numerous journal articles and book chapters and has been recognized by many award boards. For her accomplishments, Dr. Bailet was selected as the top "Change Agent" in Jacksonville, FL, in 2006 and is the recipient of Jacksonville's prestigious EVE Award for her success in creating Nemours BrightStart!, the program to promote reading success for all children. She is a member of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards Advisory Board.


1 Battersby, Sharyn L., and Brian Verdi. 2015. "The Culture of Professional Learning Communities and Connections to Improve Teacher Efficacy and Support Student Learning." Arts Education Policy Review 116(1): 22-29.

2 Power, Christine M., et al. 2018. "Advancing Professional Development through a Community of Practice." The Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions 38(1): 73-78.

3 Owen, Susanne. 2014. "Teacher Professional Learning Communities in Innovative Contexts: 'Ah Hah Moments,' 'Passion,' and 'Making a Difference' for Student Learning." Professional Development in Education 41(1): 57-74.