The Benefits of Building a Strong Sense of Community
St Mary’s College spends a lot of time and energy on building and maintaining community. This happens in many ways, for example our tutor group system is designed to link girls from Years 7 to 12 in small communities of 16 or 17 students in the same House. We do this by gathering for House Pastoral Care sessions, House Assemblies and House Choirs, with each of these activities focusing on building community. Nothing we do happens by accident, we continually look at how these groupings have or could impact on building and deepening a sense of belonging across the College.
You see, belonging is a basic psychological need. We all need to feel physically and emotionally safe, we need to have close, supportive relationships and we need to feel that we are connected. We also need to feel that we have a say in what happens to us and we need to be allowed to develop a sense of competence - a belief that we are capable and able to learn. In short we need to feel a sense of belongingness.These fundamental needs shape human motivation and have major implications for learning and development. People are willing to work very hard to preserve their sense of safety, belonging, autonomy, and competence.
We also bond with people and places that help us satisfy these needs. That is why the creation of caring, inclusive, participatory communities for our students is really important. When a school meets students' basic psychological needs, students become increasingly committed to the school's values, and goals. By having students committed to maintaining a sense of community, schools almost intuitively begin to provide opportunities for students to learn skills and develop habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.
A growing body of research confirms the benefits of building a sense of community in schools. Students in schools with a strong sense of community are more likely to be academically motivated, to act ethically and selflessly, to develop social and emotional competencies and to avoid problem behaviours. These benefits are often long lasting with the positive effects of community building programs potentially persisting throughout a student’s high school years. There are also educational benefits, with studies showing that schools with a strong sense of community have been shown to have significantly higher academic outcomes, higher academic motivation, significant improvements in behaviour and better developed social skills.
So how do we build an even stronger community at St Mary’s? There are four key strategies that enhance community and build strong and respectful relationships. They include:
- Actively cultivating respectful, supportive relationships between students, teachers, and parents. Supportive relationships are at the heart of community. They enable students from different backgrounds to bring their personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences into the classroom. Supportive relationships help parents, especially those who would otherwise feel vulnerable or uncomfortable, take active roles in the school and in their children's education.
- Emphasising common purposes and ideals. Along with academic achievement, schools with a strong sense of community stress the development of qualities essential to good character and citizenship, such as fairness, concern for others, and personal responsibility. Everyone shares an understanding of the school's values, which then shape daily interactions.
- Providing regular opportunities for service and cooperation. Students learn the skills of collaboration, develop wider and richer relationships, and experience the many satisfactions of contributing to the welfare of others.
- Providing developmentally appropriate opportunities for autonomy and influence. Having a say in establishing the agenda and climate for the classroom is intrinsically satisfying and helps prepare students for the complexities of citizenship in a democracy.
As can be seen we are well on our way in a number of these areas, however, we still have a way to go and we need to continue on this journey together – students, parents and staff working to build an even stronger community in our school. What a worthy goal!
Best wishes for a great weekend.
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