Communities of Practice: Fostering Quality Care

Communities of Practice (CoP) are one way to provide a space for reflection and individualized learning and supplement traditional large-group training sessions.

According to NAEYC's Early Childhood Education Professional Development: Training and Technical Assistance Glossary, Communities of Practice (CoPs) 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." CoPs are not meant to replace coaching, topic-driven professional development training, act as a committee for a project/event, or provide quick fixes to systematic concerns. Rather, CoPs are tailored to suit the needs and desires of the participating individuals and are centered around shared goals, values, beliefs, and similar interests among participants. They promote personal reflection and growth to improve teaching practice. 


Communities of Practice in Action 

During CoP meetings, like-minded individuals discuss a challenge and share feedback and strategies with the group based on their experiences. CoPs are structured with a cooperative approach to learning so that people of all expertise and experience can participate. 

Communities of Practice are relationship-based models intended to foster an intimate learning environment. To set the stage, a leader builds a team of participants focused on one overarching goal, such as infant teachers striving to use a curriculum to fidelity while meeting the individualized needs of children or ''floater'' teacher assistants learning to navigate different daily schedules and match the effect of multiple rooms. 

When creating a CoP in a center-based program, fostering staff buy-in and collaboration is crucial to ensure it will be meaningful to their work. Leaders should engage staff in determining the purpose, topic, and timing of the CoP.

The first time the group meets, facilitators guide participants in establishing community agreements to create a brave space for their work together. Facilitators may guide the meeting, but all participants are viewed as equal contributors. Meetings have an agenda that includes learning objectives and allow time for sharing, topic discussion, problem-solving, and individual reflection. It is important to review the community agreements and reflect on their intention each time the group meets. 

"A professional learning community is a delicate recipe of ingredients that never cooks the same way twice." -K12 Blueprint

Below are two unique examples of Communities of Practice in New York early childhood settings:


Centers Engaging Families in the Finger Lakes

QUALITYstarsNY Quality Improvement Specialists in the Finger Lakes Region gather center-based program leaders monthly on Zoom to discuss various aspects of leadership and early childhood education, concentrating on the Quality Standards. Leaders complete an annual survey to determine topics of interest and areas where they wish to focus their quality improvement efforts.

Each meeting begins by reviewing the agenda, community agreements, and learning objectives. Facilitators then present information about the chosen Quality Standard and its intention. Participants have an opportunity to share their experience with the topic as panelists or facilitators of a small group breakout session. Small groups use various online tools to record information for future use, including Jamboard, Whiteboard, and Google Slides. 

Most recently, the group concentrated on Family Involvement and Support by building family surveys for their programs and developing methods for creating and disseminating the surveys and, later, the results. A member who created a family survey last year offered to share her journey in pursuing this goal. Participants then worked in small groups to create questions for their family survey. They created project plans for completing the survey in their program and discussed potential action plans based on the survey's results. 

Each leader left this Learning Community with a relevant example of the family survey process and sample questions to choose from when creating a survey for their program. 

Past Center-based Learning Community topics included:

  • Using a cultural competence self-assessment
  • Preparing for Environmental Rating Scale assessments
  • Implementing a continuity of care model
  • Transition strategies


Family Child Care Providers Building Community in New York City 

In New York City, QUALITYstarsNY Quality Improvement Specialists gather with family child care providers to share and learn together. This group started to provide extra support to group family/family child care providers during the pandemic; however, because of the rich relationships that developed, the group continues to meet regularly. Similarly to the Finger Lakes Learning Community described above, the providers vote on topics they want to explore together. The small group size has allowed the participants to form strong connections and friendships with one another over the years, and the participants carry on the Learning Community without the facilitator at times. Some connect outside of the group as a support system. Together, the learning community has watched webinars, discussed upcoming workshops, and shared existing resources. During the last year, the learning community worked on several quality improvement standards, goals, and systems for support. Examples include:

  • Reviewing and self-assessing on the NYS Core Body of Knowledge
  • Reviewing curriculum options
  • Hearing from city agencies and resources to further support the provider's practice and needs
  • Learning about various grants available to providers at this time



Implementing CoPs within your program can create more learning and leadership opportunities for your staff or community. There is no right or wrong way to form this collaborative community. Participants appreciate attending CoPs, where they can learn from and grow with other professionals in the field. CoPs can foster leadership and highlight strengths, building confidence in your staff.