The Essence of Feeling a Sense of Community: A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Inquiry With Middle School Students and Teachers
Cassidy, Kate J.
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In contemporary times, there is a compelling need to understand the nature of positive community relationships that value diverse others. This dissertation is a hermeneutic phenomenological inquiry into the essence of what it means to feel a sense of community. Specifically, I explored this phenomenon from the perspective of middle school teachers and students through the following questions: What meanings do students and teachers ascribe to feeling, experiencing, and developing a sense of community in their classes? To what extent do students’ and teachers’ ideas about feeling a sense of community include the acceptance of individual differences? Together these questions contributed to the overarching question, what is the essence of feeling a sense of community? As the data pool for the research, I used 192 essays and 218 posters from students who had been asked to write or draw about their visions of a positive classroom community where they felt a sense of community. I conducted 9 teacher interviews on the topic as well. My findings revealed one overarching ontology, Being-in-Relation, which outlined a full integration between individuality and community as a “way of being.” I also found five attributes that are present when individuals feel a sense of community: Supporting Others, Dialogue, An Ethic of Respect and Care, Safety, and Healthy Conflict. Contributions from this research include extensions to the literature about community; clarity for those who wish to establish a strong foundation of community relationships within formal and non-formal educational programs; insight that may assist educators, leaders, and policy makers within formal educational systems; and an opportunity to consider the extent to which the findings may point toward broader implications.