Community Within Community – Build Your Dream School Culture
When I was a sophomore in college I took a 2D art class that was the worst (at least in my opinion). The professor was stifling. He was all about precision and adhering to his specific dimensional requirements. He would take a ruler to your work and it if it didn’t line up to the exact mark he wanted you had to scrap it and start all over – without consideration of the skill, content, or expression within the piece.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t so much that he had clear expectations as much as his expectations were actually counterproductive to the art class he was teaching. He expected creativity and the organic expression of form and yet the way he ran the class was so rigid that students couldn’t enjoy themselves, let alone harness creativity.
Why do I tell you this story?
Well because I learned a valuable lesson in this class. And, no, it wasn’t about how to create precision angles in my drawings. It was about community.
You see when the professor was in the class, the classroom culture was quite uncomfortable. The professor monitored students (in their 20’s) as if they couldn’t be trusted with a pen and ink, the room was silent, no discussions or side conversations, no laughter nor joy.
However, as soon as the professor left the room (it was a three-hour long class, after all, he had to step out eventually) the dynamic of the class drastically changed.
In the absence of the professor, and sort of in spite of him, the classroom was the most colorful fun place of learning I was in all week.
The camaraderie gained by the mutual dissatisfaction of the class created tight bonds amongst the students. The awkward forced silence of the class when the professor was present was replaced with joking, laughter, and genuine fun. It was as if we were set free.
The lesson learned, which I have carried with me as into education, is that community AND culture are not dependent on your circumstances.
I know that this goes against everything that your professional development is saying.
You are told that your school culture will develop by writing a mission statement, measurable SMART goals, collecting data – that you need a plan. And I am not saying that these are valiant efforts to develop a school culture.
But, doesn’t it seem a little inauthentic?
Sort of like the story of my art class in college.
When you are talking about developing an enriching supportive culture that honors teacher well-being, can that really be accomplished through data? Or are we making it so prescribed, so stifling that we are, like the college art class, being counterproductive to the outcomes that we want?
What Does This Mean For Educators?
What this lesson means is that you aren’t stuck.
- If your school doesn’t support you.
- If your colleagues are negative.
- If your professional development doesn’t connect with you.
- If your department doesn’t get you.
- If your career in education doesn’t bring you the joy it used to or is supposed to.
There are other ways of building a community of support around you. Of developing a culture of respect and understanding, that encourages growth and fosters joy.
Create a Community Within Your Community
Think of the art class story.
There was the community that the professor created – we produced, we got things done, to him it was probably a successful class. But it was lacking.
Then there was the community within the community, the one we, the students, created. This was the true success. It was supportive and fun, it gave us something for which to look forward.
Now think of our school.
There is a community, the one that the leaders created – you produce data, you get things done, to them, it is probably a success. But it is lacking.
So, create a community within a community, the one that the teachers create. This can be the true success. It can be supportive and fun and give you something for which to look forward.
This isn’t subversive. Well, maybe in idea it is, but not in action.
It is also, a message of hope.
You are not bound by your circumstances.
So many educators find themselves in a position where they love their job, but the day-to-day drain distances us from the joy we once felt and want to feel again. Can you relate?
Sometimes it takes more than just ourselves to reclaim the joy. Think of who you can lean on, who can be in your mini-community, how you can support each other. Maybe you agree to do check-ins each day with each other. Or you’ll send a little meme or gif during the toughest class. Perhaps you have a weekly post-school decompression-session at the coffee shop or bar around the corner. The key is to find ways to support each other within the system.
It doesn’t require data to have meaningful connections and you aren’t stuck by your circumstances. You can create the supportive community you and your colleagues need, even if it’s within another community.
If you are looking for more ways of developing community and build resilience to reclaim your joy in teaching, look no further – check out the Joy in Teaching Book.