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Strengthening Collaborative Relationships Through Communities of Practice

Photo of a Black woman talking to a colleague at work.

The social support and practical help we get and provide through the positive relationships in our lives strengthen our feelings of belonging, security, and self-worth.

by Christina Nigrelli, Senior Director of Programs, ZERO TO THREE Western Office & Jenifer Chacon, Senior Writer/Training Specialist, ZERO TO THREE Western Office

Professionals today are encouraged to engage with other professionals, identify strategies that foster collaboration, and promote child and family well-being. As a result, many professionals are searching for innovative, relationship-based approaches to connect with colleagues who support the children and families within the same community. Positive relationships such as these are central to the human experience. The social support and practical help we get and provide through the positive relationships in our lives strengthen our feelings of belonging, security, and self-worth. The supportive collegial relationships, in turn, promote our ability to reflect, learn, and grow as professionals making these relationships an important part of collaborating with other professionals within the same community.

Communities of Practice is an innovative approach to strengthening the relationships among and between professionals and provides an opportunity to create a shared language and understanding around core content to promote child and family well-being. The Communities of Practice consists of a small group of professionals who routinely come together around common goals. The group can include professionals from different fields such as mental health, early care and education, physical health, early identification and intervention, and child welfare/social services. They meet and take part in collegial discussions, share challenges, identify strategies, and communicate achievements with one another while advancing relationship-based collaborative approaches to support the children and families they mutually provide services to. The Community of Practice sessions also stimulate reflection and reinforce the learning of tools and strategies necessary to strengthen relationships between professionals.

Whether meeting virtually, in-person, or a combination of both, professionals participating in Communities of Practice grow in their understanding of the multiple approaches to addressing similar challenges. For example, a child’s behavior in a learning environment may be viewed differently from the perspective of the early childhood educator versus the perspective of a mental health consultant. A Community of Practice would create the space and opportunity for professionals to comfortably share their varying perspectives on a mutual challenge and develop a shared approach to address the need. Communities of Practice allow participants to view dilemmas through a different lens, consider various strategies, and reflect on the effectiveness of their approaches to addressing them. Professionals share successes and opportunities, deepen connections with one another, and move away from an individual perspective.

ZERO TO THREE’s unique approach to building Communities of Practice incorporates these elements. They harness the capacity, expertise, and power of multiple disciplines and perspectives. The approach builds the capacity of professionals to strengthen community services and encourages system integration that leads to a more holistic approach to services for young children and their families. ZERO TO THREE’s Prenatal to Age Five (P-5) Workforce Development Project incorporates the innovative, relationship-based Communities of Practice as component of the P-5 Cross-Sector Core Competencies Training. Multidisciplinary professionals throughout Los Angeles County, California, have been engaging in Communities of Practice and identifying actionable steps to strengthen their relationships and engage in more cross-sector collaborative efforts. For more information, visit P-5 Workforce Development. If you are interested in launching a Community of Practice in your community, check out ZERO TO THREE’s training on Community of Practice Facilitation.

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