In his 2003 ASCD Educational Leadership article, Creating a School Community, author and educator Eric Schaps states, ”a growing body of research confirms the benefits of building a sense of community in school. Students in schools with a strong sense of community are more likely to be academically motivated (Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000); to act ethically and altruistically (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997); to develop social and emotional competencies (Solomon et al., 2000); and to avoid a number of problem behaviors, including drug use and violence (Resnick et al., 1997).”
Ready to build community in your school? One way is to design a schoolwide project to which everyone can contribute time, energy and ideas. The planning guide below can help you get started.
Step 1: Conduct a survey to see how much students (and faculty) experience community in school.
How would students and faculty describe the current climate at your school? How connected do students and faculty feel to one another and particularly to anyone who may not be in their “comfort zones”? It’s important to see where you are so you can figure out where you want to go and how best to get there.
Step 2: Form a committee that represents all stakeholders.
Make sure that all different groups are represented on the committee, including students, faculty and parents. When choosing students and faculty, be sure to select representatives from a wide variety of ages, grade levels, and groups and to build warm, stable, supportive relationships among the committee that will hopefully translate schoolwide. All of the projects in the article took students out of their normal comfort zones and social groups. Creating school community can be enhanced when new relationships are formed. This committee can provide regular opportunities for students to collaborate with others.
Step 3: Choose a community project that will help to get everyone involved.
It is important at this stage to get ideas from all group members. The project could center on a need at the school or a book or resource that everyone loves. School-wide community-building activities can be as simple as Family Bingo Night or a school-wide field day, or as challenging as creating a schoolwide diversity committee or planning and maintaining a garden. It does not have to be expensive. “The Value of Community” offers several inexpensive ideas for building school community.
Step 4: Set project goals.
It’s important to set achievable, measurable goals and get early buy-in from all stakeholders so that everyone does his or her job to make the project a success.
Step 5: Create and implement an organized plan.
The more organized your plan, the better you will be able to meet it. Make sure the plan includes specific action steps, a date by which they need to be met, and the person or group who is responsible. You can print free calendars from online sites or use project-management software. An important part of this step is to identify the resources you will need and the resources you have access to.
Step 6: Meet to discuss progress.
Hold regular meetings with the committee and communicate with the entire school to update everyone on progress. Regular meetings and communication help to make everyone feel involved and on track. Use meetings to reflect on what’s working or what needs to be changed about the plan.
Step 7: Celebrate!
There’s no better way to build a sense of community than by celebrating success together. Celebrations do not have to wait until the end of the project. You can celebrate small achievements along the way and recognize people who are meeting and exceeding project expectations. A successful project or event gives the entire school community reason to celebrate!