Thursday, 12 April 2018

Building a Community of Belonging

Building a Community of Belonging
I love history.  I have a real keen interest in how everyday people lived their lives in the past.  One aspect of those lives is schooling and I find the concept of the one room schoolhouse intriguing.  The idea of a room full of multiage children learning together has its benefits.  It was an opportunity to build community and allowed older students to teach younger students; therefore, solidifying the concepts in the older students’ minds.  The best way to learn is to teach.  I also realize that my thoughts are very likely tainted with a romantic view of the past.  The reality, I am certain, was not as rosy.  However, the swing to the opposite side is also not healthy.  In modern schools, we tend to encourage same age interactions exclusively.  Each grade level becomes a separate culture inside of a school.  One of our learning goals is to learn to belong to and live in community, creating a single culture that celebrates diversity of gifts and talents as highlighted in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

I saw a beautiful example of community building earlier this week that highlights what we are endeavouring to achieve.  I walked into the Kindergarten room to find a section of the Grade 7/8 band working with Mr. Adams at the back of the room.  They were working on a piece of music that they are hoping to perform later this spring.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Culp was working with a group of JK/SK students at the front of the room.  The JK/SK students were preparing for their celebration of learning.  They are going to make and perform with their own musical instruments.  As the Grade 7/8 students played, the JK/SK students were focusing on what they heard and saw to integrate that knowledge into their work.  Two teachers from opposite ends of the building modeling collaboration and team-work.  Students working on grade level and age appropriate skills and knowledge, but engaged in learning together.  This is community.  This is beautiful work.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Community of Belonging

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

Genesis 1:27 is an easy verse to read and I think it is easy to miss the richness of that verse. A simple look around our communities and our world reveals that we have a problem with that verse. An honest look at ourselves reveals that we have difficulty with this verse. We malign the images of God in many ways. We rob people of worth and dignity. We fall into the trap of ranking ourselves against others to boost our worth. We manipulate others in order to bend them to our will. These are real because it is in our nature to do these things, but it is not God’s will. Also, because it is in our nature all of these things are in schools. It is even more dangerous when there is a power imbalance between human beings, particularly when we look at the teacher/student relationship. We have to confess this in order to take the next steps towards reconciliation and creating shalom. We have to be intentional about creating shalom.

As a school, we have a stated value of belonging. We want everyone, especially students, to know that they belong to our learning community. This valued is rooted in the recognition that everyone is created in the image of God. Everyone has worth when viewed God’s eyes and through he redemptive work of Christ. By acknowledging this value, we commit to building a community of belonging through the culture we create. We change the culture in order to align with the Biblical value. One example of aligning school culture with our value of belonging is the morning meeting. Every grade takes time for morning meetings. There are a variety of activities involved, but one essential piece is the greeting. Students greet each other by name and look each other in the eye. Each greeting begins to recognize the worth of someone else. It is an intentional way of creating community. It is an intentional way of fighting against our nature.

We are not alone in this journey. There are many Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools that are implementing this approach. It is part of a TK called Responsive Classrooms. It was the topic of last February’s PD day. This past Friday at the PD day, we were able to share stories about Responsive Classrooms. I imagine the discussion was the same at many tables, but I only know about the discussion at mine. I sat with the other school administrators. As the stories were shared the theme was common. These practices are transforming school cultures for the better, not perfect but a little closer to shalom. Since most schools are only into the first year of change, the culture is not firmly established. We were all excited about and anticipating the results of this culture in a few years.

We spent the rest of the day on Friday exploring the next step in recognizing and valuing image bearers. I will tell that story next week.