Academic journal article School Community Journal

(Re)Imagining School as Community: Lessons Learned from Teachers

Academic journal article School Community Journal

(Re)Imagining School as Community: Lessons Learned from Teachers

Article excerpt


Community is a complex phenomenon. On the one hand, the notion of community evokes feelings of trust, safety, love, and fellowship. In other contexts, a community may be depicted as irreparable and pathological when its members are wrought by racism, violence, and continuous cycles of poverty (Limperopulos, 2014). As an ideological concept, the term community is fundamental to fields such as sociology and ecology. Interestingly, as we explore the meaning of community, what is clear not only in relation to education, but in sociology and ecology, is that the word "community" has no distinct definition (Bender, 1978).

Community varies by context and purpose. In regards to schools, much of the ambiguity surrounding the word community comes from the fact that the term is often used in two distinct ways: in the first, the school itself is a community; in the second, the school's engagement with its surrounding neighborhood is deemed the practice of community. With respect to the first definition of community, there is a need to distinguish between community as measured by climate relationships and community as measured by professional practices (Merz & Furman, 1997). The following quote by Bauer and Brazer (2012) illustrates this frustration: "We cringe when someone tells us that their school 'does professional learning community'-a professional learning community is something your school becomes, not something you or a few people on a team do" (p. 280).

With respect to the second definition of community, external relationships, it is unfortunate and factual that through structural and programmatic designs many public schools have severed ties with outside members (Merz & Furman, 1997). In addition, today's reform efforts, which include school closure and the expansion of citywide, magnet, and charter schools serve to further broaden the gap between public schools and surrounding neighborhoods (Orfield, 2013; Ravitch, 2013).

Dewey (1938) repeatedly argued that schooling must be the practice of community for it is within schools where one learns how to participate in the larger society. Sergiovanni (1996) observed that if schools were to function as communities, then school leaders must also serve as moral agents and should adapt their practices and theories to meet the needs of their respective school sites. Hence, his argument was to replace "school as an organization" with "school as community."

Interestingly, while the literature has validated the merits of school as community generically, there continues to be a need for more studies that (a) explain the dynamics of school as community in terms of teacher-principal perspectives and actions, and (b) highlight how unique contexts (in this case an urban high school) determine one of the many meanings of schools as community. This study is an effort to fill this void.

In order to explain the dynamics of school as community we employed a sequential mixed methods approach, grounded in teacher perspectives (of principal behaviors) to identify best practices for urban high school principals who seek to transform their school into a school as community. The central research question we asked was: How does an urban high school principal transform a school into a school as community?

The next section, the literature review, explored schools as communities historically as well as in the context of post-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) reform efforts. Unlike previous reviews of literature on schools as communities which adhere to the internal-external dichotomy, we offer a holistic and contextual view on this topic.

Literature Review

Public Schools

When first conceived, public schools were deemed change agents and charged with raising the collective aspirations of the masses to foster social, economic, and political shifts (Gilbert, 1904). Paradoxically, for many people of color, public schools became tools for subjugation and marginalization (Greer, 1972). …

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