Thursday, October 30, 2008

Community Cohesion

Having missed August (because I was on holiday) and September (because I was run off my feet - although that's no excuse). I thought I'd better get an entry in before October finishes.

This month I have been mainly thinking about community cohesion. It's a new buzz phrase. It's statutory. Ofsted will be checking for it. So what is it?

Well for me it's the cildren, parents, teachers and everyone else in school working well together. It's all of us involved with school getting hold of a notion that we need to be 'community' to give our children a chance of being responsible citizens in the future.

We already do many things that make us community, such as the charity days throughout the year and performances. Last year in particular, we had a marvellous 70th anniversary celebration with over 300 parents and other adults from the community in attendance.

One of the outcomes of the change school programme will be that we will become a better learning community. I can write this confidently because I can see it in-built into the way the programme works. However the question will be how long-lasting will the change be? And Who's community will it become?

COMMUNITY COHESION - but it won't last...
The temptation for a teacher is to be in control. We have our own ideas about what the community should be and we'll move the children and hopefully the parents to that point by sheer effort and will power if we need to. My temptation is to have all the answers and all the ideas. Then three years from now we may have achieved our goals but they will fall apart quickly, especially if I (as CP co-ordinator) should leave.

COMMUNITY COHESION - the long-lasting solution
So if I'm not going to be in control, who is? The changes we make to our community will be more long-lasting if all members of the community have the ideas about what the changes should be. That's sounds obvious doesn't it? Everyone should be involved in the changes that affect them. The consequence of not feeling involved is that you lose your resposnibility over the changes and you don't need to learn from them - hence the amount of learning is reduced. That's sounds bad for a school, which is supposed to be about learning.

So here's our model:

  1. We ask a small group of children a question - what is Paganel? (Paganel, by the way is the name of our school).
  2. We support them to answer the question.
  3. They present the answers to a wider group of children and parents.
  4. The wider group of children and parents are asked the same question.
  5. We support the wider group to answer the question.
  6. They present their answers.
  7. We all ask the question: What should Paganel be?

My hope is that over time 'we' and 'they' would become 'us'.

We've actually started the above process. On Friday 3rd October the School Council (representing year groups from 2 to 6) visited Stan's Cafe's "Of All the People in the World" Exhibition. If you've not heard of it, this shows the scale of various populations around the planet by using piles of rice. Doesn't sound very impressive does it, but it is actually quite awe-inspiring when you're there.

We followed that up with a workship asking the question "What is Paganel?" through the medium of showing the scale of things - however we didn't just use rice - we used jelly babies, peas, sweetcorn, raisins, marshmellows, etc. - What was pleasing is that the children came up with those suggestions and even better, came up with the suggestions of what categories we could use to represent the school and show it in context - including areas, such as 'how we travel to school', 'who's been on a plane' and the like. You can see some of the pictures from that workshop here.

Next the school council is planning a more formal exhibition for a wider group of parents and children from the 10th-14th November, but you'll have to wait for my next entry to see that.

Here are some of the tricky question for the future... I've posed some and given the best answer I have at this current time.

What if we don't like some of the ideas the children and parents have? While I don't think we should have all the answers, nor force our ideas on the community, I do think that is our role to lead the community in matters around learning - hence we shouild probably expect to provide around 80% of the ideas and answers. This means that we need to have these ideas and answers already. That's a bit scary.

Will this impact standards? YES! We have identified that the biggest barrier to raising standards in our school is a lack of independent learning. Giving children and parents ownership of the learning can only increase the level of independence and therefore raise standards.

Isn't the temptation going to be to concentrate on the arty stuff and forget the basics of learning? NO! Standards is the first priority of the school development plan. Change is a complex process and we cannot expect just to throw this project at our school and for it to sort all our problems out - we need to keep all our good practice AND still make these changes.

How can we measure whether our community cohesion has increased? Hmm. Good question. I'm going to have athink about that - not entirely sure how you can baseline community cohesion...

If anyone has any better answers, or more importantly or better questions, do make a comment below...