Building harmonious relations with the community

Communities exist partly because children need them for their growth and development. Therefore, every school, wherever it is located and whatever form it takes, requires a community that fosters learning all around it.

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In the contemporary times, community is interpreted as a space where globe-spanning information technologies, diverging family forms, mobile corporations, shifting urban populations, fragmented political structures and increased interest in lifelong learning for everyone exists. However, the question remains, “How do people want communities to be?” The answer to this question is always linked to the needs of the children. Communities always exist partly because children need them for their growth and development. Therefore, every school, wherever it is located and whatever form it takes, requires a community that fosters learning all around it.

School is not the only organisation responsible for a child’s growth. A child’s connection to the community also leads to the overall development of the child. There are a large number of communities that in one way or the other, have broken the barriers between the school and the rest of a child’s life. Children are not confined within the boundaries of a gated community, at least not after they have started school. The most important concern of the parents when looking for real estate and rentals is about schools. It is imperative for a school to create and sustain good relationships with the neighbouring communities and stay connected to them.

Some of the ways to build relationship with communities are:

Enlist the neighbouring communities: It is important to know about the neighbouring communities. Enlist the people and organisations in the community around the school, who represent the support community for the school or organisation, are aligned with the school’s vision or school’s planning, correspond to children through texts, emails or social networks, regularly provide advice, collaborations or financial support, etc.

Prioritising: The next step is to make a list of the people or organisations in accordance to their importance to the children. For example, a child welfare worker can often be of more help to the school than a businessman. It is better to list them according to their accessibility. It is advantageous if you know them personally, even if you haven’t worked with them in the past.

Moving towards a cordial relationship: It is vital to know how communities see your school. Also, you should know what you want from them. For example, if a school has created a family resource centre, can parents borrow books from that centre? Does the centre provide information that families might need about alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases or other such sensitive topics?

Teachers and school leaders are concerned about the societal expectations that are foisted on school whether it is about bullying, violence, drinking, discourtesy or unemployment. The school is held responsible if such things happen in the society. A school is a functional community where people are drawn together to impart education, rather than people who choose to be together because they necessarily share a passion.

Problems faced in the development of a school community

School leaders often argue that a major problem in the development of a school community is the varied perspectives that different people bring to it. They create unity within diversity, rather than unity from diversity. However, the problem is not the differences that exist in a community but the ways in which the people handle them. Firstly, the challenge of any leader is to build a sense of community to help each member of the school feel that they belong to a single community. This is much evident in the language used, as people say ‘us’, ‘we’ and ‘our school’. It will also be seen in relationships where people exhibit trust in one another, demonstrate respect for everyone, irrespective of their role in school, and recognise and acknowledge the contribution and abilities of others. A school principal might face some dilemmas while managing school community like, some school boards and administrators are fearful of losing control, the need to be all things to all people, disagreement about the concept of community involvement and perhaps the reluctance of some teaching staff to cooperate in community involvement.

Plausible solutions

Principals can develop a strategic approach to community relationship which can be as follows:
• Identifying your community, relations and goals.
• Research and specify ways in which the communities need school help, support, involvement or presence.
• Learn how channels of communication work in your community.
• Get to know community expectations, concerns and sensibilities.
• Ensuring that each time strategic plans are revisited and community relations are reviewed.

Principals should use their initiatives to develop an effective means of communication with the community. Most schools today describe themselves as student-centred. Teachers often speak about developing independence and less about developing interdependence. Students are more likely to be academically-motivated in a school where a strong sense of communal bond is developed among the students. Here, the students have higher educational aspirations and they are less prone to disruptive and problem behaviours, allowing more effective learning. Connection and belongingness are essential for the mental and emotional health of our children and youth.

Community: important for learning

With technology threatening the traditional structure of schools, resulting in a breakdown in traditional community structures, community can be the key purpose of schools in the near future. Our children need to learn and grow in the secure, caring, value-rich community, where meaningful relationships result in encouragement. Making more explicit limits with the external community is a critical component of education for sustainability. The entire community becomes healthier when teachers and children raise awareness.

Community participation has a great potential of removing mistrust and curbing the distance between people and schools by nurturing transparency of information and a culture of mutual respect. School as an open system and a social organisation thrives on the effective interrelationship within it and with its relevant communities. What happens in a school affects the community and what happens in the community affects the school. The school cannot exist in isolation but in cooperation with community or society in which it finds itself.

Geeta Karunakaran is the founder Principal of Paul George Global School, Alaknanda, New Delhi. She has varied experience in schools across India over the last 22 years. She graduated in English (Hons) from Pune University, completed her B ED and her Masters thereafter. She started her career as an English teacher in the primary section and went on to teach English to senior school children. She has been the Principal of an Army School. She also had the opportunity to head a pre-primary wing of a reputed school in the NCR and then became the Vice-Principal of a well-known school in Faridabad. She is a qualified out-bound trainer after having worked with Pegasus Institute of Excellence, Bangalore. Later, she joined Educomp as a Training Head and led a team in pedagogy training.