Having a data-collection plan from the beginning of the project (i.e., planning with the ‘end in mind’) builds accountability and maximizes opportunities for gathering, reflecting on, and sharing results, within and beyond the community.
The expectation that all participants will be gathering evidence and sharing success stories needs to be made clear from the very beginning of the project. This may be a new experience for many participants so they will need opportunities to discuss data-gathering strategies and review examples of meaningful data.
Participants also will need to understand the logistics of collecting and sharing student work samples and photos and what kind of permissions will be necessary.
Creating the most comprehensive picture of results requires clearly articulated goals from the beginning, and then gathering multiple types of data from multiple sources over time. For others to benefit from the learning opportunity, results need to be organized and shared in meaningful ways.
Successful communities of practice use a number of effective strategies for gathering and sharing results, including the following:
Surveys are an invaluable opportunity to gather detailed data from individual participants to inform planning, gather evidence and report results.
A comprehensive survey at the beginning of a community of practice can provide useful information about participants’ context, professional experience, areas of interests and priorities, beliefs and values about teaching and learning, and self-reported levels of expertise and confidence.
Information gleaned from these surveys can be used both for planning throughout the year, and as baseline data to inform the evaluation at the end of the year.
Taking the time to develop good questions will help facilitators clarify the goals of the community, describe the types of tangible indicators of success, and identify information, attitudes and skills that will be targeted throughout the year. View an example of an initial survey for Literacy for All.
TIP: Timing of surveys makes a difference. Ideally, the initial survey should be done a few days before the first session, or at the very beginning of the first face-to-face sessions.
A final survey provides a structured opportunity to gather data about what worked, (and what didn’t), analyze changes in attitudes and practices over time, and collect participants’ perceptions about the overall professional learning experience. This data can be included in summary reports and can also be used to inform planning of future professional learning opportunities. View an example of a final survey
TIP: Communities report that dedicating scheduled time (e.g., 30-minutes) to complete online surveys during the wrap-up face-to-face sessions ensures higher completion rates and more detailed responses to open-ended questions.
Most communities of practice build in some kind of implementation check-ins during monthly online meetings. This can be as simple as a single slide asking participants to check if they are using a specific resource or strategy. This data is usually anonymous (so participants can feel comfortable answering honestly) and it provides a quick snapshot for informing planning of future webinars and alerting facilitators to possible barriers participants may be experiencing.
Online polls - The following examples were incorporated into monthly webinars to get a read on whether or not participants were using specific resources and strategies with their students.
This second set of examples was designed to track how many participating schools were implementing components of a peer buddy program.
Participant sharing - Depending on how the community of practice is structured, and the expertise and comfort level of participants, it may be effective to invite one or more participants to share a few slides and speak for a few minutes during a monthly webinar. They could provide a short update of how they are using a particular strategy or resource, and how this is shifting their instructional practice and their students’ learning. These kind of mid-year check-ins not only document results but serve as inspiration and motivation for other participants.
Web postings - When a community is focusing on specific strategies or resources in a webinar, it may be helpful to invite participants to post photos and short descriptions of how they are using the strategy or resource in their own context before the next scheduled webinar.
A key aspect of professional growth is becoming a more reflective practitioner. To support this growth, participants need multiple and structured opportunities to reflect on shifts in practice.
This is a useful technique for a larger group to explore several questions or reflect on a number of statements within one session.
A top ten list of what we learned can be a great starting point for reflecting and discussing shifts in practice and results for students. For example, the facilitator can compile evidence from webinars, online meetings, and participants’ discussions to create a list of one-line statements that summarize key the learning from the work of the community. Using a traveling brainstorming strategy, participants then work in small groups and discuss and add to each item on the list. The result will be an expanded description with authentic examples for each statement of learning.
Another strategy for reflecting on shifts in practice is for participants to consider what positive changes in practice would look like through the lens of “more/less”. This reflection strategy can be used at the beginning of a community to help participants articulate what improved practice would look like.
The final wrap-up day can be an opportunity for participants to reflect on and articulate shifts in practice they are observing, related to the focus of the community of practice. When teachers have the opportunity to participate in ongoing conversations about instructional practice throughout the life cycle of the community, they become more reflective practitioners and are more able to identify and describe their changing practice.
A community of practice can be a great opportunity to collect and share artifacts that provide tangible evidence of shifts in thinking and practice. Artifacts could include samples of student work, photos of students at work, samples of instructor-made materials, and collections of instructional materials. These artifacts can also serve as inspiration by showing what is possible when the right supports are in place.
Collecting success stories throughout the lifespan of the community is a powerful strategy for developing, articulating and sharing new knowledge. Stories are an authentic way to illustrate what is possible, describe what cannot be easily codified, and engage others. Quotes, video clips, photos and work samples can help stories come alive and provide tangible evidence of changes in practice, increases in results, and enhanced understandings.
The final wrap up of the community is an opportunity for participants to share their unique success stories so they can all learn from each others’ experiences. Developing a story to share with the group also encourages participants to reflect more deeply on their own learning, identify what is working (and what isn’t) and make plans for how they will continue to change and add to their practice in the future.
To make time for sharing everyone’s stories, communities of 20 to 30 typically invite participants to prepare two to six slides for the face-to-face wrap up session, and speak to them for two to five minutes. It is helpful to have a basic framework, often in the form of three or four questions, for participants to use to structure their stories. Slides can include photos of students at work, examples of students’ work, quotes, summary statements and observations.
Videos and their accompanying learning guides can become not only a convincing documentation of the results of a community of practice, but also a valuable professional learning resource for educators.
Creating a robust and convincing summary report requires multiple sources of data presented as an organized and engaging story. Summary reports are often how projects report to their sponsors. The main goal of a report should be to review the key goals of the community and describe results related to each goal. Ideally the report can also be shared with participants and other professional learning providers who might be considering similar kinds of professional learning projects.
Sections could include: