Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
THE SCHOOL AS AN EDUCATIONAL COMMUNITY
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE RENEWAL OF SECONDARY EDUCATION


Summary

 

In this brief, the Conseil supérieur de l'éducation makes a number of suggestions designed to help secondary schools enhance students' sense of belonging, for there is a direct link between a sense of belonging and success at school.

The secondary level is on the threshold of another wave of change. Recent amendments to the Education Act will modify not only dynamics of the school administration, but also the teaching content, through curriculum reform. It would be unfortunate if all these changes were given a purely administrative orientation, as if to suggest that structural rearrangements are the way to improve school success. They certainly play a role, but the Conseil believes that the secondary school system should be viewed as a whole, and that human factors should be accorded as much importance as organizational ones. That is the essence of this brief on the school as an educational community.

In education, more than in any other sphere of activities, having a vision of a desired change is as important as the change itself, and the influence of a team approach to school depends not only on what the school team does but also on its attitude. The concept of the educational community offers an approach based on refocusing the efforts of team members on the essential aspects of the relationship between young people and adults in the schools. Like any approach that focuses on the essentials, this concept provides a different perspective on how to relate to young people and on school organization.

The Conseil may have difficulty convincing schools of the wisdom of this approach. It is not suggesting that a local institutional dynamic can always achieve a high quality of education, independently of the determinants and constraints of the system. Research has confirmed that the quality of education is a challenge for every school. But it is impossible to dissociate the quality of education from that of the teaching, and from the inescapable influence of the system. The Conseil has sought a feasible course that takes into account both individual practices and structural determinants. Only those people who refuse to believe that the educational system is capable of qualitative change will consider this approach inappropriate.

The establishment of an educational community takes time and requires sustained and focused effort. Schools wishing to undertake a major change of this sort may find the Conseil's suggestions for action helpful.

Aware that there is no magic formula to solve problems in the secondary schools, and convinced that it would be useful to establish the basis for an educational community in the recent history of education in Québec, the Conseil has drawn on certain endeavours that have fostered a community dimension in the schools, such as efforts to promote the school life, participatory leadership and schools that are community oriented and accountable. Aware also of the importance of an understanding of the situation of young people, the Conseil made a point of considering their psychological needs, social environment and integration into the larger society, which is both a source of constraints and of hope for them. All of these elements contributed to the conclusion that an educational community was a learning environment well suited to adolescents. The Conseil defines a school that is an educational community as a school that involves all its stakeholders, including those in the surrounding community, and relies on the sharing of responsibility and the quality of the relationships it builds to fulfill its educational mission. The specific features of an educational community are defined and developed according to the pyschological and social situation of young people.

The Conseil also considered aspects of a practical nature. Citing examples from Québec schools, and experiments and research carried out elsewhere, it suggests ways to implement an educational community that would not be dismissed as an utopian vision of secondary school. Indeed, the Conseil notes the main obstacles to the establishment of an educational community in secondary schools today.

 

Suggestions for Action

The Conseil has three suggestions, all of which have been developed elsewhere and appear promising. It is hoped that these suggestions will serve as a springboard for further experimentation with new approaches. The ideas proposed here are in no way intended to limit school teams, but on the contrary, to encourage them to explore new options and review their priorities.

The first suggestion is for a secondary school to develop a shared vision of its role. Many secondary schools have already, as part of their educational project, undertaken a process aimed at clarifying their values. However, the Conseil stresses that the scope of the values must extend beyond the individual to the institutional. The Conseil also believes that this procedure must be carried out systematically if the school's stakeholders are to draw on a common source of inspiration.

In this perspective, the Conseil recommends that the school team participate, if it has not already done so, in an effort to clarify and present its institutional values, using the educational community as an ideal. This should pave the way for a review of the school's organization and functioning.

A second suggestion is to create a working community, stressing three features of such a community: establishing a sphere of institutional autonomy by promoting a local spirit of initiative; encouraging the teachers and non-teaching staff to draw on the resources of the community; and emphasizing the responsibility of all participants in the school. The recent amendments to the Education Act give greater powers of action to the school and its community, and the Conseil is entirely in agreement with these changes. As regards professional development, in the spirit of an educational community, the Conseil recommends that school administrations, which have been given the responsiblity for conveying to school boards the professional development needs of their staff, and the persons in charge of professional development in the school boards, emphasize collective staff upgrading plans. The Conseil also suggests that times and places be set aside for members of the school team to meet, in order to foster joint action.

A third suggestion is to develop a close-knit community. An educational community accords special attention to human relationships in order to create a climate that is favourable to the personal and educational development of the students. Relationships among all those involved should reflect the harmony necessary for optimum learning. And it is above all in a class with a community spirit, an ideal place for the students to work, that these values can be experienced. To achieve this sense of community in the classroom would require a certain flexibility in the general organization of a secondary school. Thus the Conseil recommends that the Minister of Education, the school boards and the secondary schools adopt flexible organizational structures, to foster the development of a sense of belonging among students. The Conseil also recommends that the Minister of Education take the appropriate measures to follow and report on promising experiments regarding the creation of an educational community in secondary schools.

An essential characteristic of an educational community is that it is not closed in on itself, but actively seeks partnerships with the community. The Conseil has drawn attention to two types of partnership: with the parents and with local institutions and organizations.

The Conseil is well aware of the potential obstacles to the achievement of a partnership with parents, but it believes nonetheless that it is necessary to seek such a partnership, notably because parental involvement leads to better school results, as an OECD study has shown. In order to promote parental participation, the Conseil recommends that each school team, with the help of the governing board, set up mechanisms to explain to parents, to Cycle Two students and to staff the nature of the amendments to the Education Act and how they translate in terms of changes in powers and responsibilities. These mechanisms could contribute to the development of a partnership between the school and the parents and thus to the consolidation of the educational community.

There is a natural link between parents' participation in the school and the involvement of other members of the local community. The Conseil has outlined this other type of partnership. All members of the community have a responsibility for the education of young people and the school should not remain separate from the students' own environment. The school exists in continuity with its environment. That is why the Conseil recommends that every governing board, with the school team, develop a plan of action to reach out to community organizations that may share the educational objectives of the school and to establish the terms of a viable partnership with those organizations.

This brief on the educational community constitutes an urgent invitation to the Minister of Education and the schools to work to change the conditions that have a direct impact on the learning climate in the schools. The reform of the structures will have very little effect if the relationships among the participants in the school are not improved and if the students do not have a greater desire to learn.

Document complet - in French (PDF)

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