WE: Building a Stronger Sense of Community within CALP Organizations

Tanis Harms, Community Learning Network

1 4 9 May 2017

"Community” is a term that we love to hear and practise – especially in the CALP system. The benefits of a group that feels connected is great for both the individuals involved and the group as a whole. The CALP system thrives on relationship building with learners and with each other through our Community of Practice, but often we are not aware of how to intentionally build communities to be stronger.

So how do we build community within groups?

  • How do we build community between co-workers within our CALP organizations?
  • How do we build community between learners in a course or program? 
  • How do we build community between our instructors/facilitators and their learners?

5 Steps to Building Community
In Denny Rydberg’s Building Community in Youth Groups, he lays out five steps for building community.  Albeit he was talking about young people connecting as a group….but we’re all young at heart, right?  I think as you look through these you will agree that the principles are not specific just to youth, but align with Adult Learning Principles too. They can have great applications in our CALP system.  But first, what do the five steps involve?

1. Step One: Bonding

  • Breaking down barriers between people that may exist
  • Establishing a relationship of trust
  • Involving a problem solving task or other activity that involves members working side by side
  • As the group accomplishes a goal together, the group connects
  • As each person’s input is given, accepted and welcomed by others, they start to identify as part of the “team” 

2. Step Two: Opening Up

  • Sharing non-threatening areas of life with each other
  • When individuals perceive that others are genuinely interested in their story and want to learn more about them, trust develops
  • It is important to have freedom for individuals to only share to the degree that they feel comfortable 

3. Step Three: Affirming

  • This step is crucial for a group to really gel
  • When others in a group encourage and genuinely compliment an individual, confidence builds and the group’s “team” muscles grow
  • Participants in a group that affirm one another have “warm fuzzies” and feel good about being with the others in the group, feeling accepted and cared for
  • In this step, it is important that the affirmations are genuine and go beyond shallow/external things (e.g. “You have a nice smile” may be accurate, but may not be as meaningful as “You are a very caring and focussed listener”).

4. Step Four: Stretching

  • Often it is inevitable for difficult situations to arise in a group and can be used to help the group build community
  • Opportunities for the group to be stretched, can also be initiated intentionally. When people move beyond their comfort level they experience the greatest potential for growth
  • These situations provide tangible ways for the group to show their care
  • After going through these types of situations, groups often realize how much they can achieve together when they choose to work together to overcome difficulties

5. Step Five: Deeper Sharing

  • Sharing at a deeper level with each other and setting goals for the group
  • This is where visions for the future and present struggles are discussed freely in a trusted setting
  • When a group member shares a problem, the rest of the group provides support and encouragement but also holds that person accountable if needed
  • It is important to note that not all thoughts are appropriate to share in a group setting. Sometimes a disclaimer at the beginning of a time of deeper sharing is needed. It may be good to provide an opportunity to chat one on one first to see if it is beneficial to share with the whole group 

*It is important to note that groups do not need to go through these steps necessarily in order, but it is easier to get to Steps 4 & 5 after first building up the first few areas.

What do the 5 Steps of Building Community look like in a CALP setting?

In CALP Offices and in our Community of Practice in the larger CALP System:
1. Bonding:

  • Hanging out at Symposium and Regional Trainings
  • Socializing (usually while eating) at lunch and coffee breaks

2. Opening Up:

  • Starting or responding to discussions on the Portal
  • Actively participating during trainings
  • Responding to surveys from CLN and Advanced Education

3. Affirming:

4. Stretching:

  • Going out of our comfort zone to get to know those who are new
  • Participating in crazy activities the RSS have you do in Regional Meetings and trainings…
  • Accomplishing tasks together like building better relationships with your Region’s CCIs 
  • Challenging our organization’s capacity and skills by learning new things together (like checking out the e-learning resources or starting to use the CALP Database)

5. Deeper Sharing:

  • Friendships are built as our trust goes beyond work 
  • Staff remain in their position many years and have strong connections with those in their regions

Within the CALP Classroom or Programs:
1. Bonding:

  • Making sure there are many activities involving interaction
  • Lots of laughter and fun while learning
  • Provide social times: celebration/graduating parties; potlucks; etc.

2. Opening Up:

  • Provide times for interaction and sharing of opinions, questions, etc. 
  • Provide learners with times to present and share their experiences, skills and knowledge

3. Affirming:

  • Thank learners when they do share things with others in the group
  • Help build self-confidence by making specific comments about what learners are doing well (learners sharing these observations with one another, as well as the instructor/facilitator sharing these individually with their learners)

4. Stretching:

  • Usually this one is not too hard to be intentional about in a course or program, but being aware of providing time for groups to wrestle through these is helpful
  • Provide “problem” scenarios for them to work through as a group
  • Go on a field trip to practise learnings
  • Give the group a specific task to accomplish that involves getting out of their comfort zone and working together (e.g. For a Basic Computers Class with Word: As a group, write a story about our class.  Each student will then take a turn to: (1) Open a document, (2) Type the story, (3) Format the text, (4) Edit with grammar and spellcheck, and finally (5) Save the story)

5. Deeper Sharing:

  • Friendships often will naturally bond in these groups and you may witness phone numbers being exchanged, coffee times or playdates being planned, and social connections therefore emerging naturally

*What other examples in the CALP world can you think of that would align with these steps? Please share in the comment section below!

Tanis Harms
Regional Support Staff
Northern Alberta


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