A Community for Learning

Article excerpt

On April 10, 1995, Ernest Boyer, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, issued the report The basic school: A community for learning.

The report focused on elementary education and it proposed an overall strategy for renewal. It contained his vision using a framework that outlined four priorities as the means to implement what we know from research about learning and best practice in effective schools. He chose the word basic because it goes back to the beginning, the elementary school, where the emphasis is on literacy learning. He called the school basic because organizationally it proposes a grassroots approach to educational reform. It is basic educationally because its program affirms the importance of high quality in the early years of learning. It is basic pedagogically because its curriculum has coherence across curricula and ages. And it is basic strategically in embracing proven practices that work (Boyer, 1995).

In 1994, prior to the publication of the report, Dr. Boyer assembled a network of diverse schools from across the United States to share his research findings and to lay the groundwork for implementing the vision in demonstration schools where all four priorities of The Basic School were in place. These four priorities include:

* The School as Community: A shared vision unites teachers who are leaders with parents as partners.

* Climate for Learning: The needs of students are supported with flexible groupings, support services and rich resources.

* A Curriculum With Coherence: An integrated, thematic curriculum is framed by eight human commonalities.

* A Commitment to Character: The ethical and moral dimensions are modeled and taught by word and deed. Seven core virtues are integrated into curriculum and the daily life of the school.

"Ultimately, the aim of the Basic School is not just to build a better school, but above all, to build a better world for children. It is our deepest hope that not a single child, let alone a whole generation of children, should pass through the schoolhouse door unprepared for the world that lies before them. Responding to this challenge is, in the end, what the Basic School is all about" (Boyer, 1995).

The Basic School is not a recipe or prescription for learning. It is not a set of textbooks or a formula. It cannot be purchased as a package. It is realized through building community, collaborating as teams, discussing practice and philosophy, and truly being a community of learners. It requires merging the art and the science of teaching. Community doesn't just happen, even in a small school. To become a true community, the institution must be organized around people, around relationships and ideas, as Thomas J. Sergiovanni put it.

"Communities," he says, "create social structures that bond people together in a oneness, and that bind them to a set of shared values and ideas" (Boyer 1995).

Experience has proven this to be true for the Irving B. Weber Elementary School community of parents, staff and students. From the beginning of the journey toward becoming a Basic School five years ago, building and maintaining community has been fundamental to its growth. Community starts in the classrooms with teachers as leaders and the principal as "lead teacher." Teachers work in teams to collaborate in planning, writing and orchestrating the two-year curriculum cycle. Building powerful teams, learning to share leadership and learning to write integrated curriculum have been a part of staff development for every staff member from the beginning. Study groups on focused topics such as assessment, multiple intelligences and brain-based learning have helped staff keep attuned to important trends.

One study shared attributes of teacher leaders in research that dealt with the change process. The study included 16 teachers, five of whom were teacher-librarians (Burger, 1988). …