Definition of a School: fam•i•ly/‘fam(?)le/

December 04, 2011 | Featured
By Sherry Worel

Definition of a School: fam•i•ly/‘fam(?)le/

With just a little bit of effort, one can find all kinds of meaningful definitions for the term, “school.” It might be a large group of fish or sea mammals, or a place of learning and source of knowledge. It may be an institution where people hold similar opinions or behavior. Most likely the term will refer to the process of teaching, the students who learn, and the teachers who teach.But there is another significant term or definition that should accurately reflect the scope and processes associated with schooling and that is the term: FAMILY.

A basic definition of a family might read, “A group of people held together by bonds of love and affection.” The emphasis in this definition is the quality of the relationships, not the family structure itself. And it is this article’s assertion that a high quality, high functioning, God honoring school should see itself first and fore mostly as a family. Regardless of the educational structure, regardless of the age of the students, regardless of the culture the school operates in, a school should fundamentally function within a wide array of meaningful relationships. It should be a family!

Learning is a risk, and a child will only take such a high risk when he or she sees the corresponding rewards in the context of personal relationships.

So what does a school family look like? How does it operate? What is the feeling tone of the students, staff and parents? It all begins with a common purpose, and there must be deep devotion to the mission and vision of the school. There must also be a shared commitment to Christian education, a pervasive biblical world view, a love for children, an unyielding focus on academic excellence, and a clear determination to develop Christian character. This common purpose keeps everyone sitting around the same kitchen table enjoying the same conversation.

When a school sees itself as an extended family, there will always be reliable structure. The decision makers will function within the lines of stated authority. No individual or group will upset that structure, and no sub groups will vie for attention or power. Like a family, the members care more about the health of the whole group than any one part.

This kind of meaningful structure will have a compassionate, effective, mature individual as the leader. This leader will be very visible to all members of the school family. He or she cannot just sit in their “favorite arm chair” and read the “papers.” They must be as comfortable on the playground as they are in the conference room. Tasks will be delegated to others in administrative positions, but the care and concern for all will never be delegated. This “management by wandering around” will foster high academic expectations and produce a peace within the family. There are no favorites. Everyone’s needs are considered. All aspects of school life are held in creative tension, and resources are applied in a fair and meaningful way. The leader leads with active, visible love.

Everyone in this kind of school family has a tangible sense of belonging. It is a vibrant collection of kids, parents, staff, and community members; and there are at least six major characteristics to this kind of community:

First of all, it must be a safe community. The number one reason parents put their children in private school is to provide for their safety. The term safety involves more than just personal safety from violent acts. It also includes a safe environment where differences are celebrated rather than persecuted. It means that divergent opinions are respected. It means that a child can be free from stereotypical responses by teachers or students. Our school family must first be safe.

Our school family must also be clearly focused as a learning community. Children come to school to learn. They must comprehend a large body of knowledge, assimilate lots of facts, and compare and contrast many factors of modern living. They must be challenged to think for themselves. As they sit around that “kitchen table,” the discussions must include even the little voices and the shy ones while encouraging the confident ones to care for their “brother.”

The school family must also be a supportive community. Administration has to see its work as primarily supporting the efforts of the classroom teachers. Parents must see their role as builders of scaffolding for the school community. The older students must embrace the younger ones and help them to accomplish meaningful tasks, and the members of the school family must genuinely care for each other. Formal and informal prayer should frequently break out all across the campus. Parent groups should obsess about how to bless the staff. Support staff should bend over backwards for faculty members. Children should be taught to care about their wider community with service projects being a normal part of the school life.

And when the school family genuinely cares for each other, it will naturally be a collaborative community. Teachers will not be isolated in their classrooms. Projects will be widely embraced as staff members see their role in the context of the whole school. Parents will readily join committees and “put their shoulders to the wheel” as they sense a real need to be involved. Gifts and abilities will be matched with job requirements. Business people will use their acumen to effectively move the school forward. Experts in needed areas will be sought out. Communication will be effective and true collaboration will fuel the energy of the school family.

A healthy school family will also be a serving community. The myopic view that many schools engender will be discarded. It is not all about us! And in its place, the parents, student body, and staff of the school family will stop thinking just about their own needs and begin to consider the needs of others around the broader neighborhood, state, country, and world.

Spiritual projects will come quickly to mind. These can involve individual classes or groups of students and their parents. Work with a ministry like Kids Around the World and bag food for an hour or so. In that amount of time, just thirty people can feed a small orphanage for an entire year!

A serving community can also include school wide efforts that are short term or ongoing. They can include personal visits, online chats, and other kinds of communication. Money can be collected for mission projects, individuals can be supported, educational projects can be developed, items can be made, and gifts can be decorated. Work with Cargo of Dreams and outfit cargo containers and send an entire school to an isolated village somewhere in the world. The list goes on and on.

There is a whole raft of humanitarian projects that can also be considered. Chapel offerings could be canned goods collected for a neighborhood food bank. Older students can serve in food kitchens. Facility improvement projects at other non-profit organizations can be completed by children of all ages. Weeds can be pulled, painting can be done, and trash can be hauled. Recycling efforts can be emphasized. Community partnerships are readily available for student involvement. Businesses love to partner with schools as long as the project is clear and the recipients have real needs.

The sixth way a school family can express that tangible sense of community is by being engaged. An engaged community doesn’t have time for bickering and self oriented discussions. Everyone is busy doing something of real value. Education is taking place. Kids are learning and growing as individuals. People are active and participating. Events and programs will flower when the school community works as a family.

Even during difficult economic times, people want to volunteer. They are just selective about the use of their time. A school that operates as a loving, concerned family will always have folks standing in line to help. They will want to be part of something that meets the educational, spiritual, and personal needs of their children. Parents in biological families don’t assist their children because they are required to. They do so because that’s what a family does!

How you define a school has much to say about the mission and vision of that institution. A school that sees itself as a functioning, extended family has the opportunity to build a lasting legacy that is personal with students and parents alike. When a strapping 26 year old marine officer drops by their elementary school to give the administrators an update on their career, you can be certain it is not because that school was accredited or had interactive white boards. When a thirty year old alumni mother cries tears of joy during the enrollment process, thrilled that her children will have the same kind of personal experiences she had, it is not because expensive textbooks are provided. It is because both those individuals were part of a vibrant school family. And it still matters to them!

Sherry Worel is one of the founders and current Superintendent of Stoneybrooke Christian Schools in San Juan Capistrano, California. She has served in that position for 29 years. She also serves joyfully as the Chairman of the Board for the Network of International Christian Schools.

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