My career in education as teacher, coach, and administrator, in various types of schools, has given me significant and comprehensive experience in the academic, athletic, and business arena. I have a background in parochial, public, Quaker, and nonsectarian single sex and coed schools. These include very small schools of acim school to very large schools of over 900 students. Through these experiences, I have gained an appreciation for different approaches to the educational process and the management of educational institutions. Some schools focused on discipline, others on academics, while still others on athletics or the arts. Some schools were well endowed and in a strong position fiscally while others were struggling to meet costs and raise funds. Others had a clear mission and vision while some were trying to determine what kind of institution they wanted to be.
However, regardless of the focus or position of the school, what I believe was always of great importance and high necessity was a solid and firm sense of community. The schools that I felt would survive and thrive, and where I felt most attached, were the schools where the culture fostered a strong feeling of togetherness, family, and community. When the Head of School, teachers, administrators, and Board at these institutions worked tirelessly to encourage a communal atmosphere, the school prospered on most levels and was able to focus on its core mission and vision. A collaborative effort from all involved was needed to initiate and sustain this level of teamwork and community. Therefore, to accomplish this task, it is necessary to understand the impact and contribution of the many dimensions making up the community.
First, are the families, beginning with the students. It is vitally important every student feel that the school is a place of comfort and safety. A place where they can be themselves, explore themselves, share themselves and, at the same time, be a part of something bigger than themselves. As a teacher or administrator, developing a solid relationship with the students is critical. Some students spend 7 to 10 hours a day at school, so it is important for both teachers and administrators to nurture that relationship. That’s nearly one-third of the day spent at our institutions and the main reason why our schools need to be communal. Every student must feel accepted and supported during the best and worst of times. They need to know they are being treated like a unique person, then as a student. When a student realizes a school is a haven for the positive, there is nothing they will not do to help maintain that feeling, enhance the community, and, simply, be the best person they can be.
Within this type of community, students feel valued and respected. They are engaged, expressing their opinions positively and openly, while attempting creative problem solving. Students are appreciated and celebrated for their individuality, taught to listen to themselves as well as listen attentively, thoughtfully and reasonably to the ideas and opinions of others. This can only be achieved if the students have the feeling of belonging. And that feeling of belonging can only take hold if the community is one where there is a conscious effort to establish and promote it.
Parents are an integral part of the community. Obviously, their support in many ways is critical to a school’s culture and sustainability. In the same way a school strives to make every student feel welcome and safe, the institution must make the same effort in regards to the parents. In a school of any size, the diversity of the parent body could be vast. Different cultures, religions, nationalities, and other preferences are all present in our schools. From those who can afford to pay the high tuition without financial aid, to those who qualify for almost full need, to those caught in the middle, they are all part of a school community. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the school to assure that all families feel supported and have the opportunity to become involved.