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Our society presents us with many injustices and these inevitably destroy the lives of many people, every day. Collaborative practice is crucial amongst many professional bodies in order for them to build a more equal, inclusive society in which people are proud to be a part of. In order to determine the factors that influence effective collaborative practice when working towards a more socially just society, this essay will look at the historical, philosophical and socio-political perspectives on social justice. It will also provide an evaluation of the collaborative practices that formed the focus of our learning circle investigation. It will then consider the contribution of Primary Education, Social Work and Community Learning and Development to the achievement of social justice outcomes. Finally, I will reflect on what I have learned as a member of my learning circle by drawing on the theories and concepts of communities of practice and collaborative approaches.
Social justice is a concept used to describe the achievement of a more equal society, where the rights of everyone are respected and people's dignity is restored. There should be no difference in attitudes towards certain individuals because of their race, religion, culture, beliefs and so forth. In a socially just world, wealth should be distributed evenly and opportunity gaps should be closed, in for example, education. Clayton and Williams (2004) explain that 'issues of social justice, in the broadest sense, arise when decisions affect the distribution of benefits and burdens between different individuals or groups'. Social evils of the twenty-first century are: decline of values; distrust; absence of society; individualism; inequality (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2009). Perspectives on social justice have changed over time and many historical figures have offered their views on social justice and these have influenced and developed the philosophical and socio-political views of today.
The term community education as a profession was adopted in Scotland as a result of the Alexander Report (1975). Community Education incorporated adult education, youth work and community capacity building. These are still prominent, in what is now Community Learning and Development today. Community Planning Partnerships will use a community learning and development approach to support initiatives aimed at closing the opportunity gap, achieving social justice and encouraging community regeneration (WALT, 2004). Changing Lives (2006) outlines ideas to improve the social work service in Scotland. The philosophical perspectives outlined within this document include the implication that if we do something and it doesn't work, we must change our approach. Also suggested is that there should be more integration between social work and other services in order to do what is best for the people of the country and achieve social justice more effectively. In relation to education, The Curriculum for Excellence (2004) states 'our aspiration is to enable all children to develop their capacities as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society.' In order to meet this aim, effective pupil support services now exist within many schools and also as an extension to in-school education. This service has developed and is often offered in conjunction with social workers and community learning and development workers, using informal as well as formal approaches. The service arguably reduces the opportunity gap by allowing a wider access to education. Religious groups have also contributed significantly to services that help people who are excluded from society (Horner, 2009). For example, the Salvation Army have contributed greatly to help homeless people by providing them with shelter, food and someone to talk to. Margaret Thatcher once said that there is no such thing as society. She said "no government can do anything except through people and people must look to themselves first." Musician, Billy Bragg, has written songs related to justice and had entirely different views on social justice to that of Thatcher.
In order to achieve social justice, it is often necessary for collaborative practice to take place. Collaborative practice refers to the sharing of knowledge and experience in order to achieve a desired outcome. Huxham and Vangen (2005) suggest that when we collaborate, we are able to do almost anything, in principle, as we are not fully dependent on our own resources and knowledge. Collaboration, however, is not always a straightforward task. Our learning circle investigated the contribution of Primary Education, Social Work and Community Learning and Development through collaborative practice to the achievement of social justice outcomes. We were firstly required to prepare a presentation on a selected area of social justice. The task highlighted our strengths and weaknesses when required to work collaboratively. For the best collaborative practice to take place, members must work effectively within a group. Tricker (2009) highlights three aspects of group work which could be barriers to effective collaborative practice. These were organisational, attitudes and self-esteem. Organisational skills existed within our group. We had a clear understanding of the task in hand, how we were to go about doing it and the timescale we had to complete it. Group members were fully aware of their responsibilities within the group and everyone completed their allocated tasks on time. If this was not the case and even one member had the wrong attitude, failing to complete their task, it would have a negative effect on the group and slow progress. It is therefore important for members to remain committed when working collaboratively and when this is not possible, effective communication between members is essential to ensure that all members are informed of any issues arising, making it easier to find a solution without slowing progress further. Our group effectively communicated using electronic mail, social networking sites and telephones. We were aware that setting individual tasks was not an example of collaboration, although we did feel it would be the most effective way to progress and members then shared the knowledge they obtained with the rest of the group which is one characteristic of collaborative practice. It was a realisation of ours that prior to starting our investigation; we should have appointed group roles to ensure that our group was structured. Our group lacked a co-ordinator to help lead the group to success. According to Brilhart and Galanes (1998), a co-ordinator should have a positive influence on the group, helping them to achieve the group goal effectively. We discovered that when too many people try to lead at one time, conflicts develop. Tjosvold (1991b) suggests that, in order for a group to be successful, members must resolve the conflicts of interests which arise between each other in a constructive manner. Further to this, he suggested that 'groups can either be conflict negative or conflict positive'. The role of a head teacher is different to that of a community educator and because of this differing purpose, conflicts could arise (Tett, 2006). When conflicts existed it was necessary for the group to make prompt decisions in order to resolve these and ensure that group progress was not exacerbated. This was done effectively within our group. A disadvantage of our investigation was the group membership. There was a majority group membership of primary education students. Social work students and community learning and development students were in the minority. Because of this, professional values and opinions were not distributed evenly and therefore the final outcome may have been biased. In such a situation, conflicts often arise; however, we should remember that our purpose was not to compete, our purpose was to collaborate and share learning experiences and therefore everyone's views should have been valued equally.
Completing this task strengthened our understanding about how the three different professions worked collaboratively when aiming to achieve social justice. It made us aware of our own values and principles in relation to our professional area. It is important for the three professions referred to in this essay to collaborate as they all have working with people at their heart. These professions have to share knowledge in order to meet the needs and interests of the people they work with. We realised that, in reality, certain professions seemed to contribute to a higher extent than others when working to achieve these outcomes; however, this is possibly due to bureaucracy and legislation which prevents certain professions from taking a major role in the resolution of such issues. During our learning circle visit, it was explained to us that many social workers dislike the amount of power legislation gives them as it often forces them to take action that upsets people. Although the three professions use different approaches in their work with people, combining these approaches will ensure that every individual reaches their full potential in life. 'Working and learning together to build stronger communities', 'getting it right for every child' and the 'curriculum for excellence' have all been developed with the intention of improving life for everyone and their aims should be combined through collaboration when working to achieve social justice.
When we collaborate we can form communities of practice. According to Wenger (1998), everyone belongs to various communities of practice which could include families, classmates at school and work colleagues. Wenger explains that in order to define the concept 'community of practice', we must combine the two aspects of community and practice rather than referring to them individually. He identifies three dimensions of practice as the property of a community. These are mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire. We can relate these dimensions to our learning circle. Mutual engagement is what makes it a community of practice as opposed to practice alone. Members must feel a sense of belonging and purpose. Negotiation of ideas is required in order to reach the desired outcome. When conflicts of interest within our group existed, members disengaged themselves from the group and this can cause problems with group dynamics. We could say that when this happens, the community aspect is absent. Reflecting on this concept highlights to me that the most effective practice can only take place when the community aspect is present. Personally, I did not feel entirely part of a community in my learning circle as I did not feel my views were always being listened to. In reflection, I should have used an assertive approach to identify my concern with the group as a professional, to ensure everyone's views were taken into account. Joint enterprise as a dimension of communities of practice, in simple terms, means everyone involved is accountable for the outcomes and the long term goal is shared. It is about negotiation, not necessarily agreement. Conflicts arise when individual members have personal, short term goals which they wish to fulfil. It is when these short term goals coincide with other members' short term goals that conflicts arise. This was somewhat evident within my learning circle, especially since each profession has a different approach to working with people and the views on how to go about certain things often differ. Finally, a shared repertoire is the norms and behaviours that a community of practice will adapt to over time. It will become a routine which gives members a meaning and identity within a particular group. I learned that it is very difficult to maintain my own meaning and identity since we all had different ideas and it was difficult to avoid internalising the views of others, therefore we must be fully aware of manipulation and stand strong to our own beliefs unless proven wrong. I learned that this can be very difficult when there is a majority group membership of one profession. I had to keep reassuring myself that, although we were outnumbered by one profession, we were all in this together.
It is not easy to make direct conclusions on social justice and collaborative practice due to the controversial nature of these topics. However, from this essay it is evident that achieving social justice is an extremely challenging and time consuming task. Perspectives on social justice have changed over the years. The perspectives of our government are implemented into policies and these greatly impact on the work of the majority of professions working to achieve social justice outcomes. These bodies will find it essential to work collaboratively so that their objectives are met as quickly and as effectively as possible. There can be both advantages and disadvantages to working collaboratively and these are determined by a wide range of factors including organisation, attitudes and self-esteem. There is some controversy around whether collaborative practice is more effective than independence due to conflicts which may exist. When collaborative practice is done effectively, we can conclude that this is the best way to achieve social justice. Although the professions adopt different approaches to working with people, they all have the similar aim of ensuring everyone reaches their full potential in life. Communities of practice exist all around us in our everyday lives and our learning circle was an example of one. The 'community' aspect is important as it indicates a sense of belonging. Essentially, a community of practice forms when collaboration works. All the aspects outlined within this essay are crucial to understanding the complexities involved in inter-professional work. They are also crucial to understanding how professions can work together to achieve social justice although the complexities stretch far beyond this.
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