A sense of community is crucial to any successful classroom. Whether it’s in a traditional, blended or virtual environment, creating strong learning communities can foster an environment of academic risk-taking, creativity and growth. But students aren’t the only ones who benefit from a strong community at school: parents, guardians and teachers also gain from better communication, higher trust and shared responsibility.
In this blog, we discuss learning communities and why they matter, while taking an in-depth look at some of the benefits.
What Are Learning Communities in K-12 Schools?
A learning community is an environment that connects the stakeholders of a learning journey. That includes students, teachers and parents. In an effective learning community, each of these groups works toward and is accountable for common goals. In the case of a K-12 learning community, that means a robust learning environment for children, a fulfilling and exciting opportunity for teachers and a highly communicative relationship for a parent. Learning communities promote and value learning as an ongoing, active, collaborative process with dynamic dialogue between all members.
Why Strong Learning Communities Matter
There is plenty of evidence supporting the value of engaged learning communities. One way this engagement manifests is through students’ sense of belonging among their peers and teachers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students who feel a higher sense of school connectedness are less likely to engage in risky behavior and more likely to have higher grades and better attendance.
Teachers reap the rewards of connected students, too. A recent study from the University of Missouri found that teaching behavior was affected by high-quality relationships with students and actually resulted in better teaching practices. The study found that “students who reported having more positive relationships with their teachers also reported that their teachers used more high-impact teaching practices linked with student academic achievement.”
Parents and guardians also play a crucial role in a successful learning community. Research cited by Waterford, an educational nonprofit based in Utah, noted that parental involvement and home encouragement of learning are the best predictors of future academic success. Ensuring that parents and guardians are engaged can help students stay on track with their assignments and homework while also helping them develop an intrinsic love for learning.
When parents and students are engaged with one another in learning, it can help foster richer and more meaningful conversations. Open-ended questions about schooldays can leave a lot out of the conversation compared to specific questions about subjects and class topics. These conversations can serve as a form of enrichment as students learn more and get excited about learning even after class is done.
The Benefits of Strong Learning Communities
Beyond these benefits, there are others that can improve the quality and outcomes of learning journeys as students work their way through K-12 classrooms.
An effective learning community spreads responsibility among those involved. While teachers still assign homework, students take ownership of their learning and parents encourage time spent on assignments. Instead of parents calling a teacher to find out their child’s progress, regular communication ensures that there are no surprises come report card time. And rather than students feeling the pressure of schoolwork and socialization on their own, they feel supported by parents and teachers when issues and difficulties arise.
Sharing this responsibility among the stakeholders can lead to several positive outcomes. Students feel empowered in their own learning, parents feel connected to the process and teachers feel less burden at a time when many are feeling burnt out and stressed. When each party feels accountable in a learning community, they feel more engaged and more empowered to succeed.
Improved Learning Practices
A hallmark of learning communities is the space they provide to explore, understand and improve teaching and learning practices. Students who are part of a strong learning community may feel more autonomy, resulting in more self-directed learning. Involved parents can provide opportunities for enrichment and supplementary learning, while teachers can encourage creativity and pushed boundaries.
With equal commitment to a unified goal, students can thrive in new circumstances, like blended learning environments. In this case, the buy-in from each party ensures that students can still learn effectively, while opening the door to personalized learning practices, thanks in part to the additional support. Engaged learning communities can create opportunities for students to excel in new ways that suit them best, a reality that relieves pressure and stress for teachers, parents and guardians alike.
More Supportive Environments
When a whole learning community comes together, the members naturally support one another because they have a shared goal: the success of each student. In order to best achieve that, collaboration and cooperation are key.
A supportive environment makes it easier to teach and helps students feel empowered to take chances and even fail. In a classroom, this can happen when a student feels comfortable trying to answer a question, even if they aren’t completely confident in their answer. In that instance, the student trusts their peers not to make fun of them for their wrong answer and trusts their teacher to prevent that from happening. This kind of environment can lead to happier, more confident students, something that can translate to home and a student’s community.