The Case For Community
Community is important. We may not always stop to articulate the reasons, but even during rough times, we are looking for like-minded people to relate to, commiserate with, seek wisdom, or just to share space. When community is strong, we are changed, and that’s what blew me away in my recent conversation with TeacherGoals Founder, Brad Weinstein and EduMatch Founder, Dr. Sarah Thomas during our LIVE discussion on the power of a thriving community. Both of these leaders have successfully used social media as a way to connect educators globally.
Community Is More Than Location
Before social media, the idea of community was based more on physical locality. This was fine for many, but what if you didn’t feel like you belonged? What if you felt like an outcast, like Dr. Sarah Thomas described in our TeacherGoals LIVE discussion? If community was only about building relationships with those nearest to you, but it failed to bring you a sense of connectedness, you might struggle with loneliness or even hopelessness. This is the reality for many students, educators, and parents.
Fortunately these days, with ever-growing social media platforms, the idea of community is more about coming together and building relationships with people who share an interest beyond current location. This common interest or idea unites them, but the sense of fellowship and belonging keeps them together. From someone who did not feel like she belonged to someone who has helped build a global community with EduMatch, Dr. Sarah Thomas believes that, “community is everything” and after the last couple of years we have faced, it’s the relationships in our community that “have sustained us and kept us going while facing challenges and pour[ing] into each other’s cups.”
During this LIVE discussion, a member of our community, Rita Singh, chimed in to share,“Community helps hold each other up.” We totally agree, Rita.
Community Invites Powerful Conversations
Before going LIVE, we go over our talking points, but something incredible happened when we were talking with Dr. Thomas about the story of how EduMatch began. One of our community members tuning in, Renee Barrett, made a statement we did not want to ignore, “Connecting realistically with teachers across racial divides is heartbreakingly difficult.”
Dr. Thomas addressed this with the mission of EduMatch. She stated that there has always been division but in our world today, it really feels like it’s come to a point we can’t ignore. She had a mic drop moment when she expressed, “Within the EduMatch Community, one of the things we really believe in, two things as a matter of fact: One is make sure that everybody is represented at the table, included at the table, welcomed at the table, loved at the table, you know, there’s space for us all and we want to amplify voices as much as we can….”
The second point she expressed was forming deep relationships with people in the community through really getting to know one another. She said that conversations that we normally see as polarizing and unfruitful in the world around us are often just the opposite when talking with people you know more deeply. When I asked her if she knew anyone who had been changed through this process with EduMatch, she answered that she had been changed through the process!
How can this happen in a community? Dr. Thomas says it can happen when a community is built on trust. Trust in one another allows community members to be vulnerable because they know they will not be condemned for what they are sharing, and they are sharing through the process and purpose of growing.
Brad Weinstein also had a lot to say regarding growing because of the friends and relationships he’s had in his life and professional journey, “I’ve grown a lot just by being with a diverse group of people, who didn’t have my same thoughts and values, and in fact changed my perspectives in a lot of ways.” With this growth, he expressed that he sees many things differently and is also able to share that with others. There is no shame in this growth and it allows for us to serve the people in our lives in more meaningful ways.
Thriving Classroom Community
This unplanned discussion really stayed with me. The same concepts that Dr. Sarah Thomas and Brad Weinstein shared can be put into action in our classrooms with our students. If that trust is real, young people can sense it and will open up so much. I can attest that my students and colleagues helped me to grow and see life through a different lens. Using what I learned from them helped us form deeper relationships, and I was able to design meaningful and more relevant lessons. We were also able to have conversations where students could express themselves truthfully and not worry about getting in trouble or being shut down. In fact, believing the truth of life experiences shared, even while they may differ from our own, can be a catalyst for trust.
We at TeacherGoals know that there is power when we are connected in school communities. We believe when we set a tone where our community members (teachers, staff, students, parents, and partnering businesses) feel invited, valued, and who understand they play an important role, that there will be true learning and growth and real problem solving for the challenges we are facing.