UKEdMag: Bringing the community into school…by @JMcKay1972

What is a community?

Ventures which I have previously led on are, hosting informal Parental Workshops. These being curriculum based learning sessions for families that were requested as a result of parent questionnaires. Several parents highlighted gaps in their own education and misconceptions about historical teaching methods that didn’t articulate with the creativity of today’s 21st century classrooms. More recently I have been set with the challenge in leading a group of curious practitioners in an initiative known as Developing the Young Workforce. Although at an early stage this project aims to make valuable workplace connections with a vision of building capacity and sustaining employment and training opportunities for tomorrow’s young workforce. It will also act as a vehicle that will hopefully emphasise the need for basic academic qualifications and be the drive in raising attainment within Bannockburn Primary and the wider Stirling Council Authority.

A ‘successful’ community surely must start with education? Education as the holistic view in developing and understanding the multi-disciplinary approaches required in promoting inclusion, citizenship and social justice. Relationships between individuals on a local, regional and global level must be principles that underpin the education driven by human actions in valuing life through diversity.

Citizenship, although politically contested, identifies traits of the notions of a well-behaved society member and the call of social movement; the ethical and moral judgements that we regard as doing ‘the right thing’ (integrity), to make the world a better place. Currently, schools support developments in sustaining citizenship and encourage learners to become actively involved in governing citizenship programmes of learning and promote participation in community-based caring activities and charitable work. In my opinion this emphasises their ‘membership’ of the community and the importance of pursuing individual interests and injecting values to help define personal identity.

An area of citizenship that has arisen in my thought process whilst planning this piece of work was the issue of Fundamentalism; multiple identities and communities. Working and living in a world of adversity, it is of utmost importance to recognise religion and its assertion of moral importance within the community. Fundamentalism had adverse effects on community involvement and employed structures of law attempt censorship and control over the benefits of citizenship. Castells,1997 claimed ‘contemporary fundamentalism is a response to the issues of identity raised by globalisation’. His studies detail ‘the perceived need for social actors for clear identities and behavioural guidelines in a world of rapid social change’. Identities therefore can be seen in this case as being paired up with social behaviour and roles that are dictated by higher authority thus suppressing the opportunity for mutual engagement in community activity.

Many writers argue that identities are enforced and a deeper moral understanding of local and global identity needs to be investigated and concepts of citizenship and community are recognised.

Our role as educators in driving community-school initiatives stems from an increased interest in community involvement. Family learning and the impact of involving community groups in raising attainment has influenced positive links and successful home-learning environments. Effective family practices when married alongside school research and partnerships, inevitably creates an inclusive environment that enhances learning but also provides the necessary skills to allow every child to realise their potential in the ‘real world’.

Responding to diversity in our learners, staff, parents and partners inclusively is a very daunting aspect for any teacher but by being careful in addressing traditional assumptions about learning developments in community-based initiatives can promote collaboration, engage learners and support teachers’ critical judgements. By building community partnerships many educational establishments struggle to maintain meaningful relationships. This is possibly a result of lack of knowledge and awareness of where the community is? Who they are? What are the parent’s values and beliefs? And equally important, do schools know what the communities’ interests are? Part of my Working Party’s remit is to ensure that I and colleagues are able to identify these fore-mentioned questions in our desire to be ‘successful’. I am aware that as a school, vital relationships and sustained partnership links within the community have been established and are loyal and supportive of the developments in bringing the community into the school. Success in this area will ensure partners work collaboratively not contentiously, to increase and continue to improve positive interactions.

‘Hard to reach parents’…

Despite there being an obvious, if not increasing interest in community involvement within my existing school, examining ways to maintain this lies solely in the motivation in ensuring connections and opportunities are available to all. Three predominant areas that are corner-stoned by community involvement are; increasing learner success (academic and personal), supporting developments and enhancing school quality and standards of learning and teaching opportunities. Activities should reflect the motivation required for all three areas led effectively of course by a highly motivated leadership team. Today fighting austerity highlights a schools’ desire to be successful but more often than not, leaders find themselves caught between the proverbial ‘rock and hard place’. Accountability for learning within an inclusive school environment versus budget cuts promotes the importance of community involvement.

‘Hard to reach’ parents is an ongoing concern for school leaders and the first underlying question that should be clarified is; Is it ‘hard to reach parents’ or hard to reach schools? The term ‘hard to reach parents’ as discussed by Crozier & Davies, 2005 claimed this phrase was used in reference to parents who are ‘socially excluded’ (ref previous section on fundamentalism). In their work, parents were described as ‘impenetrable’ by teachers. Parents responded by claiming they knew very little about the education system resulting in them feeling alienated and uninvolved in the school community. Cultural differences were the reasons why these parents were labelled as ‘hard to reach’ but in reality the notion of this placed all blame on them for non-conforming. In a modern, pro-active school cultural interference would be prescribed by school policy and a framework for social inclusion implemented. With reference to the phrase ‘hard to reach’, a question that lies to the forefront of my involvement in developing community partnerships would be firstly, not questioning what barriers are present that initiate non-engagement but more with the onus on the school by investigating…. Why are we hard to reach?

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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