ERIC Identifier: ED405641
Publication Date: 1997-00-00
Author: Royal, Mark A. - Rossi, Robert J.
Clearinghouse on Educational Management Eugene OR.
Schools as Communities. ERIC Digest, Number 111.
Increasingly, educators are paying serious attention to the quality of the
relationships that exist among staff members and students in schools. The
National Association of Secondary School Principals' recent publication
"Breaking Ranks," for instance, highlights "personalization" of the high school
as a key challenge for school reform. Similarly, Ernest Boyer argued in "The
Basic School" that fostering "community" in elementary schools is essential for
effective schooling in the early grades.
Indeed, a good deal of evidence now exists suggesting that a strong sense of
community in schools has benefits for both staff members and students and
provides a necessary foundation for school improvement.
WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF COMMUNITY IN SCHOOLS?
vague generalizations plague many discussions of community, a number of
researchers have attempted to identify the fundamental attributes of healthy and
vital school communities. For Anthony Bryk and Mary Driscoll (1988), the
communally organized school is characterized by a system of shared values
related to the school and to education in general; common activities that link
school members to each other and to the school's traditions; and an "ethos of
caring" in interpersonal relations, evidenced by collegial interactions among
staff members and an extended role for teachers that encompasses more than
Reflecting on successful alternative-school communities she has studied, Mary
Anne Raywid (1993), by contrast, highlights six common attributes of these
schools: respect, caring, inclusiveness, trust, empowerment, and commitment.
Our own framework for thinking about community in schools--developed in
collaboration with John Gardner of Stanford University and refined through
focus-group discussions with administrators, teachers, and students from local
high schools--has much in common with both of these conceptualizations.
In our view, in a school community, communication is open, participation is
widespread, teamwork is prevalent, and diversity is incorporated. Staff members
and students share a vision for the future of the school, a common sense of
purpose, and a common set of values. They care about, trust, and respect each
other, and they recognize each other's efforts and accomplishments.
HOW DOES SCHOOL COMMUNITY AFFECT STAFF MEMBERS?
suggests that a strong sense of community can facilitate staff members'
instructional efforts and enhance their personal well-being. Bryk and Driscoll,
for instance, have found that in communally organized schools staff morale is
higher, teacher absenteeism is lower, and teachers are more satisfied with their
In addition, we have provided evidence that staff members experiencing a
strong sense of community tend to be clearer about the expectations others at
school have for them and tend to report feeling burned out, overwhelmed, or
confronted with conflicting demands less often at school (Royal and Rossi 1996).
A sense of community among staff members may also be an important precursor to
the development of a sense of community among students. As community is fostered
among staff members, appropriate behaviors and attitudes are modeled for
students, helping them to mature in their own interpersonal relationships.
Similar observations have been made with respect to the development of a
collaborative school climate. Stuart Smith and James Scott (1990) suggest, that
"schools whose teachers cooperate with one another are characterized by
cooperation among students."
HOW DOES SCHOOL COMMUNITY AFFECT STUDENTS?
community in schools may promote a variety of positive outcomes for students.
Bryk and Driscoll, for example, found that communally organized schools have
fewer problems with student misbehavior (for example, class cutting, student
absenteeism) than do other schools. Students in these schools also showed more
interest in academics and greater achievement gains, and they dropped out at
Our own findings (Royal and Rossi) similarly suggest that students' sense of
community is related to their engagement in school activities, with students
higher in sense of community being less likely to report class cutting behavior
or thoughts of dropping out of school and more likely to report feeling bad when
unprepared for classes. In addition, we have found that students reporting a
high sense of community less often feel burned out at school.
Community may improve schooling for all students, enhancing academic and
social development and providing them with experiences necessary to prepare them
for full participation in a democratic society. But a sense of community may be
a particularly important component of educational programs targeted at students
at risk of academic failure.
In their study of exemplary dropout-prevention programs, Wehlage and
colleagues (1989) observed that each devoted considerable attention to
overcoming the many barriers that may prevent these students from connecting
with the school and developing a sense of belonging, membership, and engagement.
Indeed, they note, "the key finding from our research is that effective schools
provide at-risk students with a community of support."
WHAT ARE SOME FACTORS THAT AFFECT COMMUNITY IN
Bryk and Driscoll, along with Fred Newmann and his colleagues
(1989), have identified a variety of structural and organizational factors that
may affect the development of community in schools. Both studies suggest that
smaller schools hold more promise for community development than large schools.
Indeed, to create more personal and supportive environments, many reformers have
advocated dividing large schools into smaller, semiautonomous subunits. Our own
research suggests that this type of school organization may enhance sense of
community for both staff and students (Royal and Rossi).
Newmann and colleagues also indicate that teachers' sense of community is
greater in schools where student behavior is orderly, where administrators are
responsive to teacher concerns and show support for innovation, where teachers
are knowledgeable of their colleagues' courses and willing to help each other,
and where inservice programs are tailored to staff needs.
Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne (1993) caution, however, that a favorable
school structure should not be relied upon to produce a strong sense of
community in schools by itself. Because individualism and autonomy are prominent
features of the staff cultures in many schools, staff members may not be
motivated to take advantage of the opportunities for community development such
a structure provides.
Moreover, it should not be assumed that teachers and administrators currently
possess the skills required to build and maintain a sense of community in their
schools. Westheimer and Kahne argue that training programs should be provided to
help staff members understand the benefits of community and to supply them with
pedagogical tools and other capabilities needed to foster it.
HOW DOES COMMUNITY RELATE TO OTHER IMPROVEMENT
Development of a healthy sense of community may be necessary for
the long-term success of school-improvement activities. These activities can be
quite disruptive in a school, often leading to changes in established roles and
relationships and challenging fundamental assumptions about teaching and
learning. Unless a sound fabric of interpersonal relationships can be woven as
improvement activities are planned and launched, potential benefits of these
activities may be lost to tension and dissension.
Our recent national evaluations of dropout-prevention programs and programs
for students at risk (Rossi and Stringfield 1995), for instance, suggest that a
strong sense of community is required to enable staff members to respond
effectively to the challenges associated with implementing these reforms and
maintaining them over time.
Similarly, Liana Graves (1992) argues that creation of a community context
may be essential for the success of specific reforms such as
Research we have conducted in schools involved in whole-school restructuring
also indicates that staff members who experience a strong sense of community at
school tend to be more positive about the overall value of the restructuring
activities and the progress of restructuring at their schools (Royal and Rossi).
Bryk, Anthony S., and Mary Erina Driscoll. "The
High School as Community: Contextual Influences and Consequences for Students
and Teachers." Madison, Wisconsin: National Center on Effective Secondary
Schools, University of Wisconsin, 1988. ED 302 539.
Gardner, John W. "Building Community." Washington, D.C.: Independent Sector,
Graves, Liana Nan. "Cooperative Learning Communities: Context for a New
Vision of Education and Society." "Journal of Education" 174, 2 (1992): 57-79.
EJ 468 096.
Newmann, Fred M., and others. "Organizational Factors That Affect School
Sense of Efficacy, Community, and Expectations." "Sociology of Education" 62, 4
(October 1989): 221-38. EJ 398 365.
Raywid, Mary Anne. "Community: An Alternative School Accomplishment." In
"Public Schools That Work: Creating Community," edited by Gregory A. Smith.
23-44. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Rossi, Robert J., and Samuel C. Stringfield. "What We Must Do for Students
Placed At Risk." "Phi Delta Kappan" 77, 1 (September 1995): 73-76. EJ 511 701.
Royal, Mark A., and Robert J. Rossi, "Individual-Level Correlates of Sense of
Community: Findings from Workplace and School." "Journal of Community
Psychology" 24, 4 (October 1996): 395-416.
Smith, Stuart C., and James J. Scott. "The Collaborative School: A Work
Environment for Effective Instruction." Eugene, Oregon: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management, University of Oregon, 1990. ED 316 918.
Wehlage, Gary G., and others. "Reducing the Risk: Schools as Communities of
Support." New York: The Falmer Press, 1989.
Westheimer, Joel, and Joseph Kahne. "Building School Communities: An
Experience-Based Model." "Phi Delta Kappan" 75, 4 (December 1993): 324-28. EJ