Family is a prime example of what Wegner defines as a community of practice. It is a social group with the explicit goal of developing productive society members and teaching meaningful living. Individual members attempt to negotiate meaning within a family and the world. The group is mutually engaged, share a repertoire, and many times attempt a joint enterprise. Wenger defines living meaningfully as:
· An active process of producing meaning that is both dynamic and historical
· A world of both resistance and malleability
· The mutual ability to affect and be affected
· The engagement of a multiplicity of factors and perspectives
· The production of a new resolution to the convergence of these factors and perspectives
· The incompleteness of this resolution, which can be partial, tentative, ephemeral, and specific to a situation.
My family is a community of practice. I am the oldest of four children, three girls and a boy. Dad had given up all hope of having a son after bringing three daughters into the world within five years, but his prayers were answered on the last try. My mother refers to my brother as the Prince. Yes, that is Prince with a capital "P". When my brother comes home, the good china appears on the dinner table along with filet mignon at which point my sisters and I collectively roll our eyes. Family dinner, a familiar event, is an anticipated and somehow a new situation.
The four of us were raised in a two parent single family four bedroom home about forty minutes outside of New York City. Dinner was a six o'clock family affair and summer vacations were spent camping. The back yard swing set served as a backdrop to our original games. We attended and rooted for each other at sporting and artistic events. (Hiding under the bench was a common occurrence as my mother gleefully cheered the loudest completely embarrassing us.) Construction of snowmen, shoveling the driveway, and the occasional snowball fight were a regular occurrence during winter. Erecting the Christmas tree was a group effort. We consulted with each other and attempted to find where my parents hid the presents that year. Debates (or squabbles depending on the situation) were common occurrences. We were mutually engaged in each other's lives as we established a shared repertoire of family traditions.
At this point, we are an evolving community of practice. My siblings and I now reside in four different states and are trying to understand how to maintain that community as we embrace our adult lives. We have become very, very diverse people with distinctive identities and a common background. Each one of us has a unique relationship with another member. Emails and text messages are consistently exchanged. Family dinners aren't as frequent but when together, we spend time recalling past shared experiences. We are negotiating how to maintain those family traditions and mutual engagement through many miles.
How do we turn our classrooms into communities in order to promote learning? How do we teach our students to live meaningfully? How do we help our students develop a distinctive identity? We must look to create a family within the classroom setting and establish traditions, create a shared repertoire, and promote engagement for all involved.
A Changing Community of Practice
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