By: Delana S
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I struggled while forming my thoughts for this article, whether to write it in true journal fashion (omitting first person), or to share my thoughts as if sitting across the table with you as you enjoy your morning tea or coffee. As you can see, the latter won. Not one of you is likely to ask me, “Why do we need a healthy family?” Nor is anyone likely to desire an unhealthy learning environment for their kids. So, you may be wondering why the need for an article on healthy families, healthy learning environments, and healthy workplaces. A few years ago I read a book on classroom management, and in the first chapter the phrase “a community of learners” leapt off the page. As I continued to read Mr. Burden’s assessment of a learning community, I began not only to think of our homes and our home schooling, but also how the same principles make for a healthy workplace. I am certain you will make some of the same connections I did.
What is a learning community? Paul Burden in Classroom Management: Creating a Successful K-12 Learning Community (Wiley 2006) explains that a learning community is a place created to help students “feel safe, respected, and valued in order to learn new skills.” He goes on to express that students who feel afraid, anxious, or uncomfortable are not likely to learn: those things make the learning and teaching process difficult. He emphasizes that community building should be made a high priority so that students feel “welcome, appreciated, and valued.” (Burden p. 2). I had to ask myself, “What am I doing as a mom/teacher to create this kind of community for my children?” I also thought greatly about coworkers, wondering if I was providing a healthy community in which they could learn, work, and thrive.
Burden quotes Sapon-Shevin from the book Because We Can Change the World (1999) as identifying five characteristics of learning communities. They are: security, open communication, mutual liking, shared goals or objectives, and connectedness and trust. Burden describes security as a place where you feel safe to be yourself, a nurturing and non-disruptive atmosphere. You feel comfortable in taking risks and asking for help, and you know that others will rejoice with you in your accomplishments. Open communication in the learning community means the encouragement of oral, written, artistic, and nonverbal communication. Students (family or coworkers, too) feel that they can “share freely what is happening, what they need, and what they are worried about.” (Burden p. 3).
While the phrase “mutual liking” may sound reminiscent of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, it means that students are encouraged to get to know and like others, as well as being provided strategies for learning to recognize good things about others and how to express those things. There is a family I know that practices something quite similar to this, and what their children did really blessed me. A couple of children came to my house for a birthday party and shared a birthday tradition they have in their home. Everyone goes around the table saying something that they like about the birthday person. It was so encouraging and uplifting to hear a child share this idea and see other children jump in to participate in blessing my son in this way. Talk about a great strategy to teach your children! I think there are probably a few work relationships out there that could benefit from implementing this strategy. So often we go through our lives being jealous over someone else’s gifting, or judgmental over their faults, that we don’t take the time to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). Maybe over dinner tonight we can encourage our family members to do this for one another. Why wait for a birthday to have a celebration of encouragement!
Shared goals and objectives tie a community of learners together in a cooperative effort. Consider having some “class” projects that your whole family works on together. Each family member (including mom and dad) has objectives to accomplish to meet a shared goal in a class project. Everyone completes his or her part of the project, then comes together to complete the assignment. Adults, older students, and younger students would all have something to offer. Finally, a learning community needs to be made up of individuals who “feel a part of the whole.” Your children or students (and your co-workers) need to know that they are needed and that their contribution is valued. They also need to know that you and others depend on them to complete their work and complete it well. Being connected and trusting one another means that we feel free to share all things, good and bad, as well as questions, worries, problems, fears, or other things that might arise.
In addition to the five characteristics of learning communities, Burden states that teachers need to involve students in activities that require them to have face-to-face interaction, interdependence, and accountability. I believe that many home school families do this very well as they interact together as a family. He also states the need to be effective classroom managers through guiding and correcting behavior and arranging the physical environment to be conducive to the characteristics we are trying to attain in our learning community. Discipline and classroom management is a topic all to itself.
Talk with your family and discuss what your community of learning looks like, how it can be improved, and what objectives you have for improving the community of learning around you. It has been said that we are life-long learners and that we are to enter our communities and relationships as learners. No better place to start building a community of learning than in our own homes (and workplaces). Then, as we go out into our neighborhood communities, we take our community of learning with us.