Sean Slade

Classrooms or Communities? Or Both?

A piece I wrote for the Washington Post last week got a fair bit of feedback. It was a summary of thoughts around a comment made at the recent Bullying Prevention Summit in Washington, D.C., and concerned a phrase used by one of the presenters, who described classrooms as a "community of 30." As I wrote in the article, the concept is not too remarkable...except when you consider the implications.

"Community of 30" is the idea that the school—and, more so, the classroom—is a place where students learn cognitively as well as socially and emotionally. Children are there to learn not only how to read, write, add, and subtract, but also how to work together as a group, a team, and a community.

We already have the structures and settings to guide this. Children test out behaviors in the home, typically a safe and finite environment to grow and practice social interactions. Interactions take place between a regulated number of people—immediate family, then extended family, friends, and neighbors—and around a fairly fixed set of issues.

In my thinking, if schools and classrooms are geared to be places where we not only learn skills and content, but also places where we learn to socialize, cooperate, collaborate, and work as a community, then surely we should be making a more overt effort to do this. Basically, if socialization is key to student growth and if we have environments designed to foster its growth, and if a lack of socialization skills can have detrimental effects on another key aspect of the school environment—cognitive development—then why don't we do a better job of articulating this?

At least, as Dr. Rodkin stated, it should be necessary for every teacher to understand what "this society of children is like at your very own school."

What do you think? Read the article and feel free to post a comment.

Comments (5)

Katherine Wanslee MA.Ed Behavior Consultant

August 31, 2010

Creating a community of learners in the classroom and throughout a campus embraces the concept that all learners are valued and those idividual learners’ needs can be vastly different. So different that the definition of fair cannot be equal, but rather what each learner needs to learn socially, academically, and emotionally.
Knowing that all learners do not perceive, store, and retrieve information in the same manner provides us educators the opportunity to design differentiated approaches to curriculum design and delivery; and thus demonstrate respect and recognize that the whole child’s needs must be addressed. Establishing a culture in the classroom that goes beyond tolerance to acceptance of each learners’ background and culture allows the group to interact with trust. Trust supports bonding. Bonding creates partnerships. Partnerships create community. 
The sense of belonging and being valued for one’s talents, beliefs, and characteristics invites learners to take risks and thus associate the process of doing a task with achievement. The sense of community encourages collective effort for the good of all while motivating the individual with pride of contributing through personal gain. An empowering culture of community in the classroom is built on a win-win philosopy.
In this exchange of contributions, members recognize all learners (including themselves) have the right to be a viable member of the community.
Inclusion is the attitude put into action that all learners belong, all learners need innovative approaches to learning, and each learner (and educator) is personnally responsible for the community’s success.

Charlotte Bridges

September 1, 2010

I work as an ESL assistant in a public K - 2 school. I see the challenges with covering all the important concepts and also the well being of the child. TIME is the one thing that seems to loom in the distance. I think that the wonderful things we do for the children are ...well…wonderful… in many of our schools but when you look at the whole picture of services the children are pulled out to and the struggle to cover it all, and then some recess hopefully, it is really taking its toll on staff and students nationally. There must be some way the pressure can be taken off. Learning under pressure is not a good idea. I agree with the previous comment that children have different needs and talents. I think the pace of our day in schools today is the main concern not so much the standards to which we teach or the testing. Catering to children’s individual needs requires flexibility. Flexibility - more so than attitude - needs time. If a teacher had the freedom within the day or the week to map out their day according to the objectives of that period and did not have to coordinate with specials and other services I think a skilled teacher could find a balance that benefited the students. Perhaps math needs to be two hours with a break one day? Perhaps writing needs to be a theme day one day of hands on activities and writing and reading. I realize that logistically this is hard. But when I look at the schedules we create considering main subjects, special services, ESL services, speech, specials, learning support, Occupational therapy and special events to mention some, we sure have solved logistics puzzles in the past.

I really think the pace and the minimal recess and outdoors time is not in the interest of “the whole child” and I wish there was a way to solve that dilemma with the demand on high quality education today. Not a misguided directive but one that will need to be handled with creativity and honesty and with the whole picture in mind. I also think that teachers could really teach and be highly qualified to do so if they had the chance to - within the guidelines of the state and school - shape their time more. I also think administrators would welcome the ownership of their classrooms this would bring to staff. Para professionals are also wonderful assets in this dilemma. Using their expertise and passion can help the time dilemma change into a more relaxed environment. I think valuing these professionals more and considering the training they complete every year would be valuable to any school district. I think that if we have situations where we could take some schools from traditional spring/fall to whole year education ( a major feat for good and bad) with breaks in between, we could certainly change the flow in our schedules and create ways that learning is more about the logical way to introduce a topic rather than chopping it up in pieces through out the day. I would love to hear thoughts on that.

ASCD Inservice: In Case You Missed It « Pare

September 3, 2010

[...] Healthy School Communities Director Sean Slade expands on his article in the Washington Post on whether the classroom is a “community of [...]

Kenni Smith

September 3, 2010

Great post and great comments. (The Answer Sheet piece was great, too.)
I couldn’t agree with you more, Mr. Slade. I want to call particular attention to this sentence, which tripped me up in both pieces:

“We already have the structures and settings to guide this. Children test out behaviors in the home, typically a safe and finite environment to grow and practice social interactions.”

I want it to remain in the forefront of people’s minds that for many of the most at-risk children, home is absolutely NOT “a safe and finite environment to grow and practice social interactions.” That fact only strengthens the argument for weaving social and emotional learning into the very fabric of education. For some children, school is quite literally the only hope for socialization.

I can hear it now… the responding conservative sound bite: “Schools shouldn’t be raising children, parents should!”

Well, sure, that would be great, wouldn’t it? But until that magical day when all parents are involved, available, and themselves educated, shall we throw the children of those who aren’t out with the trash?  If we do that, we pay dearly for our own inhumanity.

(For starters, perhaps “fiscal conservatives” should take a closer look at the cost to taxpayers—not to mention the cost to society—of our penal system…)

Kenni Smith
Developmental Studies Center


September 10, 2010

The myth of a single-age classroom as an effective piece of socialization is just that: a myth.  When we work in the real world, we work with all ages, all races and sexual orientations, all religions, etc.  Our schools are increasingly segregated by race and socio-economic status.  The point about many students not having the social support in the home is a good one, but it remains the same story in many schools, too.

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