What is a Community of Practice?
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 Community of Practice 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 has relied on the expertise and insights of Deb Curtis, Debbie Lebo, Wendy Cividanes, and Margie Carter in their book, Reflecting in Communities of Practice, to consider, question, and model our approaches for engaging in community with other early years professionals. The reflective questions, impact stories, and multiplicity of perspectives housed within this incredible resource have profoundly shaped the way we think of ourselves as reflective practitioners and the way we engage in our work.
So what does it mean to participate in a Community of Practice?
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?
We know the recruitment of qualified Early Childhood Educators has become an all too familiar narrative in our municipalities, resulting in the current hiring crisis faced by childcare organizations and school boards across the province. We also know that membership in a CoP can contribute immensely to ones sense of belonging.
This got us thinking…
By engaging emerging members of the early learning community, specifically those at the secondary and post-secondary levels, what possibilities may exist for recruitment and thusly, sustainability in our field? In what ways may our Community of Practice grow and flourish by rethinking our membership?
“Effective Communities of Practice balance members’ diversity with a sense of shared purpose” (Curtis et al., 2013).
We therefore decided to intentionally navigate and interrogate our focus on student engagement.
Growing our Community
The first piece of this was hosting Early Childhood Education students from Fanshawe College for a day of professional learning. This was done in collaboration with Childreach. The day was structured as a “mini-conference” and was designed to showcase our collective services, resources, and professional networks. The day was an undeniable success and incredibly well-received by those who participated.
We have had the pleasure of seeing some of the students who participated in that conference return to visit, utilize the ECE Resource Centre to which they were gifted memberships for their participation, and take part in some of our professional learning offerings as well. This is a notable level of student engagement that did not previously exist.
We have surmised that intentionally reaching out and inviting students into our Community of Practice resulted in them feeling supported, valued, and included as contributing members of our learning community, prior to even officially entering the field. Their sense of belonging was reinforced and this encouraged further community engagement.
The second part of our student focus 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 potential, 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 encourage ongoing field participation later. Working with one secondary school as a “pilot project”, we have been assisting with resourcing, community networking, and mentoring.
We are fulfilled, inspired, and energized by the idea of expanding on the way we define our current CoP membership. We hope to continue to develop these relationships, recognizing the unique perspectives, insights, and experiences that emerging educators bring to our tables.
Written by Meaghan MacDonell, Strive Project Coordinator