What is a Community of Practice?
A community of practice is defined by the National Council of Nonprofits as “a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” A community of practice expands and formalizes conversations and relationships beyond LinkedIn or the proverbial “water cooler.” The “community” is a self-selected network of individuals who share a passion for learning more deeply about some aspect of their work. They join with others to advance their understanding and “build bridges” so that others understand their perspectives. In a community of practice, participants come together to intentionally learn from and share practices and ideas with each other. Communities of practice are useful for “systems change” and well-suited to bring together nonprofits with different perspectives and missions that can benefit from deeper collaboration. The peer-to-peer interaction of communities of practice builds trusted connections that lends itself to many knowledge sharing opportunities.
Alignment of the Community of Practice with MECLP’s Mission
MECLP believes that developing and supporting strong leaders equipped to lead innovation and change in early childhood systems, policies and legislation, will catalyze positive change and significantly improve school readiness and related outcomes for early learners, particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable children and their families.
As a strategy to support the fellows’ leadership development and their skills and networking capacity, MECLP started a Community of Practice (CoP) for fellows following completion of SHER 601. The CoP creates a self-selected network of individuals who share a passion for learning more deeply about their work, equipping them with content knowledge and a drive for change in early childhood. They join with others to advance their understanding and “build bridges” so that others understand their perspectives and to intentionally learn from and share practices and ideas from each other. The CoP provides fellows with opportunities to formalize, articulate and advocate for their capstone projects by interacting with Maryland and national speakers on problems of practice germane to early childhood and their specific interests. Additionally, the CoP creates a leadership hub to further develop fellows‘ leadership skills as they drive for change in their areas of interest, creating a network of early childhood professionals.
MECLP’s CoP offers fellows opportunities to participate in five complimentary components designed to expand their capacity as they pursue their leadership journey. A mentoring program connects mentors and course completers (mentees) in a partnership that supports bringing capstone projects to fruition and as well as illuminates problems of practice. Leadership in Action Conversations provide a vehicle for fellows to join with their colleagues and experienced early childhood experts to explore current events that affect the ECE field. The MECLP webinar series serves the dual purposes of (1) developing the fellows into strong and competent early childhood education leaders and (2) promoting the mission and actions of MECLP in the state and beyond. An annual Leadership Institute features national speakers/panelists to highlight current research that address the current ECE field and next steps in building a world-class early childhood system to meet the needs of all young children, their families and their communities. Finally, field experiences, as part of our future initiatives, present avenues for fellows to be exposed to high-quality ideal learning environments with the potential to infuse them into instructional programs.
Launching MECLP’s Community of Practice and Webinars
The MECLP CoP engages its fellows to formalize, articulate and advocate for the capstone projects they identified through their SHER 601 coursework. A self-selected group of fellows were invited to participate in a 4-part summer 2021 webinar series focused on their capstone project and connected them with non-profit organizations in the state that are planning or implementing programs that directly relate to the fellows’ capstone projects. One fellow’s capstone project is on the shared services model for family child care providers. MECLP connected the fellow with the Family Child Care Alliance, a Montgomery County-based project, which establishes networks of family child care providers in the county and with the Maryland Family Network which is piloting a shared services model in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. The fellow was introduced to national experts working on shared services and similar projects across the country.
Webinars can be found here.