Leading a community

July 4 was National Leadership Day. I’ve been thinking a lot about NECC, and about leadership, and what qualities I think are most important in a leader. Though frankly, I’d like to expand the definition of leader to include all of us, because every person on a campus can provide some sort of leadership for others.

But something that both Ken Pruitt and Michael Curtin said at NECC Unplugged has stuck with me all week. They spoke about different topics, but both of them talked about the importance of building a sense of community for teachers.

And although I believe that a community is something that grows “naturally” so to speak, I think one of the most important things a leader can do is to put teachers into community with one another.  And students feel it if a building is just a building or if it is a real community that envelops them with care and nurturing.

One sense I picked up on at NECC was this sense of isolation that many of my colleagues, flung across the globe, sometimes feel. I heard a few people comment (and I’ve said myself in the past)–  that people via my learning network often know what I’m doing and what I’m passionate about and value it more than my own community that I work with daily. I think all of us have felt that way at some point in our careers.

Yet we can each be leaders in terms of bringing other teachers into community. Don’t we learn so much by talking to one another? Even if we are just one voice in a building, don’t we have a leadership role in opening a community door to others and inviting them in, and just listening and talking about our passions? Maybe we are good at technology and our neighbor isn’t all that interested–but don’t they have a passion for their subject or for teaching or for some aspect of what they do that we can learn from?

Michael Curtin talked about providing trainings that don’t just rely on one “trainer” but that put the teachers into conversation with one another–so that they learn from one another and help one another along, creating an ensemble of teachers, as I wrote about doing in our classrooms a few weeks ago.

Ken Pruitt spoke about creating a wiki space that was also a community–with roles for students or teachers, like “greeters” and “social committees” and “star of the week” committees, etc., so that not only was the site informational, but that it felt like a social space that people would want to visit.

Individual teachers can create a sense of community and leadership just by their own efforts as in these examples.

I also think school leadership has a tremendous role in building this sense of community. And it isn’t necessarily built by activities or organized events, but by providing time for teachers to work together on common goals, to sit side by side and build things together, and time to talk, read, and share. In our haste to meet AYP or test scores, or get grades done or whatever needs to happen–teachers need that time built in to build a learning community, whether formal or informal, whether departmental or across the school. In fact, I think it’s important that it happen across the school and not just across a grade level team or department, because it’s easy for us to get divided into our own little “fiefdoms” so to speak.

When I was sitting in a session by Chris Lehmann at NECC, his vision for his campus at SLA was clear and it was also very clear that it involved lots of talking and hashing things out as a faculty. Barbara Barreda, another principal who was sitting next to me turned to me and said, ‘Leadership is so important in making this happen.’

She’s so right. My challenge to you today is to recognize the way you are each leaders and bring that to your own campus. Reach out to the person next door. Find a common ground. Open your doors and find a connection and way to bring others in.

And my challenge to leaders is to bring your teachers into a community–a community filled with talk and learning. Provide teachers with the atmosphere, the space, and the time to make that happen. Put them side by side in situations where they can learn from each other, and then stand back a little bit and let that grow.  Bring teachers together into democratic communities and set them free. See what happens.

5 thoughts on “Leading a community

  1. Amen. This is so right on, Carolyn. I especially agree with the idea that it isn’t about just relying on teachers to train each other. It really is about building community within the system. Our teachers just don’t spend enough time talking about our profession.

    Sure, we talk about issues in the campus or the latest gossip in the halls. Some even talk about students but how often do teachers talk about the profession itself. I think that within the conversations, the community is built and the sharing and training becomes more personal.

    It helps to break the school out being a collection of one-room school houses and into a shared vision and community.

  2. Carolyn – I’m so glad to see you posting this as a suggestion to other educators. Getting our colleagues to talk about our profession (and not complain about it) has proven to be quite a challenge for me. Those not involved in a PLN or some type of social network seem to disconnect once they leave the school building. I would think they would want to relieve the feeling of isolation by increasing the lines of communication.

  3. It’s interesting that people feel isolated even in this wired world. There may be more room for connections, but there is still a vacuum of sorts for folks on the edge of exploration.
    So, I agree that the leadership at the top is critical.
    Take care

  4. Carolyn,

    Sounds like you are describing a Critical Friends Group (which is how I often think about my own online PLN). CFGs can be powerful for changing the culture of a school if campus leaders promote/nurture their development. However, even without official school administrative support, teachers can create their own CFG to transform their practice and the culture of their classrooms.


  5. It’s so true. It’s so easy to build a community naturally, but it also takes a conscious effort on the part of the teacher to be the mediator between those who feel like non-members of the community, and to firstly create the kind of environment a community thrives upon. The environment is open, welcoming, unbiased, and really free of any judgment, because it allows teachers and learners (whether those be the teachers teaching or teachers learning, and likewise for students) to get the opportunity to be expressive and an asset to the community.

    I like this CFG idea. I’ve never heard of it before. So, is it an online forum for teachers and students? Could students use it for peer evaluations on papers, from an unbiased evaluator? Could they have an online mentor?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *