Monday, April 22, 2013

Building Community

At our last staff meeting we delved into a discussion about how to build communities and connect our two schools more and more. Community is important for all of us at Tumbleweed. One of our most important focuses is encouraging the children in our care to be active participants in their own communities. Why is community so important to us as individuals, though? I've talked a little in previous posts about how all of us have an intrinsic desire for community. We want to feel that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. Seeing how we effect the community we are in and how our contributions grow that community gives us not only personal satisfaction but hope, contentedness, and a sense of great pride. Each individual of a community gains so much when it thrives even just a little.

With the importance of community embraced, how can we build our communities? How can we make them stronger and able to withstand the all too often bumps that come from human interaction? I believe there are numerous ways, but during our staff meeting we came up with a few we felt were vital.

1. Physical Presence

There is nothing more important when building a relationship than presence. Physical presence is especially valuable as it really encourages you to be focused and in the moment with those you are with. There is also something about physical presence that reaches beyond words, attention, or anything else. Simply being with another person allows them to know you care. In our meeting we talked about how seeing each other more often made it easier to remember who we are and how we relate to one another. When building a new community, as we do when new infants join us at Tumbleweed, it helps us to get to know one another and build trust in those who are a part of our community. Presence is the most powerful component for building community for this reason: it is the catalyst to everything else.

2. Trust in Others

Physical presence alone won't build community. We also must trust those that are a part of our community. We have to trust that they see us clearly and value us regardless of any good or bad bump in the road that comes along. We have to know they understand us and want to help us grow and achieve. Without trust, community cannot exist. With the children, we build trust in many ways. We set clear limits and follow through as necessary. We provide a safe environment that allows children to lead the way. We are available and present when children need us, but take a step back when they need time to try on their own. All of this lets them know that they can trust us and that we trust them.

3. Belief in Ourselves

Along with trusting others, though, we must trust ourselves. We have to believe we are capable and active members within our community. We have to clearly see our role and feel confident that we can play our part. Without a trust in ourselves, the community suffers. We retreat from our community and suffer from the loss of something so integral to our own being. In our staff meeting we discussed how important it is to know ourselves well enough to see our own strengths and weaknesses. In the classroom we foster confidence in children by allowing them to fail and succeed outside of us. We encourage them to try when they are ready, give them room to fall, and help them to understand that failure is only temporary. All of this helps them to feel confident in trying and trying and trying again and again. It also helps them to find their own strengths and weaknesses. It aids them in knowing their own person well enough to believe in themselves.

4. Authentic Communication

Authentic communication was a big topic at our staff meeting! We talked a lot about how sometimes when we doubt ourselves it leads to a lack of trust in others. We begin to analyze and internalize everything that is said and every action that is took. We start to notice the negative rather than rejoice in the positive. To avoid this and to get back to where we long to be, authentic communication is key. We must separate our emotional reaction from our needs and express both clearly to those in our communities. Within the classroom we practice this daily. When a child falls they momentarily may doubt themselves and their abilities. They also may distrust us for even one second as they wonder why we would allow them to fall. This is a great time for what we call the "zen state". We breathe in deeply and narrate for the child: "Joan, I notice you fell. You were trying to climb down the steps backwards but your foot got stuck! Before you could move it you slipped down. I can see by your face that it was scary. You are crying and you feel so worried. When you are ready to get up, I'm available for a hug or to check in if that's what you need." We are clear about how the child feels and that we are available to meet their needs, but first we tell them what happened. In this way we honor the child's need for authenticity and a chance to decide for themselves how they want to react. 

More than anything, though, authenticity builds compassion by combining all three of the above elements (presence, trust, and belief). So while presence serves as a catalyst, authenticity is what ties our communities together. I would argue that there are a few more key elements of building a community, but I will save them for my next post. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you feel is important in building community in the comments! 

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