5 Ways Communities of Practice Benefit OST Professionals

March 2, 2021

female on laptopThe National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) has always been focused on capacity building. Whether working with a state or city network, or a cohort of programs, NIOST helps build local capacity to serve youth in afterschool, summer, and other out-of-school time (OST) programs. One highly effective way NIOST does this is through communities of practice.

Communities of practice are typically one-hour sessions during which OST professionals come together to explore and learn from each other, share experiences, and gain resources. Unlike training sessions, communities of practice offer brief but regular opportunities for practitioners to support one another in continuously improving the quality of their programs. 


Here are some of the benefits of communities of practice:

1. Community is Key

Some OST programs are separated by geography, and some struggle to find others with whom they share a particular mission. Communities of practice offer an opportunity for professionals with similar goals to come together and exchange information that helps them succeed.

2. Learning Through Relationships 

Typically, NIOST sets the agenda for communities of practice and kicks things off, but participants take it from there. Through talking to each other and sharing knowledge directly, they build relationships that allow them to learn and grow together. 

3. Resources to Share

NIOST has found that OST professionals are hungry for specifics. They want examples of practices that work and instructions for how to implement them, so we augment the discussion with resources. This approach is appreciated by participants, who regularly state in their evaluations that the articles, research briefs, and videos NIOST provides are helpful and can be shared with staff in order to extend the learning in their programs.

4. Continuous Learning Sticks

The ongoing learning facilitated by communities of practice allows time for concepts to stick, and for long-term challenges to be tackled as a group. Participants can bring their questions and share insights on what works and what doesn’t. As they provide guidance and cheer each other on every step of the way, they have the power to create lasting change.

5. Enthusiasm is Contagious

Communities of practice involve a lot of active participation and excitement. Participants are heartened to know they’re not alone in the challenges they face, and energized and inspired by their peers. OST professionals are hugely committed to the children and families they serve—and to each other’s success.


Contact us to learn more about how your OST staff can benefit from communities of practice.


    "NIOST has been an anchor for numerous school age care projects we do, including ASQ (After-School Quality) and Links to Learning. They are a nationally respected organization that Pennsylvania has partnered with for over 20 years."

    – Betsy O. Saatman, TA Specialist/SAC Initiatives, Pennsylvania Key

    "NIOST was a core partner in supporting the development of quality improvement systems across the nine cities that participated in The Wallace Foundation Next Generation Afterschool System-Building Initiative. The NIOST team worked well with other technical assistance partners in the initiative, always willing to pitch in and collaborate with others to make our professional learning community meetings a team effort. I truly hope the Foundation has an opportunity to partner with them in the future."

    – Priscilla M. Little, Initiative Manager, The Wallace Foundation


    "NIOST has been a leader in the out-of-school time field for as long as I can remember, and I have relied on their research, tools, and advice to improve my practice throughout my career. Their staff members are good partners and good listeners, and their influence across the country is palpable."

    – Jane Quinn, Vice President and Director of National Center for Community Schools, Children's Aid Society

    "Georgia Hall, Ellen Gannett, and the NIOST team have been instrumental in driving the healthy afterschool movement. Their dedication to quality practice, informed policy, and collective impact is instrumental in our effort to create healthier communities."

    – Daniel W. Hatcher, Director, Community Partnerships, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

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The National Institute on Out-of-School Time

A program of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College

Wellesley Centers for Women
Wellesley College
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481-8203 USA

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