Nov 11

Chris Smeaton

Building a strong school community

There is an old saying, “It takes a community to raise a child” but what happens when the community in unable to do so? Unfortunately, I think many of our communities regardless of their location either cannot or worse choose not to be part of raising our children. Therefore, it is critical that we develop strong school communities that can assist in raising children who will one day build that type of community. Last week I presented on this same topic to the entire staff of Saipoyi Community School on the Blood Reserve. Although this topic could be presented over an extended period, I set the stage by being adamant that schools’ number one priority must be their students…period!

Educational organizations can ill afford not to have students as their central focus. Building a stronger school community requires an investment (both in human and capital terms) in students. Quite simply, schools were built for the education of children and not as an employment agency for adults. Establishing that strong community requires schools to ensure that learning not teaching, collaboration not isolation and results not intentions are the norm. This describes the definition of a professional learning community but that phrase has become so misused, I worry about using it (that will be another blog post). There are many methods to build a strong school community but I will comment on three in which I believe are of critical importance.

Strong leaders are essential for building a strong school community.  They need to keep one eye on students and the other on the myriad of management tasks that our society has placed upon them (that too is another blog post! Focusing on students means that leaders are constantly in classrooms, working with teachers and setting the bar at the excellence level. They question practice, challenge existing paradigms and build capacity. As true professionals, they are constantly honing their own skills in order to enable a better experience for their students.  They push the envelope and don’t ask why but why not! They lead the school to operationalize the vision. Successful leadership is both an art and a science. The picture below is the Learning Leadership Team of Holy Spirit Catholic Schools. Each of them have a momentous task of building a stronger community in their schools and division.

Leaders like the above, hire staff who have the same mantra of putting students first and foremost. And for me, it is this high quality staff that is the second requirement for building a strong school community. Children do not deserve CAVE (Completely Against Virtually Everything) Dwellers of ROAD (Retired On Active Duty) Warriors. Our students deserve the very best, all the time! The bar we want to establish in the hiring practice is simply stated by this question: Do I want YOU teaching (working) with my children for the next 35 years? If I can’t say yes, why would I employ you, since my chldren are no more special than any other parents. It is a harsh criteria and yet if we truly believe that students need to always be our first priority, then it makes perfect sense. Education is and should be a demanding profession especially when we realize that we hold childrens’ futures in the palm of our hands. There is no room for minimally competent or mediocre staff.  

Lastly, strong school communities need to function as effective teams. Teaching and learning has become far too complex for any individual to make the necessary impact on all students. Effective teams need to develop a shared vision and guiding norms. They require trust, understand that healthy conflict is important and  are committed to achieving results. The need for outside accountability is eliminated because they have developed a collective responsibility. Effective members understand their own roles and responsibilities and foster a team approach to forwarding the vision. They support one another! But, make no mistake they are present for the sake of the students…always!

Many of our communities are unable to build the world that we need or want. Therefore, it is crucial that our school communities build and model that world. Our children are our future and without strong school communities it will be a bleak future at best. So no matter what you do in your own educational system or where it is, make tomorrow the first day toward building a stronger school community!  


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