Connect with others

Communities of practice, by definition, are opportunities for participants to learn from one another. Because communities tend to have a diverse membership from across geographic regions, there needs to be structured opportunities for participants to get to know and connect with one another.

The first face-to-face session is an excellent opportunity for participants to introduce themselves, identify common areas of interest, and share what kind of expertise they can offer one another. Creating opportunities for participants to get to know one another at the beginning will contribute to a sense of community during online meetings.

Introduce participants

Consider using introduction activities strategically during the first face-to-face session by choosing engaging activities that create opportunities for participants to learn more about one another. For example:

  • Design a people search activity that helps participants connect the people they are meeting with specific contexts or topics related to the community of practice.
  • If participants are attending in small teams, consider activities that help introduce the team, such as writing and presenting group resumes.
  • Create time for participants to compose and post a bio and photo that can be a reference all year long. It may be helpful to provide a few starter statements. During the webinar these photos will help people match names and voices to actual faces. Creating the biographies can also be an opportunity for participants to explore and try out the collaborative work space and its various features.

TIP: Several communities report that there is a higher rate of completion, and more detailed information when creating and sharing bios are part of a group activity during a face-to-face session.

  • In a teacher-focused community it may be helpful to make time for each participant to create and share a classroom map illustrating details of their particular learning environment. Getting a clear picture of how other people are working, including classroom composition (e.g., number of students, ages, specific learning needs, etc.), how resources are organized (e.g., literacy materials, technologies, room layout, etc.), and staffing supports (e.g., educational assistants, access to learning coaches, co-teaching partners, consults etc.) will help participants better understand each others’ contexts. A simple template with suggested symbols for different kinds of information will make this task easier and will ensure all relevant information is collected.

Identify topics to explore

It may be necessary to begin with a proposed list of topics for webinars, particularly when recruiting new members. However, once the community has been established, topics for webinars and other activities should be vetted with participants to ensure they address the interests, preferences and learning needs of this particular community.

The initial face-to-face session is an excellent opportunity to hear from participants about what kind of knowledge they want to build. This information can be collected through discussions and by asking participants to rank the relevance of proposed topics.

Share goals for the year

Understanding the general goals and priorities of other participants can help participants connect with, and learn from one another. Taking time in the initial face-to-face session for participants to review the goals of the community and then record and share goals for their jurisdiction or classroom can help participants identify others with similar priorities.