Success in the classroom depends on thousands of variables. They all have importance and they all deserve our attention. My focus here is on a very important variable. One with which I believe we have not been intentional. We need to rethink Community in the Classroom.
Don’t freak out just yet. I am not saying what we are doing is wrong. I am not judging the amazing work being done in classrooms. I am saying we need to add an enormously powerful wrinkle to this concept. We need to address what we want our students to TAKE AWAY from the community that is built.
There is a very powerful phrase in education right now. Every reformer, blogger, and educational decision maker preaches by this phrase. I am one of those preaching! This phrase is “Empowered Learner.”
In just about every category in education, we are making strides toward inspiring empowered learners. In fact, educational leaders are making it their mission to encourage and inspire educators to shift their mindset in that direction.
Talk to George Couros, and read his book, “Innovative Mindset,” and you will see what I mean. His push towards empowered learners is making major changes in school districts around North America. He tweets daily about the phrase!
Talk to Superintendent, Pam Moran, and read any of her published articles and this phrase will for sure pop up. It is flowing through the culture of our district. She has made it a part of decision making in her district.
Read just about any reformers’ blog and they will stress the empowered learner mindset. For that matter, read any of my previous posts, and you will see how this idea drives me!
So, through Innovation, PBL, Design Thinking, Maker, and more, we are being intentional with developing empowered learners. We see the need and we go make it happen. More importantly, we find ways for students to have a valuable takeaway from just about everything they do – a takeaway that will empower them as learners.
Intentional takeaways are the key. We are designing lessons and units with the intention of students being empowered to lead the way. These are purposeful decisions that lead to intentional takeaways. There is a missed opportunity though with the intentional takeaway from building community in the classroom.
What is Community in the Classroom?
If you google it, you will see thousands of articles that push towards all of the most common themes. We know these themes will support higher achievement and a better experience for teachers and students.
- You will read about how teachers need to create a safe and nurturing environment for kids.
- You will read about a push towards getting parents involved in the classroom to better build a sense of comfort and familiarity for kids.
- You will read about how developing a strong community produces students who are risk takers, because they feel safe enough to try and fail.
You will not find me arguing with any of those values. I know that in the years where my classroom community felt the strongest; we achieved at a much higher level in many categories.
- Test scores and academic growth were at the highest levels.
- Joy in the classroom was paramount.
- Behavior problems were at a minimum.
- The end of the year was brutal. All of us cried because we didn’t want this journey to end.
What’s the Takeaway From a Strong Classroom Community?
Let’s examine the takeaways from different stakeholders’ viewpoints:
As teachers, we can see the takeaway. The takeaway is an amazing year. We want that amazing year to repeat itself so we think about what worked and what we did to make that happen. Our takeaway is that we know how important this community is. We know it is hard work, but we also know it is worth it!
Administration sees the takeaway as well. They see those classrooms with strong community and celebrate it with the class and maybe the staff. They want those teachers to share their strategies and methods to the rest of the school. Those classrooms do not constantly send behavior problems to admin and get the highest growth gains academically. Any strong administrator will see the takeaway is to aid in getting teachers whatever resources are needed to build that community. Amazing classroom communities inspire school wide community. Schoolwide community inspires an engaged adult community. What administrator does not want to cultivate that cycle?
Parents see the takeaway as well. Parents in these classrooms start to talk about the great things that are happening in their kid’s class. All of a sudden, parents are volunteering for that classroom and parents are anxious to get their kids in that classroom. Parents take away how valuable their role is in education and become vocal leaders in the community. The community from that classroom ignites the community at large.
So, while they takeaway is different from each angle, everyone benefits greatly from a strong classroom community…or do they? Shouldn’t all stakeholders have a takeaway from this experience?
Oops. We Missed Something.
The student takeaway is missing. Sure, they had an amazing year. They developed stronger friendships and achieved at a higher level. Those are great benefits. However, in just about every other aspect of education, we work to empower students with the feeling of self motivation and self-guided growth. We want to see them drive their experience.
In classroom community, other stakeholders drive the experience. We set-up bonding experiences help cultivate relationships. We facilitate and model the experience. We develop the systems to promote collaboration and teamwork. In other words, we serve the kids. We are the doers and they participate and grow.
To me, we have missed a crucial opportunity. We need to empower them with the ability to serve their future communities!
It really is a component of child development that could make a drastic impact on the world. The concept of public service and service to a community as a whole has shifted over the years and need to be reignited. Let’s get intentional with setting kids up with the mindset that they have a role in their community.
In school, students are in the passenger seat with the community experience. They take it all in and experience what is being facilitated. Along that ride, they get to feel how powerful community is and what it can do to themselves and the ones that surround them.
What if we empowered them with the idea that they can drive next time? The world is filled with passengers. We need more drivers. We need people who see that their role in a community is to serve that community. They give and get involved. They volunteer to help facilitate experiences for others. They reach out to those in need and help those that cannot help themselves.
All of those experiences happen in our classroom communities, but too often, we facilitate it. As the strength of community in our classroom grows, let’s get intentional with allowing the kids to foster that growth. Let them lead. Equip them with questions to ask themselves. Let these questions help build a value system for serving:
- How can I make our community stronger?
- Who could use my help today?
- Who needs more community today?
- What new idea could I bring to the community?
- How can my biggest strengths help the community?
If we allow kids to ask these questions in school, and we let this type of questioning become habit, how much of an impact will these kids have in their communities when they grow up? How much of our world would be impacted by our intentional efforts?
Imagine a generation of givers entering communities around our country. Could that shift some of the negativity we see so often? Could that bring our communities closer together? Would that connect our differences and open up more communication within communities?
Let’s take that amazing community we built and spread it to the world. We have the changemakers sitting in our rooms everyday. Let’s equip and empower them. Let’s encourage them to be the change that we all wish to see!
If this connected with you, please subscribe to make sure you get all the latest. Go back and check out my original post, Something’s Missing where I kick off a series involving the C words that are missing in our students. Check out some of my other C Posts, Communication, Confidence, Creativity, Connection, Constructivists, and Catalyst. I greatly value all opinions and arguments. Engage in the comments and help continue this discussion. I look forward to what you all have to say.