George Lucas Educational Foundation
School Leadership

The Accidental Community: Feeling the Love

January 20, 2014
Image credit: Thinkstock

I recently read an article (posted on Facebook by a colleague of mine) about love in the workplace. The article spoke about how employees who felt companionate love at work performed better. It sparked my interest in teacher communities.

PLCs and a Sense of Community

Communities of teachers, professional learning communities (PLCs) in particular, have always interested me. I have worked in a few different schools and visited many more, and I've always wondered about the community of teachers in each of those schools. From my anecdotal evidence, I've seen many great teachers who work together as family. Sometimes these teachers are on official "teams" or part of organized PLCs, but more often than not, they are part of "accidental communities."

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I am defining accidental communities as communities of teachers that work together in a collaborative and supportive fashion despite the structures officially set up by their school. There is no administrative structure in place to make these communities official. They are not given time or compensation to collaborate, yet they do it because they care about one another -- purely out of love.

These teachers I have seen are better off in their classrooms because of their supportive colleagues. They are more willing to try new things, have more resources for varying their practice, and have a sounding board of people willing to listen to their teaching dilemmas and help them rethink pieces that aren't working.

What would happen if these communities were intentional?

There are plenty of schools where PLCs are standard. In these schools, there is an expectation that teachers will learn together and help support one another. Teachers are asked to choose a topic of interest and join a group to learn more about that topic. They work together to help one another in their practice and to improve the teaching and learning at the school. But these are never the same as the accidental communities. Very few of these teachers work on their PLCs outside of designated "PLC time" and often the topics fizzle out after a year or so of investigation. So what is the key difference between these established communities and accidental learning communities? I think the answer is love.

The Potential in Team Building

Teachers who care about one another are the ones whose learning communities last the longest and are the most effective.

So how can we help build this love in our schools? How can we make these accidental communities intentional?

I've always wondered about the corporate team building that my friends who work in the for-profit world engage in on a regular basis. They are always going somewhere to build houses together, going bowling, going out for drinks -- all on their office's dime. We've all heard of the pinball machines, game rooms and office parties that regularly occur at cutting edge companies. Is this the key to building a community filled with love?

If we spent our professional development days going to a homeless shelter and preparing meals, or if we spent one staff meeting a month having an office party, would our accidental learning communities turn into intentional communities? Would this time we spent building our relationships with no school focus actually help strengthen our teaching in the classroom? Will the risk outweigh the reward? Can we sacrifice this valuable time we have together to focus on learning about one another, rather than learning about our practice?

How could a teaching community built on love change our classrooms?

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  • School Leadership
  • Professional Development
  • Personal Learning Network