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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings, School Stories

Community-based Schools–Really!

I need to keep my finger on a couple of the conversations going on in other posts here. To me, we’re getting at some of the important philosophical foundations of what it means to be in school. But I woke up this morning thinking about an issue that I tackled last week around mental health and the teaching profession. It has to do with teacher isolation–a long-standing challenge for teachers and administrators alike.

I’m not sure what happens in your school, but in most of the places that I’ve hung my hat, the same morning scenario plays itself out. Teachers arrive, get ready for their day by checking mailboxes, email, announcement boards. They might drop in to chat with another teacher, but the goal is always to get to individual classrooms to prepare to meet individual groups of students–their students for the year!

But, then I got to thinking about other workplaces: hospitals, police precincts–especially those that would come under the category of providing a social service. Many of the professionals that begin their days (or nights) in these spaces gather as a group to discuss any issues that may have come up the previous day, any common goals, or any challenges that may be on the horizon for that day or week.

You know, we throw around the phrase community-based schools quite a bit, but I’m thinking that before we reach out and attempt to strengthen our ties with the folks outside our schools, why not come up with strategies that will strengthen the sense of community that lives inside.

I’m thinking that it would be cool to begin each day with a 15 minute gathering of all staff with some of the following goals:

a) to see each other’s faces and make sure everyone is good to go
b) to discuss any issues of which the entire staff needs to be aware
c) to bring to the table any student issues that others may be able to assist with
d) to emphasize the sense that all students in the school are the responsibility of everyone

There are more things that could be built into this, but it would be important not to turn it into a staff meeting–just a brief “checking in” session…everyday!

Of course there would be snacks…there always has to be snacks.

And, of course, there would need to be union approval…that’s just as important as the snacks.

I wonder how school spirit and sense of community might be enhanced if something like this were to begin to happen at my school?

Is there anyone who is doing something similar? Do you have other ideas for mitigating the effects of the teacher isolation which is still a big part of many school communities?

My quick thoughts for a Friday morning.

About Stephen Hurley

After working for over 30 years in Ontario's public education system, I continue to work passionately throughout Canada, still very committed to the idea of effective, powerful learning experiences for all participants. A musician, technology-watcher, father, husband, I find life in the world of education, even when the conversations get a little contentious. If I were to be doing anything else right now, it would be hosting my own syndicated radio program on--you guessed it--education. I blog in a few spots. My personal blog can be found at I can also be found hanging around and, most recently, I can be found on twitter as @stephen_hurley


12 thoughts on “Community-based Schools–Really!

  1. Most of the teachers that I work with would noy like this idea. The beginning of the day is their time to get last minute things done. We had an administrator recently who mandated that all teachers come to the gym to pick up their classes. It soon became a union issue and was eventually stopped. I personally think everyday is over kill.

    Posted by Patty | February 18, 2011, 8:37 am
  2. We meet once a week on Tuesdays. Although a lot of communication happens via email, I really find it a useful briefing of what people are up to. We don’t do it on Mondays because of the mad scramble to get ready after the weekend (I’ve never been very good at getting ready the Friday before…).

    We also have an unspoken agreement that, unless we are madly insanely busy, we eat lunch together. Not everyone eats at the same time, and some of us have duty, but on any given day, it’s not uncommon for a little over half of us to be in the staff room at the same time. Sometimes we will talk about school stuff at lunch, but often we will not.

    My colleague just mentioned how happy she was that she about stuff that was happening in our lives outside of school. She said she was glad that she knew about this kind of stuff, because it made her feel like we had more of a community.

    Posted by dwees | February 18, 2011, 9:39 am
  3. When I was a principal we met everyday for the first 10 minutes of the day. It was a time for announcements but also a time to talk about the good and the bad of the day before. Thinking back on it, this time in the morning was truly invaluable in an effort of getting us all on the same page (at least with logisitics!) and creating a community. I would advise any principal to try to make this happen.

    Posted by Mary Rice-Boothe | February 18, 2011, 9:45 am
  4. Hey Stephen, So much to say here. Isolation as a defining condition of the profession of teaching is something folks have been writing about for a long time, as you surely know. Dan Lortie’s classic (1975) book on the conditions of teaching that profoundly shape the work (Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study) describes the historical isolation of teachers, but also their acclimation to that isolation, so that they begin to actually value is and perceive it as “autonomy.” “Isolation works to reduce the capacity of officials to exert influence over individual teachers…” In other words, I may be underpaid, under-repected, and managed from above, BUT I can go into my isolated classroom and do whatever the hell I want. I am the king or queen there.

    So there is a shadow side, historically, to calls for greater collaboration and collegiality, and deep in the sociology of the sector are the conditions that make it difficult to reform. Joel Westheimer wrote a great book about this too, called Among School Teachers: Community, Autonomy and Ideology in Teachers’ Work (1998).

    So my only point in going on about this is that I have worked in many schools that have overcome the barriers to deep collegiality. (They are among the highest performing schools I’ve ever been in.) Contrastingly, many of the lowest performing schools I’ve worked in have very low levels of collegiality and collaboration because teachers are tremendously isolated in their practices and believe that joining with their colleagues to plan their work will, at some deep level, be a loss of control which is at the center of their professional identities.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | February 18, 2011, 10:03 am
  5. By the way, I am talking about “high performing” in many domains, not just test scores!


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | February 18, 2011, 10:24 am
  6. Thanks so much for these comments. I appreciate all of the insights, as well as the reality checks.

    I know that there would be some pushback on this, and perhaps a daily requirement is not practical in many cases, but I like David’s comments about Tuesday meetings. I also appreciate the importance of sharing lunch together. We have a staff of 50 and we would be lucky if we saw 10 folks on any given day. Potlucks and treat days are always well-attended, so the food piece is important!

    Mary’s success with this gives hope; I would love to know if there were some resistance to the implementation of the 10 minute daily gatherings.

    Kirsten, I love the phrase “deep collegiality” . That speaks volumes. It actually has a very spiritual ring to it!

    Looking forward to more conversation.


    Posted by Stephen Hurley | February 18, 2011, 10:58 am
  7. Hmmm. This is an interesting idea because often things are floated around throughout the day with everyone putting in their two cents as the gospel truth. Keeping this to 15 minutes will be tricky though if there was a time keeper then it would be easier to manage. What sorts of things would be discussed in a school situation during this time? Who’s responsibility would it be to bring the issues to the staff? I think it would be a hard sell. Teachers, like many others, are creatures of habit. Change the way “it has always been done” and people don’t know what to do or how to handle the changes. Not to say, that this kind of “stand up meeting” isn’t needed. I’m just wondering how you would convince the nay sayers to agree. Also, there are some teachers who walk in with the student bell due to personal or family situations…

    Posted by Elisa Waingort | February 19, 2011, 12:10 pm
  8. Thanks for the input, and the questions, Elisa. I’m thinking that if this concept could be kept as informal as possible, then it might avoid some of the pushback that is bound to occur in the beginning. I envision it as an opportunity to gather for a brief time to say, “What’s happening today?”

    You know, just this week on my own staff, I discovered that two people were going through some very difficult stuff, both related to family illnesses. I felt that I should have been able to respond, offer to help out in some way…but I didn’t know. So, one aspect of it could be just to provide the opportunity to say, “This is what’s happening”

    Another aspect of it could be to offer any insights about particular students that need special attention. Even though we may teach in a totally different part of the school, we encounter all students out on the schoolyard, and in the halls. Having some insights around things that we might encounter or see would be helpful. Also, there may be an opportunity to share some ideas/strategies for dealing with particular students. I know that, as a grade 8 teacher, I’ve often told Grade 1 or 2 teachers to feel free to send me any students that just need to be out of their classroom for a while. So, the ability to create a sense that we’re all in this together would be helpful.

    To your last point, individual instances of personal delays would certainly be understood; at the same time, this type of structure might encourage folks to show up a little bit earlier…especially, if they know that there is a cup of coffee waiting for them!

    I think that you’re right in terms of this being a hard sell, but it might be worth it in the end.

    Appreciating the feedback!


    Posted by Stephen Hurley | February 19, 2011, 2:46 pm
  9. I would love to REALLY do this as well, however, I fear that it would be used to punish teachers who are running late, or to further push initiatives onto teachers. It has to be led by and monitored by people who truly care about teacher community (THE TEACHERS). Great post!

    Posted by dancecookie | February 19, 2011, 6:17 pm
  10. In my school we have ‘grade group meetings’ for about 30 minutes every Wednesday. It is a chance for announcements and a place to bring up any issues or concerns we might be having. It’s the first time that I, as a specialist teacher, have been included in these meetings and it has made a huge difference in helping me feel like part of the team.

    As for the concerns others brought up, I would agree that once something is a mandated policy, people will find a reason to complain or look at it as ‘one more thing’ to do.

    I am wondering if schools need to plan spaces for ‘deep collegiality.’ Spaces within the school that serve as a ‘watering hole’ where there is coffee every morning and conversation. This could simply be the teachers’ lounge, though I find many teachers lounges are lacking in comfort. Maybe schools need to work on building these kinds of spaces.

    Thanks for starting the conversation.

    Posted by Mary Beth Hertz | February 20, 2011, 8:13 pm
  11. The “big idea” is promoting positive communication within a school. Sharing ideas is helpful because each setting has its own culture. A quick morning meeting may work very well in one school and be a disaster and deeply resented in another. We have teachers who are not morning people and would despise this. The idea of a comfortable staff room or teachers’ lounge where teachers will meet and talk informally is an absolute necessity in a school. I assumed it was common in schools. We have large white boards in our staff room where administrators and staff post daily information, requests, notifications, etc. Everybody checks this board. We also have a revolving two month white board calendar where we post daily events, PD days, etc. We have PLC meetings built into the time-table and we are able to schedule large group PLC meetings during the school day (we have other staff provide coverage to free up teachers). There are many ways to enhance communication but it is vital. I like the idea of promoting “deep collegiality”. To me, this means caring, professional conversation and collaboration.

    Posted by Laura Vilness | March 13, 2011, 12:15 pm

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