It's been said by one of my favorite writers and thinkers on peace building that conservatives start with security, believing it will lead to peace, and liberals start with peace, believing that it will result in security. Where ever one falls on that spectrum, I hope most would agree that security and community (peace) are inherently linked.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately as someone who believes that a classroom is (or can and should be) a community. Writers and thinkers grow best in a community of other writers and thinkers. That's why I involve so much discussion in my classroom, as well as projects that ask kids to draw on a variety of interpersonal, communications, language and problem-solving skills. Yet this is of course a particularly challenging environment to build community in. For one thing, kids come and go very quickly. Secondly, with some students who are struggling with the most serious of charges and mental health issues (one might soon be diagnosed with multiple personality disorder), keeping myself, staff and other students safe is responsibility one. Kids can't learn in a tense classroom where every move is corrected; neither can they learn when they don't feel safe. (It sure affects my teaching, too!) One of our security guys said he's never seen kids like some we just got in. He's been here over 25 years, so I'm inclined to listen. I've recently had a student assault another student, out of nowhere, in my classroom. Just today nearly have of last period was on lock-down. Apparently things had not gone well throughout the day.
I've reflected all year on how best to build community in my classroom here, and I think I've hit on a few things that work at least sometimes. I think the journals can be key to this. Students regularly ask me to bring them back to their living units to write in. We share daily. I get inappropriate responses that I stop mixed in with humor, honesty, missing home, missing cats, your own bed and self-reflection. Right now we're exploring media literacy, identifying techniques of propaganda in ads and commercials. The final assignment for this will be to create a commercial (using the handy wonderful video recorder our Executive Administrator scared up for us) that shows two or more of the techniques. They'll be putting text together, essentially, and along with all of the creative, critical thinking and language skills involved, it will take community for my students to put together a successful project.