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Strategies to Build Culture through Responsible Learning Communities

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Jun 08, 2015 | #1

Learning Communities for Better Culture

If we accept the idea of classrooms as learning communities, then we also acknowledge that within that community, the teacher takes responsibility for building relationships that promote positive growth and achievement. Gregory and Chapman explain that "[e]ffective teachers believe that all students can learn and be successful. Effective teachers effectively create a climate in which all students feel included. Effective teachers believe that there is potential in each learner and commit to finding the key that will unlock that potential." Everything matters; what teachers do, say, and consider important have profound effects on learners and their perceptions of what is successful.

Building Learning CommunitiesThe authors quote Gregory and Parry, who suggest that students are continually monitoring body language, tone of voice, and what is said. Students sense threat and they sense safety. They also sense their status in comparison with others, and how well they are doing in that comparison. Motivation derives from these senses of things, and all students need to have some power, some sense of belonging, and fun. It cannot be said enough: this is true for all students, whether academically gifted or not. Some older teachers will be able to recall college classes in which they were but one of several hundred students arrayed in a college auditorium, while the professor occupied a place on center stage at a podium, and the students in the back rows could barely see the man. There was no sense of community at all, and motivation was low enough. There was no relationship building even attempted, and it is sad to say that very little learning took place there.

A community depends for its existence on the relationships that are built within it. Those relationships are stable and meaningful when all of its members are successfully a part of that community. Within that framework are implied trust, implied safety, and the implied concept of Rogers' unconditional positive regard. And within that framework is the likelihood that all students will find acceptance for their struggles, and a better chance of growth as a student toward positive academic achievement.

I had been teaching for several years before I noticed something important about the inclusion of all members of a learning community. I was reflecting on the time I learned to play chess, and how difficult that was. I noted that there were primarily three stages in my development as a chess player. The first stage was complete disinterest. I had no desire to learn how to play, and even when I thought about it, it seemed so complicated that I thought I couldn't learn it even if I wanted to do so. My motivation was at zero, and had there been a lower rating for motivation, I would have been there, too.

Gradually, however, my friends weakened my resolve, and I started to pay with them, though they were much more accomplished than I was. My life for the next year or so was marked mostly by confusion, as I learned the pieces and what they could do and where they could go and in what combinations, and how my movements would always be countered by my opponent's movements, and I was then expected to counter his counters, all in the name of protecting my King and ultimate disaster by being careful of skillfully using my wretched Queen. I was dreaming of chess moves; my waking hours were spent going over and over scenarios that may occur and how I could negotiate them.

Here, then, was an important lesson for me as a teacher. Before I started to learn chess, I had no motivation to do so, and was never confused about it. I also was neither learning it, nor thinking about it. Once I started to learn to play, however, I was promptly steeped in confusion, tormented by not knowing the simplest of things (compared with my friends), and motivated beyond belief to learn that wretched game. By and by I got better; eventually, I was pretty good at it, and would play nearly anyone, including a chess computer.

I took that lesson to my classroom and applied it to my most confused students,. I understood clearly that confusion is a stage of beginning growth and understanding. The first time I had a student say, "I don't get it!" or something to that effect, I would stop everything, ask my other students to stop, and say to the child, "That's the most wonderful thing I've ever heard." Of course, the student got a puzzled look on his face, but I was serious. I quickly wrote a note to the principal of the school stating that Ricardo was confused, had entered the world of the educated, and asked her to make an announcement to the entire school that Ricardo was confused and that we all ought to celebrate. Luckily for me, she understood my intention, and she did so.

The effect was astonishing. The other confused students let it be known that they were confused also. The students who heretofore hadn't cared and weren't confused, suddenly found a chance at redemption, and began to crave confusion. Those that had already learned the material nodded in recognition of the time when they were confused, too, and had worked their way through it. As a community, we were suddenly coming together in supportive ways that had not existed before, and it affected the entire group. From that point, we were a community of learners committed to working our way through difficulties instead of simply giving up, meekly whimpering out of wonderful opportunities to learn together. I wouldn't change any of that, but I now find ways to celebrate almost everything about the learning process.


Gregory, G.H,. and Parry, T.S. Designing brain-compatible learning, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Press.

Gregory, G.H. and Chapman, C. Differentiated instructional strategies: One size doesn't fit all. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Rogers, Carl. On Becoming a Person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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