So much about what makes a good school is intangible. I think about this challenge a great deal as I work with pre-service teachers in their graduate coursework and in their classroom placements. It's relatively easy to provide the resources and guidelines for curriculum content ("relatively" is the operative word there...), but how do you teach someone to be a good colleague? How do you explain the importance of connecting with parents, or of establishing traditions and shared experiences to build a sense of belonging?
What factors and constituencies contribute to a successful school community? This was the central question for a daylong educators’ seminar held on Monday as part of the associate teacher program and the Institute for Excellence in Teaching. The program included discussions by faculty members, parents, and students, all of whom shared their perspectives and observations about participating in, and contributing to, a community-oriented culture in school. While the comments of our panelists and presenters were focused almost exclusively on positive experiences here at BDS, many of the attributes they described are appropriate to any strong school community.
Mrs. Cirillo, the longest-serving member of our faculty, was the first speaker of the day. She recounted many examples of her own experiences as a teacher and administrator, highlighting the power of respectful relationships among colleagues and the importance of meaningful connections between teachers and students. Throughout the day, all of the speakers emphasized themes of knowing and being known, respect for individuals, and a deliberate attention to building and sustaining community.
A group of parents discussed their ideas and expectations of school communities for their children and themselves. They described the ways their families were welcomed, the events and traditions that their children remember and anticipate from year to year, and the connections they have established with teachers and other parents. One parent spoke warmly about the ways in which teachers made strong connections between home and school, incorporating children’s interests into the life of the classroom.
Mrs. Armstrong, Mr. Spencer, and Mrs. Holman joined the group throughout the day and presented specific strategies and approaches to building community, an effort that each of them described as a necessary part of their curriculum. Each of them mentioned the importance of trust among the members of the community, and Mr. Spencer pointed out that a school community is a bigger network than just the people in the classroom—“it is all the people who affect my class, even if they’re not there,” he said.
Mrs. Friborg facilitated a presentation by a panel of 7th graders, who shared their own impressions of school community. Each student talked about the importance of teachers care about and identify with their students. The students also appreciated opportunities for independence, creativity, and leadership. They talked about the size of a community, and how much they valued relationships with people from different areas of the school. One student commented with a smile, “you can’t get away without knowing each other here.”
The program ended with a final discussion led by Dr. Place and Mrs. Leana, who reviewed the presentations and identified common themes for participants to consider as they think about creating their own classroom and school communities.
We have planned a series of these one-day, theme-oriented programs this fall; during the next one (October 13) we will consider the relevance of foundational educational theories in a 21st century context. Our guest speakers bring wonderful expertise and perspective to our discussions: one is the interim Dean of the Lesley University School of Education, and the other is the CEO of an entrepreneurial consulting firm.
On November 10, we will discuss what it means to be "at risk" in a 21st century school. Panelists will include parents of children with special needs, children's services staff from a homeless shelter, and other educators dealing with risk and resilience in schools. On December 10, we will consider the wide range of educational options for children and families in a program entitled "All Kinds of Schools." Details about speakers are still in the works, but the program is coming together very well! We are looking forward to welcoming educators from other schools to these programs.