by Meaghan MacDonell
A Community of Practice (CoP) is defined as a group of people joined by a common passion, concern, interest or enterprise. The term was originally coined in the early 1990’s by cognitive anthropologist, Jean Lave and educational theorist, Etienne Wenger during their assessment of contextual learning amongst various professional and non-professional groups. A Community of Practice emphasizes social participation as being central to effective learning. A CoP is identified by three distinct characteristics: the domain, the community, and the practice. The ‘domain’ refers to the common interest and the ‘community’ reflects the relationships, engagement and co-learning between members. The product of both of these is the practice, which are the shared resources that contribute to knowledge. A CoP model is used in many different sectors but has gained particular popularity in education, where relationships are well known to be central to the learning process.
Strive is proud of the community of learners we have cultivated across London, Middlesex and Elgin, moving beyond working in silos to really embracing a Community of Practice model. Despite the excellent progress that has been made, recent conversations had us reflecting and questioning what participation in a CoP truly means. Who are the members of our community? What does it mean to be a member? How far does our membership reach?
The recruitment of qualified Early Childhood Educators has become an all too familiar narrative in our municipalities, resulting in the current hiring crisis being faced by childcare organization and school boards across the province. Membership in a CoP can contribute immensely to ones sense of belonging. This got us thinking, by engaging emerging and potential members of the early learning community, specifically those at the secondary and post-secondary levels, what might the implications of that be on the progression and sustainability of our field? We therefore decided to put some of our focus on student engagement.
The first piece of that was hosting Early Childhood Education students from Fanshawe College for a day of learning. This was done in collaboration with Childreach and was an undeniable success. The day was structured as a “mini-conference” and was designed to showcase our collective services and resources. We have had the pleasure of seeing some of the student who participated in the day come back to utilize the ECE resource centre, pop in to the Strive office to ask questions, and also out participating in some of our professional learning offerings. This is a notable level of engagement that did not previously exist and the hope is that this is the result of those students feeling supported and feeling like valued and contributing members of our learning community even from the position of students not yet employed in the field.
The second part of the student engagement piece has involved secondary school students. Much like post-secondary students, it was determined that high school students, particularly those enrolled in childcare related coursework, were a pool of possible, would-be educator candidates. To bring those students with an expressed interest in the early years into the folds of our community early on, would have the potential to result in ongoing field participation later. Working with one secondary school as a “pilot project”, we have been assisting with resourcing, and community networking and some mentoring.
We are fulfilled by the idea of expanding on the way we define our CoP membership. We hope to continue to develop these relationships, recognizing the unique perspectives, insights and experiences that emerging educators can bring to our tables.