Challenge and Support: The balance necessary for creating sustainable communities

It is my job to facilitate community for undergraduate teacher education majors at Appalachian State University. Working in the James Center for Appalachian Educators the word community gets tossed around a lot. The title of two of our programs has the word in them! (Appalachian Community of Education Scholars, the Transfer Educators Residential Learning Community…)

In my role, I was able to start a new community in the Reich College of Education this year, the Teacher Education Peer Ambassadors. It has served a purpose to create community outside of our Residential Learning Communities for education students with leadership ability. It has also served a mutually beneficial purpose as these leaders foster community amongst their peers and prospective students by connecting them to resources and engagement opportunities.

These groups that the James Center staff facilitate can be called communities because they bring together students with similar interests, passions, career paths, etc.

When I reflected on what then makes a community sustainable, I was drawn to a human development theory I learned in my graduate studies. The following illustrates Sanford’s Theory of Challenge and Support:


You can gain a sense of community from almost anything; a hobby, your spirituality, work, etc.  What I believe differentiates as a sustainable community is a community that has delicate balance of challenge and support, thus leading to the maximum growth and benefit of its participants. A sustainable community isn’t afraid to tackle the obstacles; discuss controversial topics, address group or individual concerns, work to address inequities, all while promoting a sense of care, empathy, and compassion.

Communicating the importance of sustainable communities to future educators is imperative, as they will have direct influence over creating them. They will foster the development of children and thus their capability to participate in sustainable communities. This mission is a guiding principle for much of what I do working with future teachers.



Sanford, N. (1966). Self and society: Social change and individual development. New York: Atherton.



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