Humans are social creatures. We gravitate towards others who we see as having similar goals/values/mindsets. Throughout our lives we move in social groups - family, whanau, friends, colleagues. These social groups are often also groups from which we learn skills and values we use in our lives. So this begs the question - who belongs to my Communities of Practice?
My main work-based Community of Practice consists of my teaching colleagues at school. We are a small staff, who are very supportive of each other. We have all taught students at a variety of levels, and are able to understand and empathise with each other. Reflecting on why we seem to work so well as a Community of Practice, I look towards the article written by Wenger (2000).
Wenger (2000) states there are three elements that define the competency of a community of practice (p. 229).
1. Members are bound together by their collectively developed understanding of what their community is about and hold each other accountable - there is a sense of joint enterprise.
2. Build their community through mutual engagement; interacting with each other, establishing relationships and trust.
3. Build a shared repertoire of resources and use it appropriately- language, routines, artefacts, tools, stories, etc.
When reflecting on these three competencies, it is clear that our teaching staff have a strong Community of Practice. With such a small teaching staff, it is vital that everybody is about to interact positively with each other. Everyone works towards a shared vision. This is true for larger schools as well, however at a small school there is nowhere to hide - everyone is accountable all of the time. When stressful times occur, members of our COP work together making sure everyone is able to get through and achieve what needs to be achieved.
Of the seven teaching staff members, four have been teaching in the school together for six years or more. The trust in each other that has been developed over the years is essential for a community to work successfully. These four members have had to work together through difficult times, helping each other achieve their work and personal goals. The three newer members have similar values and work ethic which has made it easy to assimilate these members into the Community of Practice.
The third element has been enhanced this year with our school starting on PB4L (Positive Behaviour for Learning). We are consolidating our shared language and routines around our school. We share stories with each other, either for venting purposes or to ask for help and ideas. We are all open with each other - we want each other to reach their potential.
I've always known that our school was special. The people (staff, Board of Trustees and students) work hard to help each other. The article by Wenger cements the idea that our little community is as good as we all believe it is.
Wenger, E.(2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization,7(2), 225-246