Learning Community

A human-centred school is a community of learners. This idea involves a radical reframing of what a school is. This reframing is required in order for the human-centred approaches to curriculum, pedagogy and learning feedback and review to reinforce each other. In fact, putting the person at the centre can only mean that the school be as a learning community. This inevitably involves rethinking a school’s identity and the nature of its culture. Although this process of rethinking may vary according to the specific circumstances of each school, there are some common key issues:

First, the school will be a learning community. By this, we mean that students, staff and other stakeholders have a strong sense of ‘we-ness’ and belonging. Because of this, they feel a responsibility towards each other and towards the betterment of the school.

Second, in a learning community, all members know and respect one another, adults and young people alike. Such intimate knowledge and mutual respect does not come by itself, instead, it is the fruit of interacting through collaborative learning activities, dialogues, community meetings and fora.

Third, the raison d’être of a learning community is to enable us to learn and to become more fully human. Each member is aware of this common purpose and such a mutual recognition of the school’s aim is vitally important for the realisation of a shared culture.

Lastly,  a human-centred learning community also involves a close partnership with parents and others within the wider community. It values the participation of parents as being of pivotal importance for student’s development. Parents themselves may also learn and grow as they participate in the life of the school community.

Thus learning in a community takes place in and through myriad relationships. Although each school tends develop a culture that reflects the stakeholders’ collective preferences, there are eight generally desirable characteristics as follows that express human-centred values and principles:

(a) Integrated in the local community. Ideally, a human-centred learning community would be within walking distance of local businesses, community centres, residential areas and public services (e.g. hospitals, police stations). This will enable young people to more easily make links with the local community, including through work experience and visits, and raise the profile of the school in the community by its proximity.

(b) Flexible teaching spaces. The traditional classroom setting with rows of tables and chairs has long been challenged. From a human-centred perspective, the diversity of curriculum activities demands flexibility of space design, rather than a mere critique of a particular setting. Flexibility allows horseshoe-shaped classrooms, or the group sitting in a circle, both of which enable the group to meet face-to-face. It also stresses that the teacher is not at the centre of the stage but is also part of the group, although he or she is at same time the facilitator and guide in the learning process.

(c) Large indoor spaces with natural light. These spaces are particularly valuable for Group Time (see Chapter 3). Young people need spaces where they can feel free to make noise and where they can be physically more distant from one another. Too often classrooms feel crowded and controlled. Large spaces where students feel less constrained are likely to provide opportunities for more creativity and emotional development.

(d) Green outdoor spaces. These have similar benefits to the indoor spaces described above but with the advantages of fresh air and no walls! Inspiring outdoor spaces can also offer students an alternative working environment when they do not wish to study indoors, as well as opening opportunities for young people to develop their gardening and other outdoor skills, for instance, during Independent Project Time.

(e) Outdoor spaces for organised sports. Outdoor spaces for organised sports are ideally considered as part of the school’s environment. The spaces can have a sufficient range of sport-specific apparatus. For schools that do not have such spaces, access to such outdoor spaces, for example, a community sports centre, sports ground and similar sports facilities, would be necessary.

(f) Large and fully stocked library. The school’s library facilities need to be extensive due to the independent nature of much of the study in a human-centred school. Students need access to a wide range of materials in their own time. It is also desirable for the library to have sufficient comfortable study space close to the books where students can carry out independent study. Contemporary libraries stock more than a collection of books, journals, magazines, and so forth, where possible there could be a digital library, a visual and audio library as well as online and physical records of students’ writings, arts and performances.

(g) Access to technology and specialist facilities. A human-centred school would have sufficient technological resources, such as computers, Internet-based educational resources, and so on, to enable students to access learning materials to carry out their own research. It would also support technology-based learning styles that some staff may employ. Students would also have access to specialist facilities and technology such as darkrooms, cameras, laboratories, design technology apparatus and art supplies.

(h) Quiet spaces for solitary time. There are spaces where young people and adults are able to spend time alone, to reflect, think or simply to clear their minds. Giving members of the school community the possibility of removing themselves from the often-intense social and academic environment and seeking their own company is a way of respecting them. Time spent alone can be powerful in enabling young people to be more thoughtful and less stressed, and it can help them connect with the spiritual and with nature. Both outdoor and inside spaces would make it possible for students and staff to seek solitude at any time.

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