National Writing Project

Developing Communities of Practice in Schools

Date: September 23, 2008

Summary: The authors describe a successful teacher community of practice as one that is well designed and guided, usually developing one facet of instruction through joint work, supported by a proactive administrator and broad teacher leadership.


Excerpt from Article

Community-building is not just about creating or defining a new work for teachers to do collaboratively. It is also about changing a school's professional culture. The effectiveness of a community facilitator depends upon the individual's skills in this role and upon the authority they have or are granted to lead school change. Once legitimized as a leader of change in the school, skilled facilitators can establish new norms of teaching—reflection on teacher with colleagues and co-designing interventions to better meet student needs. Community facilitators create a focus, rationale, and vehicle for teachers to depart from private classroom practice.

Copyright © 2006. Reprinted by permission of Teachers College Press, Columbia University. All rights reserved.
McLaughlin, Milbrey W., and Joan E. Talbert. 2006. "Developing Communities of Practice in Schools." Chap. 3 in Building School-Based Teacher Learning Communities: Professional Strategies to Improve Student Achievement. New York: Teachers College Press.

About the Authors Dr. Milbrey McLaughlin, the David Jacks Professor of Education and Public Policy at the Stanford University School of Education, is co-director of the Center for Research on the Context of Teaching, an education research center that analyzes how teaching and learning are shaped by their contexts and the connection between teacher learning communities and educational reforms. She is also director of the John Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, a partnership between Stanford University and Bay Area communities to build new practices, knowledge and capacity for youth development and learning.

Dr. Joan E. Talbert is senior research scholar and co-director of the Center for Research on the Context of Teaching (CRC) at Stanford University. Her publications include books and articles on teachers' professional communities, teacher career patterns, public and private school organization, federal education policy, district reform, and methods for research on context effects on teaching.

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