have been homeschooling my children since their earliest years. They came fast and furious, in just barely over three years, two boys and a girl, now ages 14 – 11. I have learned so much, but I am still a novice. My dad always told me, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” (I just found out that this quote was originally from Aristotle!) How do any of us have anything to share when compared with the sages who lived for hundreds of years in those early days Genesis mentions, or with the Maker of our world? So, keeping that in mind, I am sharing here to share a few principles we have learned thus far in the journey of building healthy communities.
The “we” I refer to is the community of women with whom I have shared the work of developing, managing, and maintaining a community of 25+ families who homeschool together twice a week, seeking together to provide a Christ-centered classical education for our children. In our community, all moms commit to teach or to be working toward teaching. Therefore, developing community for us is an endeavor that includes both equipping excellent teachers and nurturing healthy supportive relationships.
I am part of a leadership team of five where we share our skills and experience. Beyond our team, the women in our parent-teacher community are willing to share their gifts, be honest when they are struggling, and support one another in a variety of ways. I have been blessed countless times by the joys of learning with other women, the “high” of enthusiastic learning in our students, and the prayers of good friends who understand how hard things can be. I feel God has graced us and we can’t take credit for it. As I reflect, though, I also see how he has graced us with trials and hard lessons as we faced some major challenges. These trials have helped us grow. Maybe the things we’ve learned can be helpful to those of you leading or starting groups.
Principle 1: “Get the right people on the bus in the right seat.”
This comes from Jim Collins in his book, From Good to Great. Homeschooling our children in community is such a challenging endeavor requiring such commitment and effort, that making sure you get people with a common mission and vision is essential to the functioning of your community. Here is how we do it.
- Create a clear mission and purpose statement. Know what you are about and communicate it regularly. Knowing this mission will help you avoid getting sidetracked doing too many things that don’t hit at your core goals. This is easy for ambitious home-educating parents to do. We can easily propel each other to insanity, just as well as to greatness.
- Make your statement of faith and educational philosophy known outright. It should be the first gate people pass through as they learn about you. It is a courtesy to them! It is better and clearer for everyone if people can deselect themselves or investigate further because you have been very clear what your group is all about. This is also a legal protection for you.
- Decide on your structural model–co-op or business, etc. How are decisions made? Team or single director? Will everyone will teach? What standards will you hold them to as far as teacher experience or theology? If you are hiring teachers, then you can be more selective for your teacher requirements, yet broader in your general membership. Each model has advantages, but It helps to make the process clear for everyone.
- Create a clear process for becoming a member. Our group has every potential applicant first view our website and make sure they are in agreement with our philosophical approach to education and our statement of faith. Then, we have that parent (and possibly their children) come to our co-op for a day. Seeing us in action gives people a much clearer sense of whether we are the right fit for them and vice versa. Homeschooling allows for such variety in approaches. Our particular flavor works well for some, but not for others. We also communicate from the outset that every parent is expected to teach or be preparing to teach (meaning they may not have to teach their first year, but should be observing experienced teachers.) The family then sends in an application and is interviewed by members of the leadership team. Families secure a spot upon acceptance with a registration fee/deposit in the spring.
Principle 2: Cultivate an atmosphere of cooperation and humility in the journey of becoming better educators.
We often say another pithy statement my dad taught me, “Presume good will.” Every June, we host a day-long Teacher-Training Retreat for all our parents. We reference Patrick Leccioni’s “Characteristics of Dysfunctional Groups” pyramid, but look at it from a positive perspective of what it takes to be a functioning group. The base layer is Trust. We acknowledge we expect there to be conflict, and while most people prefer to avoid it, conflict is not bad and is part of growing. We ask moms to “presume good will” with one another and with the leadership. We ask our members to seek clarification and to be free to ask questions and seek clarification. I recently had one of our members reference that statement. She said it had helped her in some of her relationships to not jump to feeling judged or criticized, but to consciously choose to “presume good will.” See these articles for more information:
We recognize parent-teachers have different areas of expertise and different levels of understanding of the classical/Charlotte Mason approach to education. We work hard to place people in the right jobs. This takes a lot of work on the part of the leadership team and much communication and trust from our parent-teacher pool, but it has worked thus far. We let teachers know they will observe each other to learn from one another. They are given a sheet that lists the “Pillars of Classical Education” from Dr. Perrin’s Classical U course The Principles of Classical Education. They can record their observations along these lines, and are to observe 2-3 teachers over the course of our 30 weeks together. The teacher will also be observed by one of the Leadership Team. We keep our feedback directed toward affirming what is being done well and growing toward mastery. We routinely communicate we are growing toward mastery together. No one can be anywhere on a journey except where they are! The task is to keep moving forward in faith in the Lord, and hand-in-hand with our community. Ultimately, we want to instill this attitude toward learning in our students as well. We want them to be able to celebrate in gratitude to the Lord the talents and successes of their peers, while also seeing their own selves as having something to contribute having been made in God’s image and loved by Him.
Give thanks often. Support in prayer and empathy often. Our community has been excellent at offering support to one another in hard times. While spurring one another toward excellence, we also give grace and permission to not be all we want to be. We remind each other that ultimately Christ is our teacher and the teacher of our kids. We remind each other of the truth of the Good News. We brainstorm strategies for helping our kids where they might be struggling.
Principle 3: The only constant is change.
The first year after I started my first Scholé group, 4 out of the 6 families ended up leaving. It had been a “golden year” for my children and for me. We loved it! But families were making decisions that included no longer homeschooling, moving, or both parents needing to work full-time. I was so disappointed! I loved working with a small group of women I loved! That change contributed to the birth of the current large group I’m now a part of.
Of our original team of five that started that group, only two of us remain. One member moved, one had to get full-time work, and another was led to put her kids in school. The only thing that doesn’t change, my friends, is change. At every major change, I was so sad and disappointed. I was also challenged to consider my own calling to homeschool. Was this something the Lord was calling me to do for my children regardless of who was along for the ride? I am a very social and collaborative woman, and I love “my people.” But I felt the Lord was challenging me to be serious about my motives and constancy. He also was challenging my faith in his provision for me and for my children. I have regularly been reminded that He is ultimately my teacher and my kid’s teacher. He is our guide. I am only an assistant. For families that decide to leave, it’s so important to be supportive and give grace even in our disappointment. The Lord may direct our steps onto different paths at any point. I would pray that I would be ready to obey if God calls for a change, and I want to love my friends as they discern the Lord’s guidance and obey.
Principle 4: Work yourself out of a job.
Since change is so regular, and we grow with our kids, find parents who are willing and skilled to move up in their teaching levels as their kids grow older.
- Mentor them ahead of time by letting them observe experienced teachers.
- Love new people into leadership positions and work yourself out of a job regularly! (Again, let them follow you and observe or take on minor roles, then ease into major roles.)
- Give moms a break from major roles when they are pregnant.
- Always pair teachers with an established assistant so they’ll have a built-in substitute teacher.
- Put helpers in roles they could move into as teachers so they can observe and help for a whole year.
- Remind parents to be in classrooms as much as possible so they can grow even in their teaching at home through observing a variety of parent-teachers.
Principle 4: Learn together
Our group reads a book together over the course of the year to deepening our knowledge of classical education or a book from the classical tradition itself. One year we read Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins. This year, we are reading The Odyssey. We discuss this book together. In addition, each member commits to watching one Classical U course of their choice and typing up a small summary of their take-aways. Our co-op has been able to pay for two-months of membership over the summer with tuition fees. We encourage moms to continue learning and sharing what they are learning with one another. Classical U has been an invaluable source for continuing education for parent-teachers at a variety of levels of experience and who are teaching different ages.
Principle 5: Celebrate together
It started as a last minute spontaneous idea after our first year, but has turned into a tradition. In May, at the end of our 30 weeks of schooling, we host a gathering of celebration and appreciation at sweet cafe in Harrisburg. Moms come, share their scholé moments at home or at co-op from the year they’ve just finished, eat great food, and sometimes we’ve been able to bring in a massage therapist to give chair-massages to our hardworking moms. We always enjoy a poem together, too!
Our group has a December co-op program as well as a Spring end-of-the year program. We invite friends and families to these. For the December program, we try to experience something together as a group. We often tie this to our history time period. We’ve brought in a local theater company to perform A Christmas Carol, or Tales from Ancient Greece. Another year, we had a Swing Dance where we received instruction and a little bit of history of the early 1900’s era as it related to dance. One year we had a Medieval Feast. In the Spring, we display art and science projects, have the choir sing or put on a play (depending on our fine arts cycle), students perform poems, and just generally find ways celebrate our learning together. One thing I love about Scholé Groups is the uniqueness of each one. I love that families can come together and find ways to learn and celebrate together in ways unique to their experience and resources. I pray for each of you out there, that “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory” (Phil 4:19) as you seek to learn together in a healthy community,
Join the Discussion!
Come on over to the Scholé Groups Parents Forum to talk with other home educators about Developing Healthy Community in Your Scholé Group. We’ll see you there. If you have not registered for the conversation at Classical U Forum yet, it’s a simple (and FREE!) process. You’ll find other classical educators discussing a wide variety of topics, plus a dedicated set of forums for Scholé Groups. We’d love to have you join in!