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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Challenge of Creating Community: Meetings and Managers

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

In part one of this entry, based on responses to an earlier post of mine, I reproduced some queries about how to establish a communal learning environment at school, and my responses. Here, I continue with questions and answers about how to hold community meetings and how to encourage fellow educators to share your enthusiasm.

I'm looking for resources and ideas on how to run a community meeting.

All effective community meetings have some factors in common:

  • They happen regularly at a scheduled time.
  • They are well planned and have a specific agenda.
  • Students sit with their teachers and advisers.
  • Expectations for audience behavior are clear and are consistently enforced.

Effective community meetings have several formats and purposes. They are intended to

  • communicate important information, celebrate successes, and point out areas of concern. (Often, a school leader heads these types of meetings.)
  • showcase student performance, both academic and artistic.
  • train students to plan and facilitate the meeting.
  • build school pride and involve participants in fun activities, such as contests.
  • inspire people. (Have a student, a teacher, or a school leader recite quotes or give an inspirational reading.)

How do you develop a sense of community if the leadership doesn't buy into it?

This is a difficult problem, but I believe that if you begin with your classroom and interested colleagues, the power of community is hard for others to resist. People want to be part of a community of learners. Even if it doesn't spread and you cannot co-opt the school leadership, at least you have made your part of the school a community.

I truly envy the classroom community you describe in your postings. I am at a school where there is little to no sense of community. It almost seems competitive among the teachers. I wonder, "What's the whole point in this?" No one benefits from this going on in a school.

In addition, the principal seems so cold. He won't even say "Hi" to you when you pass him in the halls or look at you, even if you and he are the only ones present. It is so uncomfortable. I cannot stand it. I entered my teaching career at a school with a great sense of community among the teachers. We were always expected to meet with our colleagues and plan. This benefits the students.

Now, I have transferred to a different school, and I wonder whether I have made a mistake or whether transferring for the reasons I did were worth this. I love to build community among my students, and I love to see them playing together and standing by continuously throughout the years. (I am a primary school teacher.) I'm sure parents and students notice this lack of a community, which in no way strengthens their learning, I am sure. Any suggestions?

This response might seem too simple and naive, but when you see the principal in the hall, stop him, smile, and say "Hi." Follow that up with a meeting and tell him about your desire for community. Begin a conversation with the principal and your colleagues about your dreams; it might change your school. Before you start, I highly recommend reading Margaret Wheatley's book, Turning to One Another. Wheatley makes a strong and poetic case that the simple and courageous act of conversation can change our world.

Please let me know what you think of these suggestions, and about community in schools in general. Have you or others at your school attempted to achieve this kind of learning environment? How can your experiences and observations help others?

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
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