What do you remember about your time in school? Most people answer that question with a story about a person they remember—a teacher, coach, a fellow student. It’s my thesis that the context of schooling—the network of relationships, the modeling of life we find—is an important part of the content of schooling, and that we need to be as intentional about the context, the culture of our schools as we are about curriculum. As James K. A. Smith argues in his recent book, Desiring the Kingdom, Christian schooling is about “how a Christian education shapes us, forms us, molds us to be a certain kind of people whose hearts and passions and desires are aimed at the Kingdom of God” (18).
That shaping, forming, molding into people who do the work of the kingdom is done in the culture of a school. Thomas Sergiovanni writes, “Communities are defined by their centers of values, sentiments, and beliefs that provide the needed conditions for creating a sense of ‘we’ from ‘I’” (106).
After a lifetime of involvement in the church and Christian schools, I have been led to a vision of Christian schools as communities of grace—a community, not for its comfortable self, but a community on a mission. School cultures develop habits of the mind and heart for our work in the kingdom.
There are many kinds of communities, of which I’ll briefly explore two.
A Community of Mind
A school that functions as a community of the mind becomes a learning community in which relationships are close and informal, individual circumstances count, acceptance is unconditional, relationships are cooperative and collegial, leadership is shared, sacrificing oneself for the sake of other community members is common, and all the members work hard to find a center of beliefs, values, understandings. It’s a place where everyone is a crew member on a voyage and no one is a passenger.
Here’s a list of a few of the practices in schools that are striving to be a community of mind: