Today I whitnessed a school community in full swing – teachers, office staff, SLT, support staff, site team, governors, PTA members and children with their parents clearing snow from the paths and car park as well as the surrounding roads to ensure that everyone could get to school safely tomorrow! This was not the school I work in but my daughters school and I have to tell you I am envious of what I saw!
“I was envious of what I saw!”
It was clear for any observer to see that a strong value of community has been fostered at the school! When a snow day is called, it is easy for teachers, office staff and support staff to celebrate and choose to stay at home in the warm and catch up with a box set. But here, they travelled to school, in far from ideal conditions, to ensure that the school would be ready for the next day!
“I have no doubt that the staff of this school know the value of their governors”
I have often heard it said in schools that governors are invisible, that their role is unclear or that they offer no value – this morning governors were wielding spades and snow shovels, providing warming cups of coffee and biscuits and ensuring that everyone involved knew that their efforts were valued. I have no doubt that the staff at this school know the value of their governors and the role they play in the school community!
“Today I saw the power of strong parent/school relationships”
This school has a very active and supportive PTA and the school and the PTA work brilliantly hand in hand; this was never more evident than today when, at very short notice, a number of members turned out to help. Similarly, parents and children were helping to prepare the school grounds having responded to a text message asking for volunteers. Good will is often hard to come by and relationships between schools and parents can be fractious but today I saw the power of good parent/school relationships and it was just as it should be! If parents and children are willing to come and clear snow at an hours notice you can be sure that they are supportive of the school in other ways such as completing homework and upholding the school values.
“It is clear that this strong community feeling hasn’t happened overnight”
If only every school could have such a strong community around them – how they would benefit! It is clear that this strong community feeling hasn’t happened overnight and that it has taken many years to foster such a strong team ethic between the school’s stakeholders but the hard work and efforts are paying off in a big way!
I learnt the value of a strong school community today and am keen to develop a similar sense of community in my current school and future schools that I work in and hopefully, one day, lead.
So how can schools foster strong community?
Brendon O’Keefe on Edutopia has some suggestions-
1: Include Community in School Development Plans and look for opportunities where the community strengths can be used
Ryan Bretag writes, “Educators shouldn’t be the only ones contributing. The community should be creating questions, puzzles, quotes, mind benders, trivia, philosophical and ethical challenges, thought provoking videos, “graffiti walls,” brainstorming spaces, and play areas.”
There are so many opportunities for experiential learning to happen out in the community surrounding the school. We just need to find ways to connect core curriculum beyond the classroom by attracting the right people and asking the right questions.
2: Reach Out to All Stakeholders
One of the best ways to connect and create an authentic bond is to go to the people who matter most, and meet them on their own turf. A series of community walks are a great way to start.
Get your teachers, some local businesses on board and go and knock on people’s doors, visit local businesses and senior homes and talk with them. Try the same approach with groups of students. This time let the students communicate what they hope and wish for their school and encourage them to ask for mentoring and support.
Share your dreams for enhanced community-school partnerships, ask people what matters to them, ask them how they might help, and show them your passion. Deliver them an open invitation to reconnect, collaborate and share their experience, skills and time to make a difference.
3: Create a Community Resource Map
A visual representation of your community and the various skills people have to offer is a super way to understand what community resources are available. If you build one, also point out the materials people can supply at cost or for free, the time they can invest in projects, and how they can connect to curriculum, and classroom activities. Include the networks they can utilize to raise awareness of the needs of local children and families, and always promote and foster resource-sharing and collaboration.
Use libraries to advocate for school-community partnerships and student learning. Libraries are important hubs and can provide meaningful connection points outside the school gates.
A community resource map can come in the form of a hand-drawn map (use a graphic facilitator), Google Map, Mind Map or even a spreadsheet with some visual outputs.
4: Connect with Curriculum
Much of what we learn as children and adults happens outside the classroom through real world experiences and from our peers, mentors or on the job.
How might we connect today’s core curriculum with the real world? That is an important question that is in urgent need of answers. Kids today are asking far to often for relevance in what they are learning. “Why am I learning this? I’ll never use this!” is a response far too often heard form the mouths of young people today.
Let’s find ways to work with local businesses and subject matter experts to connect core curriculum to the outside world and design engaging learning experiences in and out of the classroom. Check out Chapter 4 “Asking the Experts” from Kathleen Cushman’s wonderful book Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery.
Please consider using project-based learning. Try using a matching technique to match students with subject matter experts, businesses and community organisations. Here is a great book on the subject by Suzie Boss. Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age.
Let’s not forget the largely untapped wealth of experience and knowledge that resides with retires, grandparents and millions of socially isolated senior citizens in aged care facilities.
5: A Design Challenge for the Community
Here is an example of a community challenge to reinvent the school experience. I created the Reinventing School Challenge earlier this year to encourage discussion, empower youth, teachers and communities to design and facilitate change locally.
Reinventing school can mean lots of things such as redesigning classrooms, creating a community garden, creating an open and shared learning space, designing a course, changing the way students participate in decision making, you name it!
I think above all, it is important to present opportunities for the community to be involved – if you haven’t invited them or given them chance to support the school, you have no right to moan about them when they don’t support you!
How do you develop community at your school? Please comment below and support others in creating a school community as strong as the one I whitnessed this morning!