CoP system leadership approach

The best education systems are those with well-connected and active leadership communities.

The best education systems in the world are highly networked. These systems have principals who are well-connected to their peers through active partnerships and learning networks of schools. These learning networks are known as Communities of Practice (CoP).

The vision of the Victorian Government's Education State is to build an education system that fosters excellence and improves outcomes for every child and young person in every community, regardless of background, circumstances or postcode.

Included in this vision is a CoP approach where networks and system leaders share knowledge, experience and resources. 

The CoP approach involves educational leaders and professionals working collaboratively with the goal of developing a collective responsibility for driving improvement using the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO).

What is a Community of Practice?

Research shows that effective school networks that are focused on collaborative effort to improve student outcomes, have rich conversations, use data for improvement and are powerful drivers of purposeful learning and leadership, can make a difference.

Collaboration between schools can improve both schools’ performances more quickly than the national average. Evidence from the OECD, the World Bank and further research tells us the best performing education systems are those in which the foundations for collaboration are well established – school autonomy is high, but accountability is also rigorous.

Successful networks have a compelling commitment to improving outcomes for all students, transparent results and practice, regular reciprocal reviews of members’ performance, and continuously challenging each other to do better. Collaboration is the way forward for our schools. The sharing of effort, knowledge and resources in the pursuit of shared goals plays a central role in the achievement of student learning outcomes and reducing inequality across educational systems.

The CoP approach is a lever for system-wide improvement that enables capacity building of leaders to be student-centred. A CoP approach builds knowledge and practice to:

  • enable deep learning within the network
  • foster a culture of joint accountability and internal commitment for student outcomes
  • focus on professional learning and governance.

The CoP approach in Victoria

The CoP approach signals a shift towards a stronger and more purposeful emphasis on improving learning outcomes, reflecting the ambitions of Victoria as the Education State.

This approach is about creating a networked system of schools where school principals within a geographic network come together and adopt the approach, using FISO to drive improvement.

By adopting this approach, networks create a compelling space for principals to learn together, focus collectively on investing in evidence-based strategies to implement FISO, and share best practice to drive improved learning outcomes for students across their network and Victoria.

The CoP approach builds the capacity and knowledge of system leaders to:

  • engage with the FISO model and improvement cycle
  • reduce the variation of teaching quality across classrooms and within schools
  • promote purposeful collaborative teacher behaviours within and across schools, for example, joint curriculum planning, moderation of assessment, peer observation and feedback
  • develop a whole school approach to pedagogy, scope and sequence of the Victorian curriculum
  • engage in rigorous analysis of student data – aiming for at least 1 year of learning growth for 1 year of school.

​See CoP and networks​ for more information about the roles and responsibilities of network chairs and SEILs, and CoP and FISO​ for more about CoPs and FISO.

For more information about the CoP approach, see:

Our role in CoP

Bastow's role is to provide resources and information to support networks to plan, implement and assess their CoP approach.

Network chairs and SEILs also have the opportunity to participate in our WISE: System Leaders program and a range of other professional learning to support them in their network roles.

Evidence to support CoP

Bell, M., Cordingley, P., & Mitchell, H. (2006). The impact of networks on pupils, practitioners, organisations and the communities they serve. Nottingham: NCSL, Coventry

Bentley, T and Cazaly, C. (2015). The shared work of learning: lifting educational achievement through collaboration. Mitchell Institute research report No. 01/2015

Brighouse, T. (2007). The importance of collaboration: Creating ‘families of schools’. In J. Clifton (Ed.), Excellence and equity: tackling educational disadvantage in England's secondary schools. London: Institute for Public Policy Research, 2013. 

Farrar, M. (2015). Learning together: the power of cluster-based school improvement. Centre for Strategic Education, Paper 246.

Fullan, M. & Munby, S. (2016). Inside-out and downside up: how leading from the middle has the power to transform education systems. Education Development Trust.

Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional Capital: transforming teaching in every school. New York: Teachers College Press/Ontario: Ontario’s Principals Council.

Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Schools leading schools: the power and potential of national leaders of education.

Hargreaves, Halasz G., & Pont, B. (2007). School leadership for systemic improvement in Finland. OECD Study Report.

Hill, R. & Matthews, P. (2010). Schools leading schools II: the growing impact of national leaders of education.

Jackson, D. & Temperley, J. (2006). From professional learning community to networked learning community. National College for School Leadership.

Holmes, D, Temperley, J & McGregor, J, 2004. Collaborative enquiry in networked learning communities. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester, September 16–18, 2004. National Foundation for Educational Research, (2007). Interschool Collaboration – A Literature Review.

University of Tasmania. (2011). Communities of Practice Reader. Compiled by Jane Skalicky and Melody West, Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching.

Wenger, E. (2006). Cultivating communities of practice: a quick start‐up guide.

Wenger, E. & Snyder, W. (2000). Communities of practice: The organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review. January-February 2000, pp. 139-145.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. (2002) Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E. (2004) Knowledge management is a donut: Shaping your knowledge strategy with communities of practice. Ivey Business Journal, January 2004

Wenger-Trayner, B. & Wenger-Trayner, E. (2015)