Building stronger families and stronger communities: community
This blog is the sixth in a series based on the NCFL publication, Stronger Families, Stronger Communities.
Communities support people in their professional and personal lives. People benefit from engaging in groups formed through common experiences. Family, friends, and colleagues can unite to form circles that support their members. We are stronger together than separate.
In programs, classrooms, and schools, the creation of community is often a stated goal. Practitioners work to establish feelings of belonging so students and families feel welcomed. To support these efforts, Toyota Family Teacher of the Year recipients shared with us their advice for building community. Many of their tips focused on three areas: trust, partnerships, and openness.
A key element in building communities is building a sense of trust between practitioners and participants, as well as among participants. Amy Hall of Michigan said, “You create a community where you build trust.” One method for doing so is to set up routines and rituals within classrooms and programs. This ensures that everyone knows what is expected. We create safe learning environments for students and their families. In doing so, we earn the trust of our students and their families. They believe that they are an important part of the community.
To create community, families need to be engaged through partnerships. The term “partnership” implies that practitioners are listening to families and finding out about their needs, hopes, and aspirations. Teacher of the Year recipients felt strongly about involving families and adult students in program planning. Practitioners can establish roles and responsibilities within their programs so that the work is shared among participants. When members are engaged, communities form and flourish.
Another element in building trust is openness among practitioners, students, and families. To do this, Lorie Preheim of Washington D.C. felt it was important to teach from personal experiences. “The most powerful learning environment happens when we as teachers share from our personal experiences and talk about our struggles, insights, and successes as parents, workers, community members, and ourselves. When you share your own difficulties, it allows for more open conversation where the adult students don’t feel judged.” Additionally, Maria Antonia Pinon of Arizona added that practitioners should include themselves as part of the classroom community. “Be open to being part of the community. Let your guard down and be open to the experience. Be part of your families’ communities.” Practitioners should be genuine, fair, and honest with students.
Many of these ideas are appropriate for both adult learners and younger children. Regardless of age, there are many benefits to building trust, sharing responsibilities, and being genuine with students. Further, by building communities and modeling these methods in our classrooms and programs, we can hope that parents and families can also carry them into their homes and communities. When successfully formed, the classroom community grows beyond its four walls to the greater school and eventually into the larger community.
Kay Brown of Louisiana said, “Paying it forward is equipping my participants for a better life that will improve our community, too. Any educators in rural centers like mine can learn how to strengthen their community through the same commitment—to focus not just on this program year, but also on all of the future benefits possible.”
From teacher to teacher, we all benefit from a community of support. We are stronger together than separate.
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