The term “building community” is used often in schools to justify such onerous things as assemblies and group meetings. It is often the goal of student-led and student-planned activities. It also often feels coerced, artificial or otherwise inauthentic.
I am a believer in “faking it until you make it” when it comes to practicing what you hope can become a reality. Faking it means you can offer kindness when really you feel like shouting, “Take care of your own damn problems.” Faking it means you can put aside your grief in order to write a catalog of curricular plans for a whole school. Faking it until you make it can work wonders when all you want to do is have a drink.
Faking it can lead to actually feeling like a human being with a purpose. I’ve seen it happen.
But, when “community building” means making mooing sounds in a gym with 500 middle schoolers, I wonder about the efficacy of artificial community building, even as an effort to making it real. I wonder, in these situations, if faking it until you make it does not work. I wonder how you know when you are really part of a community
Today, unexpectedly, I had a chance to witness my community in action. I felt like I was part of an authentic community. Here’s why.
My son, an almost-four-year-old, who has some medical issues around independent toileting (teacher-speak for he can’t pee and poop on his own yet), had a “diaper emergency” in school. His classroom is steps from mine, and his teacher arrived minutes into my teaching to alert me to the problem. Of course, I was prepared with plans for such emergencies; it is just that my backup didn’t provide for situations in which the plan was in a meeting. As I panicked about what to do, (while I simultaneously acted like I had it totally under control for the kids in my class) I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to change MY kid’s diaper ASAP. I assigned a short story to my students. I asked for help from the security guard steps from my classroom door.
When I arrived back in my classroom after taking care of my kid, I was relieved to find the students engrossed in reading.
“We have been really quiet.”
“No one left, but Joey seems to be missing…just kidding!”
A roomful of kids, reading, thinking, waiting for me to return.
Security Mike took care of the students And the students let me take care of MY KID.
How is that for community in action?