Slough(small)Sowing the Seeds of Place and Community-based Learning

by Becs Boyd

APlace and Community Based approach can be transformative for students and teachers, schools and communities. Making this approach work means taking a fresh look at the school community, the wider community and the environment, and working out how they can best support each other. Change takes time, and success, naturally, relies on a healthy physical and social learning environment, with good relationships between educators, administrators and students. Many schools will already be connecting students with their local place and helping them discover how to make their own Place in the world a positive one.

Here are some pointers drawn from the experiences of real schools, students and teachers to help plant the seeds of Place in new school communities.

1 – Learning and caring about Place

Connecting and engaging students by using the local environment and culture as the starting point for learning and caring about the wider world

Develop an inclusive and caring school ethos and culture, encouraging the school community – parents, teachers and students – to feel listened to, cared for, involved, respected and valued.
Ground the whole school vision in sustainability – starting with the local Place and community and extending to the wider world – sharing ownership for building the school’s identity with staff and students
Leadership styles that involve shared planning, good communication and the active involvement of the school leader in teaching and school activities can help support a ‘culture of care’.
Nurture students’ sense of Place by allowing plenty of opportunity for unstructured play or quiet time in a familiar natural ‘Place’.
Give teachers adequate support, resources, planning time, training and flexibility to develop their own teaching practices around Place.

2 – Responsible citizens

Empowering students to make a difference in the local environment and community, creating caring local and global citizens

Encourage the development of links between students and local representatives, charities and businesses to help identify manageable projects where students can have a real impact.
Give students plenty of time and opportunity as part of school to experience and work in the wider community.
•  Encourage students to contribute to the development of community service provision, for example by encouraging markets for local food, helping disadvantaged groups etc.
•  Build links with schools and communities in contrasting localities at home or abroad to raise awareness of diversity and global issues.

3 – Active learners

‘Real-world’ problem-solving, so students create knowledge with teachers as guides and co-learners. Learning is often interdisciplinary.

Use themes and action-based projects to make connections across subjects and issues, and link classwork into both the school community and into learning in the local environment and community.
•  Collaborative planning of the curriculum framework is needed, particularly at secondary level, to find the most effective synergies and projects and avoid duplication. Allow teachers to help design the curriculum.
•  Encourage ‘whole school’ learning that involves all students across all ages and classes. One way of doing this is to adopt an annual theme, like the forests, rivers and mountains themes at Sunnyside School.
Encourage students to learn by doing and be ‘creators’ of knowledge, with the teacher as a guide and co-learner who may not have all the ‘answers’.
Action-based and creative arts projects help with student participation and create more engagement and ‘ownership’, as well as developing skills in strategic and critical thinking and problem-solving.

4 – Effective contributors

Students’ questions and concerns play a central role in determining what is studied and how.

•  Make students’ concerns and questions central to the learning agenda, helping them to identify issues they wish to address.
•  Involve students in supporting the school community, including fundraising, and ensure that their contribution can make a real impact.

5 – School in community

Building two-way partnerships between the school and the wider community, including local organizations and business, and making the most of the ‘outdoor’ or ‘community’ classroom

•  Be ambitious and outward-looking – use the local environment and community as hands-on learning resources and encourage parents, community organisations and businesses to bring their issues to the school.
•  Take students out into local wild places and community venues as well as inviting community members into the school.
•  Make the school a model for a sustainable community that can act as a learning hub and role model for the wider community

6 – Relevant for the real world

Assessing school work not just on its competence, but also on its wider contribution to student growth, to the community and to sustainability

•  Make use of a range of assessment methods. Materials from The Rural School and Community Trust on documenting and assessing Place Based Learning are a helpful source.
•  Encourage community organisations and parents to contribute to assessment – what difference has the school made to them?

Becs Boyd explored place-based education programs throughout the Pacific Northwest through a Churchill fellowship. She resides in Scotland.