Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Building a Positive School Community: The Community Stewardship Model

“. . . community life does not organize itself in an enduring way purely spontaneously. It requires thought and planning ahead. The educator is responsible for knowledge of individuals and for a knowledge of subject-matter that will enable activities to be selected which lend themselves to social organization, an organization in which all individuals have an opportunity to contribute something, and in which the activities in which all participate are the chief carrier of control.”
-John Dewey, Experience & Education (1938)

Successful teaching and learning are largely dependent on the community structures created by administrators and teachers.  Educators can--and should-- shape supportive communities that foster positive learning experiences and give greater meaning to learning.

At Venture High School, we developed the Community Stewardship Model in order to guide the organization of a positive school community and culture.  This model helps educators to shape learning experiences that enable students to move from isolation toward full community synthesis and instills in our students a desire to use their knowledge and talents to “do good.”

The Community Stewardship Model is comprised of six types of experiences that foster community development.

Proximity - Proximity is nearness in space, time, or relationships.  A positive school community begins when we bring students together within a school, a class, or a team. The “shape” of proximity is a circle.  A circle brings a group into spatial nearness, promotes inclusion, and prepares the group for emotional nearness as well. In a circle, all are on equal ground and all are included in the whole.  
Interaction - Proximity fosters interaction.  The first interactions of a positive school community are simple greetings.  The first objective should be for each member of the group to learn the name of all other members.  Then we may begin to discover individual backgrounds and interests.  As interactions become more complex, opportunities arise for each member to contribute toward the success of the group.
Contribution -  A positive school community will ensure all individuals “have an opportunity to contribute something.”  They may give of their time, muscle, and ideas to the improvement of the group.  Reciprocity plays an important role, in much the same way as the Sans gave arrows to one another.  Contribution builds connections and obligations between community members.  As group members honor those connections and fulfill obligations, trust is formed and individuals discover a role within the group.
Interdependence - The processes of interaction and contribution enable individuals to become aware of another’s qualities, such as generosity, diligence, responsibility, etc., and mutual dependence is developed.  Group members learn to depend on each other in order to satisfy basic individual and community needs.
Connectedness - As individuals discover feelings of inclusion and purpose within a community, they will develop a powerful sense of “belonging.”  Their common values and efforts will provide social identity.  Connectedness is manifest through service, generosity, and self-denial for the greater good.
Stewardship - Stewardship is a feeling of responsibility for the well-being and success of the people and places within a community.  This occurs when we feel that someone or something is worth caring for and preserving.  A steward supports the growth and success of the community and generously works to ensure that all succeed.  Stewardship focuses, not on self, but on making things better for those who follow.
Students who feel connected to the school community will be more likely to behave appropriately, to overcome challenges, and to succeed in academic efforts.
As educators, we should be aware of the community structures that exist within our school and classrooms and strive to shape experiences that foster connectedness and stewardship.  
Students who develop a sense of stewardship toward other students, the school, and the school’s culture gain a greater purpose for learning.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

What is a Positive School Community?

The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology describes community as “people having something in common, although there is much debate about precisely what that thing is”(1).  Another article describes community as “a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action”(2). Others contend that a community is a group of people sharing a common geographical area, however many argue against a proximity requirement, stating that technology has created virtual communities that are as fulfilling as “real” communities (3).  I recently posed the question, “What is community?”, to a class of students at Venture High School. Through discussion, they crafted the following definitions: "a group of people working toward a common good,” “a group with similar values that support each other,” and “a feeling of safety and welcoming.”

Obviously, creating a singular definition of community is difficult, but looking at the etymology of the word might be helpful, at least with regard to the purposes of this paper. The latin word, “ com ”, means to be “with, together, or complete.” It is the root for many significant words, such as communication, compatible, and combine. Now, if we take “com” and add another Latin word, “ ┼źnus ”, which means “one” and we can create the word, “ communis ” which means “shared in common.” From communis is derived our modern day word, community. However, a more literal translation would suggest, “to come together as one.” This core definition of the word seems to be present in most explanations of its meaning.

Simply, community is a group of individuals unified behind a common purpose. From the many definitions given, we see some common traits that can be applied to our definition of community, traits which foster unity. I believe the following are the four most prominent characteristics of  community, especially as it relates to creating a positive school community that supports student success:

● A positive school community provides regular opportunities for interaction (communication, collaboration, etc.)
● A positive school community fosters a feeling of belonging and identity
● A positive school community provides social control of behaviors (norms, moral motivators, etc.)
● A positive school community provides each individual an opportunity to contribute.

As educators, we should be aware of these characteristics and look for opportunities to build learning experiences into our curricula and the school culture.


(1) "Community : The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology : Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology Online". . Retrieved 2017-04-14.
(2) MacQueen, K. M., McLellan, E., Metzger, D. S., Kegeles, S., Strauss, R. P., Scotti, R., . . . Trotter, R. T. (2001, December). What Is Community? An Evidence-Based Definition for Participatory Public Health. Retrieved April 11, 2017, from
(3) Humphrey, M. (2015, April 06). Is Online Community Real, 'Virtual' Or Something Else? Retrieved April 15, 2017, from

Monday, February 29, 2016

Learning to See


As an art teacher, I learned early on that drawing is rooted in perception, and not so much about motor skill.  In class, I like to spout little catchy cliches, like, "Look longer, see more" or "Art is an action of the eye before it is a work of the hand."  Or, as some people much more famous and important than me have said, "People who look hardest in the end will be good artists" (David Hockney) and "It is my contention that most people, including many artists, do not use their eyes to really see, but only to identify objects" (Fletcher Martin).  It's not unusual for me to take away a student's pencil while she works on an observation drawing and tell her bluntly, "Now draw."  Many of my students probably think I'm a little crazy (they may be right), but there is method to my madness, and it's always satisfying when a student learns to use their "eyes to really see," not simply to identify objects.

Today, a student brought in a lion drawing she created in 10th grade (above, on the left).  She--now a 12th grader--wanted to compare it to a recent lion drawing she created a couple months ago (seen above, on the right).   As I'm sure you'll notice, there is a notable difference, which is due to the development of this student's willingness to use her eyes to really see.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Can you spot the differences?

I was never really happy with my painting, "Long Voyage In A Small Boat." It had been sitting on a shelf in my classroom for about a year and it never felt like it was complete.  I had given up early on a few parts.  I finally decided to revisit it and rework some areas.  Can you spot the differences (other than some obvious color corrections)?

Prints of the new version are available at  

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Art Prints Now Available

I am making prints of some of my artwork available at  These are gallery-quality giclee art prints on 100% cotton rag archival paper, printed with archival inks.  The first print I am releasing is "The First Christmas Eve".  Sizes available:  8x9 for $15; 12x14 for $25.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Guiding Light

Here is another in a long series of paintings that I start then set aside for a year, then return to.  It's a problem I have.  I blame my attention span which probably hasn't improved since 5th grade.

As for the painting . . .
There comes a time when each of us must find the truth for ourselves and be guided by our own faith.
Oils over acrylics on canvas.

Prepping to Paint, Part 2

I'm progressing slowly on this because a number of other projects have priority, but I wanted to post a photo of the second step on this project/experiment.  After "fixing" the powdered charcoal and ink, I then applied a generous coat of white glue over the canvases.  While the glue was still wet, I painted a fairly even coat of cadmium red medium acrylic on top of the glue.  As it dried, the glue pulled and cracked the paint, exposing the charcoal beneath.  I really enjoy watching the random beauty that occurs through this process.  Now  I just need to figure out what to paint on them.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

My Brain on the Shelf


Late last night I decided to organize my "library", which is a single wall of bookshelves that I built in my basement last year.  I promised my wife I would confine my book collection to those shelves, which has become a problem because the shelves are already full.  Basically, that means for every new book I buy, I have to get rid of an old book to make room.

Around midnight, I realized that I hate this agreement because I am not very good at letting go of books.

Also, I realized that when I organize my library, I am really organizing my brain.  Through my library, I am able to catalog my thoughts along with my books.  You won't find anything even close to the Dewey decimal system, but you will find books grouped by topic, and a particular group of books will sit next to another group because I see a connection between the two.  For example, on one side of a shelf I have books about Art Education and on the other side of the same shelf are books about the development of creativity, and right between them are the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Seeing the books organized in this way helps me visualize the connections between ideas that are occurring in my head.  In another section are books on the outdoors, leadership, and Scouting. These sit right below books published by Outward Bound, and above that are books on theories and practices of education. Again, they are all interconnected and their organization on the shelves helps me see patterns and relationships. There are also sections for religion, history, science, fiction, and many others.  There are a lot of books, each connected to one thought or thousands of thoughts, and sometimes it's really hard to find the right place for each of them.  And when the ideas in my head change, I find myself rearranging the books, sometimes moving whole sections and sometimes reclassifying only a book or two.  I try to make them fit, both physically and conceptually, on the shelves.  And when there is no more room, I have to evaluate which thoughts are worth keeping.

I realize now that I am not very good at letting go of ideas.