Creating a sense of community at boarding schools

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We’re not all serious talk about student health information and school health forms here at Magnus. We like to learn about everything school related, including the unique world of boarding schools. So, recently I asked an online community of boarding school staff members what their favorite part of working at a boarding school is. The feedback was overwhelming.

Directors of Operations, Deans, Administrative Assistants, Directors of Admissions, and Educators all rushed to share their stories of working at boarding schools and what their experiences mean to them. The one theme that each person shared: A sense of community.

The idea of community is comforting. It’s like a warm bowl of soup on a snowy day, or a dip in the ocean during the heat of summer. It’s just right. But creating this sought-after sense of community isn’t exactly easy, and it definitely takes work. That’s why we’re talking about how boarding schools can create a sense of teamwork, support, and community by using the resources they already have. 

Be the example.

Community starts at the top. If the health department and the admissions department rarely talk, why should the basketball players and the school newspaper staff ever hang out? By creating teambuilding opportunities for staff members, you can set an example and a standard of what it means to be part of your school’s community. Take it from me, a person who is usually wary of teambuilding activities: They’re worth it.

IMG_7293-282640-editedHere at Magnus, we host two teambuilding activities each year with the goal of opening the lines of communication and getting to know everyone in each department. After all, if we’re going to advise schools to communicate across departments, we should probably be doing the same thing. But we don’t teambuild just to say we did. We do it because you can honestly feel the bonds between each other strengthening throughout the day.

It doesn’t matter if you play dodgeball or create a scavenger hunt across school grounds. Just do something – anything – that allows staff members to work together toward a common goal.

Cherish unstructured time.

Driving students to a movie theater or sitting around a bonfire may seem like regular, run-of-the-mill activities. But at any moment during unstructured (or even structured) time, you get a glimpse into a student’s reality. As one Admissions Director put it, “It’s during these unstructured times that I feel I get to know the kids the best. Their fears, hopes and dreams are just variations of what I felt as an adolescent.”

It’s a special privilege to gain so much insight into student’s lives, and each insight is another opportunity to create building blocks for a stronger community. As you develop a better understanding of each student and each group, you will naturally be better equipped to relate to students and to help them relate to each other.

Rally behind school spirit.

Connecting an entire community is easier when individuals have one common goal. Sports games and spirit weeks are basic spirit builders on their own, but what other exciting and unconventional ways can you build community through school spirit?

I remember seeing a boarding school’s Twitter feed recently, and they were sharing pictures of their school’s mascot all around campus. Whenever a student found the mascot, they snapped a picture and shared it for the school, and the world, to see.

I’m not saying that mascot hide-and-go-seek is the answer to building school spirit and a sense of community. But I am saying that it can liven up an otherwise regular week, and these types of creative and unique ideas are what make boarders excited to be a part of the school community. When they have a tradition to call their own, they are banded together through that very tradition.

Now it’s your turn! Tell us what your favorite part about working at a boarding school is by using the comment section below.