You know what they say: it takes a village to raise a child. Building and nurturing a supportive school community is essential to ensuring that every child grows up happy, healthy, and curious to learn. In fact, research shows that kids who are happier at school perform better.
So how can we, as educators, leaders, teachers, and parents, encourage an inclusive and supportive school community?
At the end of the day, it comes down to the how, why, and when of communication. Nurturing an inclusive school community is about promoting a shared vision of student success - where every child receives the best chance to grow and achieve their goals.
Here, we've explored some helpful and actionable ways on how to foster a sense of community in your school.
How to foster a sense of community: Helpful ideas for Aussie schools
1. Create opportunities to be involved and give back.
The most inclusive school communities are ones that encourage parents, students, and teachers to come together and give back to the community. From participating in events to supporting local causes, these activities will bring everyone closer together, and build a sense of belonging.
Activities can be as simple as taking part in Clean Up Australia Day at a nearby beach or park, as creative as hosting a multicultural fair to celebrate diversity, or as giving everyone the opportunity to volunteer with local businesses.
To build an even stronger sense of inclusion and community, launch a survey and ask parents, teachers and students which events they value and would like to participate in - so they can collaborate in the process, as well as enjoy the outcome.
2. Be timely and clear in communication.
One of the most important ways to build a strong and supportive school network is to communicate: communicate effectively, communicate promptly, and communicate often. Celebrate your school community's successes, address any considerations or concerns, and encourage other voices to be heard (such as the opinions and thoughts of teachers and students).
Digital platforms and apps are great tools to simplify communication between parents and teachers, and to make sure information flows to everyone in an easy and seamless way - whether it's through distributing an online school newsletter, to creating forums for exchange between the community.
3. Establish clear policies for a safe environment.
An inclusive school community has a positive school climate, and this means there are frameworks and policies that help create a safe environment. Establish clear, written policies for important topics, such as bullying, positive body image, and cybersafety, and make sure these are easily accessible for the entire school community, whether this is on your website, across your digital communication platforms, or on displays in hallways and classrooms.
On top of this, it’s crucial to have consistent and fair disciplinary actions when someone does violate a policy - and to also create a culture where any disciplinary actions are viewed as a learning opportunity, rather than a way to exclude students.
For more information on school policies, visit your state’s Department of Education policy library:
- NSW Department of Education Policy Library
- QLD Department of Education Policy and Procedures
- VIC Department of Education School Policy and Advisory Guide
- WA Department of Education Policies Website
- SA Department of Education and Child Development Policies
- ACT Education Directorate Policies
- NT Department of Education Policies
- TAS Department of Education Policy Library
4. Create opportunities for dialogue.
Having clear and open communication means also opening up channels for dialogue, whether it’s between parents and children, students and teachers, or between peers. Aim to create an open and honest environment where communication and discussion is welcome - this ensures everyone feels included and like their voice will be heard. In fact, a supportive and communicative environment is one of the key characteristics of a positive school climate.
When there are conflicts, such as between a student and a teacher, or between a parent and a teacher, everyone in the community needs to be aware of the path to start the conversation. A variety of tools for conflict resolution and guides for mediation are available online, so use these as a starting point to build a framework for your school community.
5. Share successes, and celebrate the good times.
The most rewarding part of being an educator, teacher, or parent is nurturing students and watching them learn, grow, and succeed. Celebrate the good times, whether big or small, and encourage everyone in the community to share in these moments together.
All actions contribute to creating a positive school environment, whether it’s a school newsletter that showcases monthly achievements, coming together at an end-of-term dinner and acknowledging contributions in your school community, or simply saying “great job” to teachers and students.
Success can also take many different forms, so it’s equally as important to share wins from diverse areas, including sporting, academic, and community achievements.
Over to you
Building an inclusive school community isn’t done overnight: it takes time, patience, and commitment from everyone. With a commitment to ongoing and honest communication, along with rallying parents, teachers, and students to be involved, your school environment can continue to be a safe and supportive place for all students.
As the philosopher Peter Block said:
"We must act as if our institutions are ours to create, our learning is ours to define, our leadership we seek is ours to become.”
It starts with us. How are you building a strong and supportive school community?
At the end of the day, we only have so many time (and dollars) in our day to invest in the community – all resources that may too often be taken away from schools, through inefficient processes. We've created a handy Paper Cost Calculator, to discover how many hours, dollars and trees your school can reinvest into your community!