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Community-based Culture in Schools

The Glossary of Education Reform defines community-based learning as “a wide variety of instructional methods and programs that educators use to connect what is being taught in schools to their surrounding communities, including local institutions, history, literature, cultural heritage, and natural environments. Community-based learning is also motivated by the belief that all communities have intrinsic educational assets and resources that educators can use to enhance learning experiences for students” (Great School Partnerships, 2014, para. 1).

Similar to inquiry-, project-, problem-, and design-based learning approaches (and arguably overlapping in many cases), community-based learning is when students provide solutions to a want, need, or problem of their local community. Students may even take action to solve this want, need, or problem. Although community-based learning does not always purposefully speak to building an inclusive culture, the research indicates that the outcomes do relate to the development, implementation, and sustainability of an inclusive culture.

Similar to communicating with all stakeholders within an educational ecosystem, educational leaders must take action to invite community members into the school ecosystem in ways that support an inclusive school culture. Please keep in mind the following key tips:

■ Community-based learning can and should be designed collaboratively.

■ Communication methods may include e-mails and social media posts, class newspapers/newsletters to current and potential partners, and school-community websites. The school’s social media handles can highlight school-community partner achievements related to the impacts shared in the above visualization.

■ Platforms should be available for stakeholders within the educational ecosystem to discuss volunteerism, philanthropic efforts, community service, citizenship, professionalism, internships, training, practicums, and opportunities for students to practice professionalism.

■ For community members interested in participating in community-based learning, there should be clear communication of learning goals, approximate timelines, expectations of students, and level of community member immersion.

■ Professional learning for educators on community-based learning and community partnership relationships is ongoing. Professional learning could be offered to community partners, as well.

■ Community members of diverse cultures are valued for their contributions to the community.

■ Community-based projects purposefully interweave inclusive practices, such as utilization of a universal design for learning framework, involvement of families, accessibility to supplementary aids and services, and adaptations to physical environments.

Community-based learning is an engaging approach to building an inclusive community-based culture in schools and districts. The authentic learning experiences provided by developing solutions to community problems have shown to positively impact students in many ways, such as student achievement, attendance, and social and emotional skills. Educational leaders and their team should reach out to current and potential community partners to explore ways to integrate community wants, needs, and problems into what students are learning in the classroom.


Alsbury, T.L., Kobashigawa, S., & Ewart, M. (2020). Community-based Learning and Student Outcomes. In Kimonen, E. & Nevalainen, R. (Eds.), Toward Community-Based Learning Experiences from the U.S.A., India, and China (1st ed. Pp. 124-145). Brill. https://doi. org/10.1163/9789004424494_003 Great School Partnerships. (2014).

Glossary of education reform: Community-based learning.

This post is an excerpt from the September 2021 Indianagram written by Drs. Krista Stith and Rachel Geesa. The Indianagram is a publication of the Indiana Association of School Principals

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