When a crises hits a learning community

Posted on 02.03.2014

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I’m rusty from not writing for a while but I keep coming back to a fundamental question: what is a healthy learning community and how can that be created and sustained?  This question is tricky to begin with and despite the healthiest community, every community often faces something that is potentially scary and difficult: 

Crises and conflicts.  

From the external crises that are scary and improbable that we hear in the news to a family death or crises within the community of bullying, arguments and even sometimes violence like fights.  They are all harmful to the teaching and learning that happens; more importantly, they are harmful to the individuals and community itself.  Many conflicts and crises can be prevented by having a healthy community and every day we should all be working to a more perfect place to teach and learn.  A place that values respect, kindness, safety, trust and above all, love.  Yet, the truth is that it’s impossible to ward off all crises and conflicts.  As much as we want to, we must embrace that this is part of living within a community – there are moments when anxieties and stress are dealt with poorly.  

So what happens after something bad happens? Something tragic? Something scary?  

Those individuals who have been a direct part of the crises or conflict usually get our immediate attention from their teachers, a counselor, dean, assistant principal or principal who might step in and create some consequences (especially with bullying or a fight). Every community needs to create supports to allow those individuals to reflect on their actions so if something like that happens again they would choose to react differently.  And rightly so! 

What about everyone else? There might be other’s who need supports and the larger community where the event took place within might need some healing as well!

If a crises or conflict isn’t reflected on by other individuals or within a larger context then it runs the risk of being normalized or simply taken for granted – other individuals or groups of people might run the risk of making a similar mistake!  It’s not just a simple matter of providing counseling to individuals; the whole community might need help in overcoming something emotional.  Providing opportunities for guided reflection on an individual and collective level is a must.

The question remains: HOW?

In Quaker schools there is a weekly opportunity to come together as a community and provide individuals to reflect on how they are feeling.  It’s called Meeting For Worship.  I was lucky enough in high school to experience this and looking back, it was an amazing experience to be with the whole school during times of happiness, of sadness, of pain and of pleasure.  We had a relatively safe place where we could reflect individually and collectively.

Many learning communities have counselors or teachers that do a great job of allowing students to reflect on emotional experiences and that’s a great start but I think every learning community needs some systems in place where the school can also reflect as a whole – or at least parts of a whole.

There are a few challenges to this if you don’t already have a space like Meeting For Worship that’s already part of your culture (or even counselors like many schools here in Philadelphia).  First, students and/or staff might not know how to do this as a group – it might not be productive.  Second, it requires some sacrifice from a ‘normal day’.  Ironically, you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s a normal day if you are dealing with a crises or conflict.  So stop ignoring that things should proceed normally!

Take moments to check in with the community to talk about it’s health, to talk about how people are feeling, what they are thinking and what they need.  

Ask questions, listen to people’s responses, allow moments of laughter, of tears and of honesty.  Ultimately do the hard work of supporting one another because that’s really what a community is.

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