Community Building as an Essential Foundation of Development

Posted by Serina Isch on 09/10/2018

Even though every student at Keystone has an individualized learning plan, everything that we do is designed with community building in mind. We care for the animals together, sing together, learn together, eat together, play together, build and tinker together, create art together, garden together, clean and care for the building together, deliberate together, make decisions together, and resolve conflicts together. As Kahne and Westheimer point out, this sense of community is crucial to democratic action. “Students need to know that civic engagement is not an individual, private endeavor. Indeed, if we say that the goal for civic educators is to ‘teach every student good citizenship,’ we risk implying that ‘good and effective’ citizenship is derived exclusively from personal attributes rather than enabled and shaped through interactions and connections among individuals within a community” (Kahne and Westheimer, 2004, p.63). Facilitating this all-encompassing type of community is truly the most challenging yet one of the most wonderful, rewarding, and important things to participate in as a teacher at Keystone.

Truly practicing as a community together is filled with authentic conflict that provides many learning opportunities. Not everyone participates in the same level or to the same degree or with the same background. Navigating and negotiating and dealing with these differences every day is absolutely the most fertile ground for learning and growth that I have ever seen. By walking through experiences together, students learn more about themselves and about tolerance for others. They learn how to band together and use each other’s strengths to accomplish a task. They learn to think critically and problem-solve in an amazing way. As Dewey points out, “a democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience” (1916, p.95). However, this process is not easy! Students are able to engage often times with lots of support from the team of faculty in the building. The faculty are trained and work daily to hand problems back to students in a loving way and to help, through a process of questioning, facilitate student thinking as they work to find solutions to their conflicts. It is definitely not a black and white process; there is plenty of room for complex, messy gray areas. In community, students also develop a sense of empathy for others. It is amazing to see this social/emotional growth happen through communal action.

As Ashoka fellow Mary Gordon stated, “you can’t teach empathy; you unleash it” (2014). That unleashing process happens as students engage in and experience community and, importantly, engage and play with each other. As Plato says, “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Playing together is one of the most powerful ways to build community and, in turn, empathy. Therefore, at Keystone, play is a vital part of our everyday experience; play is serious business. Through communal action, we foster and build community every day and, therefore, encourage democratic action.

Kahne, Joseph and Joel Westheimer. Teaching Politics: What Schools Need to Do. Phi Delta Kappa, Sept. 2003, pp. 34-40, 57-67.

1 Comment

BOK350 Says:
September 9th, 2014 at 6:52 am
Great post. Makes so much sense. We feel so blessed to have found Keystone!
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