Establishing sustainable and impactful professional development

Jul 24, 2020 | News

A core element of Imagine Education’s PerformEd program is enabling self-sustaining Communities of Practice.  Built from the ground up, PerformEd Communities of Practice are reflective of the needs of the individuals, responsive to the environment they are established, empowering in their practice, and promote the autonomy and ownership of professional development and practice of educators.

Imagine Education has worked with over 1 Million teachers worldwide; supporting National Governments, NGOs and Global organisations to apply their PerformEd program in a number of different settings. To find out more about these, please visit our case studies.

Read on to learn more about how well-established Communities of Practice have the influence to empower, contextualise and sustain high impact professional development.

What are COPs?

The term “community of practice” is relatively recent, although the concept it refers to is age-­‐old.  A growing number of people and organizations in various sectors are now focusing on Communities of Practice as a key to improving their performance.

Communities of Practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of Teachers wishing to share, reflect and learn from one another. In a nutshell, Communities of Practice are 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.

Research into Communities of Practice highlights that organisations (and in this case ‘Schools’) tend to conduct their work less through a hierarchical chain of command and more through informal networks of people who pass on messages and values in thousands of subtle, small ways throughout the day.


Why Imagine Education specialise in deploying this approach:

“Teaching is one of the most isolated professions around. If you are a teacher, the bulk of your time is spent separated from colleagues and peers.” (Senge, P. et al (2000) Schools that learn, London: Nicholas Brealey)


Teachers need a Community of Practice to…

Help each other solve problems:

  • If you belong to a Community of Practice and you face a difficult challenge, you can turn to your community for some help or advice. This is a very important source of value for members, knowing that there is a group of people who will understand their challenge and can brainstorm some ideas which originate from experience in practice.

Hear each other’s stories and avoid local blindness:

  • It is so easy for practitioners get caught up in the day-to-day routines of their local context. They value hearing stories from people in different contexts because it opens their horizons and new possibilities.

Find synergy across structures:

  • Within a Teaching Community of Practice, the very fact that Teachers can share Learning Strategies, localise ‘Best Practice’ to fit their surroundings and environment, and encourage reflection of day to day pedagogies; enables not only the ability to develop as a professional, but also provide that support structure which encourages change.

Keep up with change: 

  • Many people rely on their Communities of Practice to keep them abreast of new developments. In many fields today, things move so fast that no practitioner can keep up with it all alone.

Reflect on their practice and improve it: 

  • Most Communities of Practice do this routinely, sharing ways of doing things and looking for improvements. Using a ‘Community of Practice’ is an ideal way to support this and at Teachers First, we encourage this from the beginning.

Cooperate on innovation:

  • Sometimes, practitioners need to invent something new to solve a problem they have. A Community of Practice is a good context to find others interested in a similar innovation.

The impact on teacher development:

Teaching is an occupation and a lifestyle at the same time.  It is a career which demands those within it to be both outward looking, reflective, and continuously in search for new ways in which to engage learners within a changing society.  It is often easy to lose sight of the ‘bigger picture’ and become focused on the day to day routines.

Communities of Practice encourage and enable teachers to dedicate time to share ideas, reflect on their practices, design, and contextualise new teaching and learning strategies, and learning with and from one another.

Through implementing and engaging with Imagine Education’s PerformEd professional development program, teachers have found increasing benefits from being part of Communities of Practice.

  • They provide a shared context for teachers to communicate and share information, stories, and personal experiences in a way that builds understanding and insight.
  • They enable dialogue between teachers who come together to explore new possibilities, solve challenging problems, and create new, mutually beneficial opportunities.
  • They stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection.
  • They enable the capturing and diffusion of existing knowledge to help others improve their practice by providing a forum to identify solutions to common problems and a process to collect and evaluate best practices.
  • They generate new knowledge to help teachers transform their practice to accommodate changes in learners needs and technologies.

Communities of Practice for one of the core elements of Imagine Education’s PerformEd professional development program.  In isolation, they run the risk of becoming yet another ‘professional network’ where an obligation to participate ultimately erodes its effectiveness and ability to empower.  However, as part of a larger complimentary national or regional strategy, Communities of Practice provide the nucleus by which Professional Development becomes sustainable and impactful action.

To read more about how Imagine Education has enabled and established self-sustaining Communities of Practice, please visit our case studies.