Communities of Practice


As we learn and grow we ask ourselves the age-old question: Who am I? As I begin reflecting on this question I realize that I am multifaceted and belong to a wide array of social learning systems. When I am at work I am an educator, when I am at Arizona State University I am a scholar, and the list continues. According to Wenger (2000), “since the beginning of history, human beings have formed communities that share cultural practices reflecting their collective learning” (p. 229). I myself can identify with multiple communities of practice, which have given me the feeling of belonging, identity, and intellectual growth. Wegner (2000) describes communities as the basic building block of social learning, if this is the case: How can we use this already embedded human characteristic to help improve our educational practices?

How can we utilize our students’ community identities to help improve the access, excellence, and impact of their education? As educators, we need to view our students as individuals who are members of multiple communities that they seek out for academic and emotional support. Within the article titled, Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College­Going (2009), the authors state that “low-income students of color respond to their needs for educational advancement when conditions to support their college-going identities are severely limited in the school context” (p.534). It is our responsibility as educators to recognize the needs of our students and help connect them with the support resources they need. The question remains: Where are the students receiving the support if they are unable to acquire it within the four walls of the school? Within the same article, Liou , Antrop­González, and Cooper, explore the multiple communities that many of the students belong to and the types of support they receive. A considerable number of students stated that a majority of their support from their families, churches, sports teams, friendships, and community-based organizations. What is stopping our schools from tapping into all of these student support resources?

Schools across the country must identify the key-players in the support of our students and work cohesively to allow for increased student success. Our students would greatly benefit from an intertwined approach to education, where we partner with multiple communities and work together to form a unified educational powerhouse. My belief is that this can happen at the school level by determining key stakeholders in the education of the students, which would lead to a plan to engage all individuals in the academic process. These partnerships can offer the students a wide variety of benefits such as, tutoring, college application support, culturally relevant curriculum, mentoring, academic assistance, and hands-on opportunities to implement information learned in the classroom. As educators, we can bring the communities to our students and give them a higher level of academic access. I unreservedly believe that if schools take the time to determine the key-players in the education of their students, reach out to these stakeholders, and engage them in discussions of partnership, our students would have a higher level of support and a much better chance of receiving an excellent education. There is a wealth of support for our students within the community but it takes effort from the schools to build the appropriate connections.

Not only can we tap into the communities as a means of support, we can also utilize the community-based knowledge that is familiar to our students, in order to assist them in grasping the concepts. Liou et al. (2009) eloquently discuss the “benefits of classroom practice by centering teachers’ pedagogical emphasis on the local, community-based knowledge of working class Mexican students” (p. 536). Teachers who use the local knowledge help students gain better access to the instruction, allowing for students to better relate to the objectives. A similar thought is discussed in the Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (2008), where a “culturally based approach to science education” (p. 487) is addressed. The authors redefine science education for Native American students, which guide me to believe that we can adjust our teaching practices to meet the needs of our diverse student population by means of integrating community-based knowledge into our instructional strategies.

How can we create a solid school community? What steps must we take in order to create a strong tight-knit school community? Wegner (2000) outlines the components required in order to build a strong community of practice, which includes: leadership, connectivity, membership, learning projects, and artifacts (p. 231-232). Membership, where a “community’s members must have critical mass so there is interest, but it should not become so wide that the focus of the community is diffuse and participation does not grab people’s identities,” (p. 232) is particularly relevant to a school community. In order for us to build an effective school, we must take our students into consideration when developing the curriculum. If the students feel as if the curriculum is community-based and culturally relevant, they will be more inclined to identify with the community as a whole.

It is time for our education system to stop believing that a school is an island; we need to begin making greater strides in integrating communities into our academic quest for excellence. We cannot do it alone; we do not have the resources, staff, or knowledge to meet the needs of our students. We must do our homework and reach out to all interested parties. No one entity can educate a child; we must work together as a community.



Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y. & Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

 Liou, D., Antrop­González, R. & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College­Going Information Networks.Educational Studies, (45), 534­555.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225­246.

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