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.
Conclusion
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.

References:

(1) "Community : The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology : Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology Online".  www.sociologyencyclopedia.com . 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 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1446907/
(3) Humphrey, M. (2015, April 06). Is Online Community Real, 'Virtual' Or Something Else? Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelhumphrey/2015/04/06/is-online-community-real-virtual-or-something-else/#5f874f493c62