How can we build better communities in schools? What can we do?
First and foremost, the way we treat people affects community. Educators can sometimes feel compromised in this since the supports we expect are often not available which can be agitating. It could be as simple as the lack of paper towels, paper for the copier, or recess staffing to much more complex such as lack of expected daily teachers to meet the expectations set. No matter, we have to speak the truth with respect and kindness and rather than take out the frustration on those who have no say in the matter such as assistants and students, instead we have to be courageous enough to speak up to those who can make a difference in this regard.
Next, we have to look at the systematic issues--issues of systems that stand in the way of good work. There's lots of room for improvement when it comes to systematic think and application in schools, and as I've noted before, I believe this is where the attention should be placed right now to improve schools. There's been a lot of effort to improve educators' efforts and preparation, and I believe this work has resulted in better teaching. Now we have to look at system structure, roles, and schedules to better what we can do even more. In many cases, it's the system structure, roles, and schedules that now stand in the way of better service to students and families.
Budgets matter too. How are we spending money? Do we have a deep, long term vision for schools and students? Are we servicing at-risk students well when they are young so that they have fewer problems later on or are we trying to service too many needs with too little funding and staffing early on resulting in more grave and costly problems later. Quality after school programs, good nutritious lunches, optimal, honest student-staff ratios, and well equipped schools will help to minimize problems later on, and budgets should reflect this need.
We have to get off the standardized-test tread mill that many scope and sequences respond to. Most school schedules don't make time for optimal community building so teachers have to beg, borrow, and steal time to do the essential work of building community, conflict resolution, and meeting students basic needs. These teachers may be reprimanded for not sticking to the strict academic schedules forwarded mostly by leaders who spend little to no time in classrooms or working with students--leaders, I fear, who have forgotten what it's like to teach real children. School schedules have to make time for recess, play, social emotional learning, teamwork, and teaching students where they are rather than where expectations think they should be.
Teachers have to take the long view as they teach and think about what matters for children down the road, and what matters for the community in general. Our investment in time, focus, and support for young children and their families matters. We can't lose sight of this.