Creating Communities of Practice
What happens when people are able to connect with others that have similar interests? What kind of energy is generated when practitioners are able to share what they know and learn from others?
Two weeks ago, I co-hosted a meet-up with Six Seconds for educators interested in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in Menlo Park (CA). The main goal was to bring like-minded teachers and school leaders together, so they could collaborate and share best practices about SEL implementation. The meet-up had two schools present their approach to SEL, EPACS and Synapse School. At first glance, these two schools couldn’t be more different: EPACS is a public charter school in East Palo Alto (CA), serving an economically disadvantaged community; Synapse School is a private school serving gifted learners in affluent Menlo Park (CA).
Although these two schools serve a different student population, they have in common a commitment to provide quality education for kids and the belief that teaching social and emotional competencies to students is a necessity when educating the adults of the future. Both schools shared the great impact that having SEL as part of their educational program has on students. EPACS had a 34% decrease in the number of behavior referrals due to the SEL intervention the school put in place. This means that students were spending more time in their classrooms, learning and growing with their classmates instead of being sent to the office. What a great accomplishment!
In addition to learning from these two schools, participants had an opportunity to get together in small groups and discuss SEL-related topics; for example curriculum resources, SEL and school climate, teacher development, and others. Educators were so engaged during these conversations that we couldn’t bring the group back together for closing remarks… in my eyes that meant success! It showed that there is a need in our educational community to create spaces were educators and school leaders get together to discuss best practices and the challenges that come with educating the social and emotional skills of children and youth.
This brings me back to the title of this post, Communities of Practice. The term was first used in 1991 by Lave and Wegner to highlight the process of social learning that takes place when people who have a common interest collaborate over an extended period of time. Wegner (1998) defines communities of practice as “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”. This meet-up was, in a way, a first step in creating a community of practice for educators that are passionate about SEL; a space for sharing and collaboration, to feel connected and energized by the work of others and the recognition of your own contributions!
My hope is that this blog and future school meet-ups will contribute to create an SEL community of practice, present and virtual, where we can support each other as we learn how to be more human, and as we educate others in the importance of teaching social and emotional competencies to children, youth and adults.