On Community

Lately I’ve been pondering the value and essential elements of communities- more specifically, learning communities.

John W. Gardner’s On Leadership is a recommended read for many educational administrators and others in positions of leadership. How many of our schools exist as, and contain within them, traditional communities, as described by Gardner, and how many are developing into the communities we need to provide for our children today? According to Gardner:

  • Traditional communities are homogeneous. Today’s communities are diverse.
  • Traditional communities experienced little change. Today’s communities must survive and seek change.
  • Traditional communities demanded conformity. Today’s communities must “foster individual freedom and responsibility within a framework of group obligation” (p. 114).
  • Traditional communities were unwelcoming to outsiders. Today’s communities must be inclusive and seek continuous communication with the outside world.
  • Traditional communities were built upon histories of strong heritage and continuity. Today’s communities must “continuously rebuild their shared culture, must consciously foster the norms and values that ensure their continued integrity” (p. 115).
  • Traditional communities were small. Today’s communities are widespread, sprawling organizations that demand we create coherent subsystems that are led by a common vision to achieve shared goals.

In our school, there are deep traditions that are held in high regard. As long as those traditions still support the organization’s vision and help achieve our goals, we should cherish them. However, we have to extend, refine, and reaffirm our community’s values and missions in order to transform into a community of “today.” How are schools looking to achieve this?

What constitutes a learning community? Professional learning communities, PLCs, have been established in many schools as a method by which teams of educators can collaborate, analyze student data, and plan together to enhance learning for students. Are they true communities? When I need to reflect upon the learning communities we’re developing in our schools, I turn often to Bill Ferriter’s posts on PLCs. He provides a refreshing and real perspective on the benefits and issues faced by teachers while working in these communities. At what point does community become an essential ingredient of learning?

Another question to ponder: are networks communities? How do we organize our contributions, the people, and the flow of information within our networks in order to ensure continuous learning? Is learning in itself a network? A community where knowledge and experiences are shared and grown? Through reading the work of George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier I’m beginning to learn more about the intricacies of networks, communities, and learning. Brenda Sherry also influenced my thinking recently when I came across her post about the balance needed among collaboration, professional learning networks, connectedness, and personal learning.

Consider Gardner’s essential elements of community:

  1. Wholeness incorporating diversity
  2. A shared culture
  3. Good internal communication
  4. Caring, trust, and teamwork
  5. Group maintenance and government
  6. Participation and the sharing of leadership tasks
  7. Development of young people
  8. Links with the outside world
As we embark on 2012, make this the year of community. What things will you do to propel your learning organization into an essential community of today? How will technology enhance this process? This difficult work is done through leadership that is focused on developing shared visions, creating and managing networks of people and information, embracing diversity, and being flexible in times of incredible, and important, change.


Gardner, J. (1990). On Leadership. Free Press.

What do you think?

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