ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.
‘Community’ is an everyday word in children’s education and care services, with the concept embedded in National Quality Framework legislation and National Quality Standard (NQS) practice guidance, resources and professional development. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities is the focus of NQS Quality Area 6. But what is community? Why is a sense of community so important to positive developmental and educational outcomes for children? Why should services be connecting and collaborating with their community? In this five-part series, I explore community and its important role in delivering quality outcomes for children, while helping you identify who and what is in your community and giving you some key strategies to engage and collaborate with your community.
In this first instalment, I explore the ‘sense of community’ and the way it is connected to place, people and shared purpose.
What is community?
The word ‘community’ can mean different things to different people and/or groups of people, depending on our perspective and the unique context of our own community. For example, an education and care service community in a remote part of Australia will be quite different to the service community in a high-rise commercial building located in a CBD. This may be different again to a family day care community in the country and an outside school hours care community in suburbia.
Even within one service, the children, educators, families and approved provider may have different viewpoints on ‘community’. For some, community might mean the educators and families connected together by children in a room or year group. For others, community might mean ‘the neighbourhood’ – the whole service extending to the local streets, park, library, train station and shops. In a remote region, community might encompass different, individual, kinship communities and extend hundreds of kilometres. One person’s community, or their understanding of what community means to them, may be quite different from another person’s.
People can also belong to multiple communities. They could simultaneously belong to a children’s education and care service community, a hobby-based community, a cultural or faith-based community or even a virtual community connected online or through social media.
What is a ‘sense of community’?
Having a ‘sense of community’ is generally thought to be when members of a community experience four, positive feelings:
- Belonging: Feeling you are part of the community, are accepted, safe, and identify with the community.
- Influence: Feeling you ‘matter’ and can make a difference to the community and the community can have influence on you and its members.
- Integration and fulfilment of needs: Feeling your needs can be met by the community.
- Shared emotional connection: Feeling attachment or bonding between community members through shared experience, place or history.
Connecting to place and to people
Community has many dimensions, but is often thought of as meaningful connection to a place, or to people, or to both. Community members focusing on place might define their community by its location, having strong connection to the physical or geographical context. A people-based community is primarily driven by relationships.
Ideally, an education and care service community involves meaningful connection to place and people. Community members are valued and, through strong, positive relationships and shared decision making, they feel a sense of belonging and connection to the place and people. Both dimensions make positive contributions to feeling a sense of community.
Communities share a purpose
A community is usually driven by a shared purpose – the tangible reason for connecting and working together. Ideally, in children’s education and care, this shared purpose is promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Individual community members, such as educators and families, will already have this singular purpose; but, when a community works together on a shared purpose, greater outcomes can often be achieved.
Strengthening relationships between community members will strengthen outcomes. Therefore, if educators, service staff, families, community organisations, schools, neighbourhoods, councils and other community resources connect and collaborate, positive educational and developmental outcomes for children can be achieved.
Reflective questions for you and your team or service
- What are my personal understandings of the word ‘community’?
- Do members of my team or service have similar or different understandings of community?
- What does ‘a sense of community’ feel like to me?
- Ask each staff member to identify what they believe the purpose of the education and care service to be.
In the next instalment of our series, we explore why community is important to children’s educational and developmental outcomes.
Further reading and resources
ACECQA – Information sheet – Building partnerships with families
KidsMatter – Video 1.3: A sense of community