Chapters three and four of Michael J. Nakkula's book, Understanding Youth, hold one loud resounding theme: Confident and dynamic learners are born from communities and schools that intentionally focus on providing channels for growth, communities that build bridges to learning.
We have all heard the saying "it takes a village to raise a child," but what does this actually look like? What does this quote actually mean? Despite what we may think about encouraging independence and self reliance in our children (two highly regarded American values), kids need to be afforded opportunities to learn from and negotiate with others. When we think about "learning communities" we should consider a more broad look at the term "community." The willingness and intentionality of a community to build up strong adolescents can determine the rate of success seen in students. Community programs (and individuals) can provide outlets for adolescents to become successful and according to Nakkula, success outside of school can be transferred into the classroom. Building up a child's confidence through the use of community programs can lead to more opportunities for success in the classroom..."The experience of building skills builds confidence and a sense of competence. The more confidence and competence we feel, the more likely we are to venture into new learning opportunities" (Pg. 71). Kids need to spend time with people who are not like themselves, learning how to work as a team.The benefits of a strong community and experience with teamwork cannot be overstated. It is through the wide lens of these learning communities that students are able to build bridges to learning in the classroom. Skills learned outside of school have a tremendous impact on the way a student may deal with challenges inside of school.
In chapter five Nakkula makes it clear that although the outside community plays a tremendous role in adolescent development (as understood in chapter 4), teachers are not off the hook completely. Teachers who choose to act as mentors to students are able to further bridge the gap between their students and themselves. "Like anyone else, youth want to be engaged as thinking, feeling, valued members of a community in which they are viewed as stakeholders" (Pg.81). Teachers who take the role of mentor, rather than commander in chief, are much more likely to earn the respect of students. As respect is earned, stronger and more meaningful relationships can be forged. "Teachers who model ways of being in relationship for students teach more than content knowledge; they teach respect, care, collaboration, and a host of life skills necessary to ensure success and personal happiness" (Pg.97-98).
Nakkula's approach is dynamic and multidimensional. His vision extends beyond one teacher in one classroom, taking more of a holistic approach. Strong communities working together with strong schools will produce strong students. Strength is not defined as making the honor role, or having the highest test scores, but rather as a network of competent and confident learners with the desire to learn from each other. Everyone is a mentor and everyone is a learner in this scenario. It takes a village to raise a child.