One of the essential parts of establishing a classroom learning community is holding Community Group time. This is a time each morning and at the end of the day, when the classroom family meets to discuss goals for the day, issues that have arisen as a classroom community, areas that students could be supported, and of course celebrations! Gibbs clearly outlines how to establish these meetings, the procedures necessary to develop protocols for holding students accountable and ideas of how to firmly establish Community Group as part of the classroom routine.
I knew that I had firmly established a caring classroom community when one morning in one of my second grade classes, a student, during our Community Group time shared with us that her parents had announced the night before they were getting a divorce. I was speechless and in shock that this little one would share such an intimate detail of her life. I didn't need to do or say anything. The children instantly rallied around her and had words of encouragement and empathy and questions that out of the mouth of young ones were appropriate, but not something I would have ever asked in front of a group. As a classroom family, we showed that we cared for one another, we had learned empathy, and we could trust each other. Community Group time let us know the emotional state of each classroom member each morning so we knew how to help, respond and tend to the emotional needs of each member.
As the principal of a large elementary with over 80 staff members, the ability for me to intimately know what each staff members’ emotional “story” carried into school each day was difficult. I ensured on a daily basis that I had touched base with each person at least with an informal hi or hello or check-in. Each night, I would review my school family member list to discover who I may have missed to ensure the next day I made a personal contact. Often these brief discussions would lead to revelations of celebration or concern. I got the benefit of learning about the emotional “stories” of my staff, but it didn't allow for others in our school family to share in the successes and trials and tribulations that those who served the children were feeling.
In order to make this large community more intimate, at every staff meeting, I always took time for celebrations. This was my version of a Community Group with adults, where school family members could share life celebrations, worries, student successes, etc. Knowing the “stories” that people were carrying around inside made all of us more aware of each others struggles, helped us be more empathetic and caring and developed and nurtured a feeling of family with each other. Yes, members shared the birth of grandbabies, weddings of kids, graduations, and student achievement in classrooms, but death experiences were shared, separations, and illnesses. We intimately shared our life stories in order to support one another, love one another, nurture and care for one another.
This summer at the MEMSPA Summer Leadership Institute, Dr. Nancy Colflesh at a session on Developing Professional Learning Communities shared a protocol on Sharing Small Success Stories. The protocol establishes opportunities to share small successes in a collaborative fashion in a public way, which encourages people to “Share Their Story!” As a leader, you can frame this however you want by giving thinking topics and/or framing the conversation before hand. Nancy gives outstanding follow up questions that focus the sharing on the learning and impact on the participant. You can find the Sharing Small Success Stories Protocol at the end of this article.
How can you ensure that you are building a school learning community that cares for one another, shows empathy, is collaborative, and that allows for the emotional “story” that each person carries around to be shared and attended to?
- Buy Gibbs book and model some of the classroom learning community strategies with your staff
- Ensure that you connect emotionally with your staff and find out each person's “story” as often as possible
- Ensure that you are showing empathy through understanding by listening and sharing your own story through your weekly memo or at staff meetings.
- Implement sharing stories through the use of the Success Stories protocol
- What other ideas have you implemented to build a strong school learning community? Let me know, and I will share with other members.
Tip of the week:
One of the fun ways to build community with each other as a school family is to establish personality strengths or types within the school culture. You may have used right brain/left brain tests, Myers-Briggs type tests or finding out the colors of your staff. All of these personality tests help us to learn more about each other, what we bring to school each day, how we are different, and how we can learn to work and play together even better.
One of my favorite personality activities is based on Dr. Gary Smalley's animal personality protocol Are you a Lion, Beaver, Otter, or Golden Retriever? The test is simple to implement and the one included is based from his book Making Love Last Forever, Ch. 10: Understanding Personality Types: A Key to Lovability.
Make copies of the attached test and personality information sheets for all staff members. At a meeting, give them the inventory and have them fill it out according to the directions and score it. Then have them determine which animal they are most like. Many in the group may be Beaver-Retrievers or Otter-Lions, etc. Have some fun with this and have the animal type personality's meet up with each other and/or have them stand up and show which personality trait they most fall into. You will be surprised as many staff members will say, “Yeah, I knew you were an otter” or “You are definitely a beaver!” You can take pictures of the different animal personality type groups and post them in the staff lounge, etc.
You will hear from those on staff for a long time about who their otter and beaver friends are! Just for the record, I am definitely an Otter with some strong Lion and Golden Retriever. Thank goodness, my assistant was a solid Beaver and could ensure that all of the t's were crossed and the i's dotted! She kept me on task! To this day, she refers to herself as my BFF(Beaver Friend Forever!). Until next time, happy trails to you!