Friday, February 12, 2010

School as Community

In any society, a “community” is a cohesive collection of people, both specialized and non-specialized, that functions together toward a common goal and commonly agreed outcomes. Common shared values and commitment levels enable the “community” to achieve short term and long term goals. All school staff and faculties function as communities. The success of school communities may rest on three important aspects: learning, support, and collaboration.

The School as a Learning Community

Education is all about learning. But the idea and function of learning goes beyond course syllabi, curricula, and the daily routine of lesson plans and creative teaching. A true learning community continually endeavors to improve itself through on-going changes in individual disciplines and professional development. Members of an active learning community undergo periodic “tune ups” to help them remain current in their fields, discover new and creative ways to teach, and reassess curricular goals and assessment relevance.
A learning community is one that actively fosters continual inquiry that involves students, instructors, administrators, and support staff. Much like Rousseau’s social model, the learning community can sit at the same table and freely discourse, debate, and discuss. All members are equal and everyone has something of value to bring to the table. Learning communities reflect respect among its members and function as healthy, growing organizations.

The School as a Supportive Community

Some members of the community may require more support than others. This might include new teachers, other additions or replacements to staffing needs, as well those who may be experiencing health problems or other personal tragedies. There are many ways to foster a supportive community:
  • Recognition of special days such as birthdays, marriages, the birth of children to staff members.
  • Incorporating social activities into faculty or other school meetings.
  • Communicating regularly with community members out on sick leave or long term disability.
  • Maintaining a spirit of empathy when individual problems occur.
School communities should exude a collegial warmth that avoids cliques, elitism, and the tendency to treat certain members as outcasts, either intentionally or unintentionally.

The School as a Collaborative Community

Support breeds collaboration. In any school community, free collaboration enhances all academic, social, and psychological outcomes. Collaboration is sharing, discussing, listening, and testing. Collaboration means that professionals are willing to put aside personal agendas in favor of group goals and accomplishments. No accreditation process was ever successfully completed without faculty and staff collaboration.
Collaborative communities thrive on the premise that all contributions are valuable. The sharing of individual classroom success enables others to emulate and recreate that success. There is no “blame game” in collaborate school communities. Members take personal responsibility and are always in the frame of mind to change when needed.

School Communities need not Be Utopian to Succeed

Front line teachers that get to work early, go home late, and spend hours grading and preparing will be the first to observe that there is no such a thing as a Utopian school environment. In the process of constant school reform, however, the effort to achieve a learning, supportive, and collaborative community is worthwhile, even if begun through incremental stages. This becomes the challenge of school leadership.
The process of developing well rounded school communities must begin with leadership and this comes out of administration. The best administrators will model excellence in community building, thereby fostering movements within the general community population to achieve superb communities demonstrating learning, support, and collaboration. In short, everyone must be on the same page.