Community is Needed in Classrooms


If I’ve stressed anything in all my writings on Never What You Think, it’s that community is important to life.  It helps us get our heads out of ourselves and recognize that there are others in this world.  It helps us recognize that our individual actions affect a greater body.  All in all, it just makes us better people.

This is no different in education.

Community Spreads the Learning

In his book Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge, author Kenneth Brufee argues that learning is interdependent—we learn through the sharing of ideas.  In essence, this makes sense.  For example, if you didn’t know that community and learning are intertwined, by reading this blog, you have partaken in the sharing of ideas.  I had an idea, and I share it to you.  This happens in classrooms already: a teacher has an idea, and s/he shares it to the students.  However, not all students learn immediately after instruction.  The next line of teachers, then, are the students.  It happens all the time.

Jimmy missed out why a2+b2=c2 due to any reason.  What does he do?  He leans over to Kiana sitting next to him, asking her to recap what was just learned.  From there, Jimmy has a good idea of what’s going on and jumps back on the learning train.

However, Kiana will only help Jimmy (or anyone else for that matter) if she gives two craps about him.  She will only help him out if she’s empathetic towards him.  She will only help him if there is a sense of community within the class.


Acceptance is Improvement to Performance

In 1943, Dr. Abraham Maslow proposed a system portraying the connection between needs and human curiosity.  As seen in the image above, all persons need physiological needs to be met.  Essentially, in order to survive, humans need food and water to sustain themselves.  They will care not about any other need above that baseline (e.g., safety, love, etc.) until that need is met.  Once they obtain that need, the individual will search for safety (e.g., shelter) and will not care about anything else until it is found.  This pattern follows all the way up to the top of the pyramid.

Taking this idea into education, students will not care about higher learning until certain needs are met.  For example, Jimmy will not care that a2+b2=c2 until he feels safe—in general.  If issues are going on at home, Jimmy’s mind will be there, not in the Pythagorean theorem.  If students are bullying Jimmy, his mind will be there, not in solving triangles.

While the teacher might not be able to solve issues at home, s/he can solve the issues in the classroom.  How?  By creating a caring community!  If students cared for one another in the classroom, walls will be brought down and students can support one another in issues beyond the material.

Belongingness is Vital for Development

To belong goes beyond just learning material.  In his article “Psychological Needs and Facilitation of Integrative Processes,” Dr. Richard Ryan says that to belong is one of three psychological needs.  In order to properly develop, a student must feel competent in his/her skills, not be codependent upon others, and have the ability to relate and connect with one another.  If these needs are not met, they will be underdeveloped as they enter their mature years.  While state boards may disagree, if school is about anything, it’s more than learning academic knowledge.  It’s more than creating professionals for the workforce.  It’s about fostering people into better humans.

So if community is important in a classroom and we’ve seen articles on this since the 80s, why do we still see learning environments that look like Ferris Bueller’s history class?  In her article “Students’ Need for Belonging in the School Community,” Dr. Karen Osterman says that our current education is too institutionalized.  The education system rarely pays attention to the socioemotional needs of students as “academic accomplishment is the main priority.”  They justify their actions by saying that socioemotional needs should be met at home or outside class, not in school—that mastery of learning is more important than belonging.

But as already mentioned, that’s fiddlesticks.  Belonging allows students to focus less on their personal issues and more on the empathy of others.  Only then can learning not just occur but truly flourish throughout all students.

About Jonathan Seligman

Jon is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of NWYT. While his main profession is in education/music/history, he has a deep passion for philosophy, theology, ice cream, and everything else that life has to offer. See All of Jon’s Posts

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