I read the article by Jordan and McDaniel (in press) in terms of not just how elementary school students can deal with uncertainty, but also how adults also manage uncertainty. While their article focused on elementary students, I kept wondering if that type of uncertainty and learning through peer interactions occurs in adult learning communities as well. As an individual moves into a new community of practice, he/she will experience uncertainty (Wenger, 2000). I thought about the fellow classmates of the elementary students as fellow peers in a learning community and drew a correlation that perhaps joining a new community begins with uncertainty and that a leader has a responsibility to understand that uncertainty.
Communities of practice help people thrive and manage uncertainty. Those that have established the norms and culture for a group set the stage for how someone can be successful within that group. Collaboration is a strategy which can enables learning about a culture. An individual learns who is in charge, how decisions are made, and what outcomes are expected (Wenger, 2000). These peer interactions are very influential, as discovered by Jordan and McDaniel (in press) in their study of elementary students. Learning can occur as a result of this lack of balance of power.
Social supportiveness was closely evaluated in the study by Jordan and McDaniel (in press). The social supportiveness helped the students deal with uncertainty while completing the project task. A factor that influenced whether a peer responded in a socially supportive manner was prior experience with the individual expressing uncertainty. The social support varied based upon whether a student wants something from a fellow student who was expressing uncertainty. If not, the uncertainty was dismissed. If so, the need was addressed. The socially supportive responses were more likely to occur when one’s peers were also uncertain or believed the uncertainty was appropriate to the situation at hand.
In terms of leadership, the authors found that framing the uncertainty helped the students move through the uncertainty. Awareness about the community of practice can then help a leader understand how to introduce someone into the community. The other readings this week, though, highlighted the lack of awareness that people outside of marginalized groups may experience as a result of trying to exist within a white community.
I believe a leader should ensure all members of the community are thriving, engaging, collaborating, supporting, etc. What do you do, though, if you don’t have the opportunity to relate to people within the community or even understand that social support is being offered? Is leadership then a function of realizing whose knowledge you are including or not including? And, is leadership ensuring the social support needed for community members to engage and succeed? These were some questions that came to mind as I reviewed the articles this week. As we begin to learn about the communities we plan to study, perhaps action research, as outlined by Bautista and Morrell (2013) can suggest a model by which leaders can learn more about the communities they lead and determine methods to provide the social supportiveness which can enable learning and success by the community members.
Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303), 123.
Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. Journal of the Learning Sciences. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254
Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246.