This article also appears on HeathMorrisonSuperintendent.org.
School communities exist to meet the emotional, psychological, and physical needs of every stakeholder in education. Students, educators, and families coexist and form school communities to address these groups’ diverse needs and expectations. Leaders in education, whether they are administrators, superintendents, or policy-makers, must nurture and support these communities to disseminate wisdom, encourage healthy habits, and promote success.
The Importance of Community for Students
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory that categorizes human needs into an organized hierarchy. The pyramid model places basic physiological and safety requirements at the bottom, respectively. Next come the psychological needs of belongingness and love and esteem. Finally, at the top is self-actualization—“achieving one’s full potential.”
The goal of any school is to help students find success and happiness in both academics and extracurricular activities. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs should serve as a model not just for individual personal growth, but also for the growth of a school community.
Dr. Anthony Kline, a Dean and Associate Professor at Trine University, highlights the overlap of the Hierarchy of Needs and the overarching needs of students. The process guides students towards self-actualization includes provisions of water, nutritious snacks, and opportunities for stress-relief. Additionally, it involves building a safe, welcoming environment with bully-less hallways and open dialogue.
Building a supportive environment and emphasizing values like kindness, generosity, and integrity is, in essence, building a community.
How to Build a School Community
Once a leader has worked to develop a shared vision for an education community, it’s time to work towards it. Much like employees at a large corporation, students and staff in a large school district benefit from rallying behind values and ideals. Schools strive to not only meet the academic needs of students but truly prepare them to become productive members of the community. Weaving aspirations and qualities within the framework of a school or curriculum exposes students to those ideals in organic ways, not just as buzzwords.
Leaders should keep in mind that students will look to them. If students do not see their teachers and administrators practicing those values, why should they? Educational communities require a culture of mutual respect, which allows students to voice discomfort and vulnerability without fear of judgment. Educators must lead by example and serve as role models.
School Community Leadership
Every community requires a leader, especially in education. Still, it can be difficult for a superintendent to feel connected to a classroom-based community. After all, administrators can’t be in all classrooms at once every day. Building and maintaining this community is a full-time job for administrators, requiring active listening and communication. It requires grassroots-style outreach. Most importantly, it requires passion. Transforming a school district into a community is a process without an endpoint—it’s a constant and consistent process, but it is invaluable.