The genetic makeup of humans gives each of us our uniqueness. Not only do we look and act differently, but we also each possess gifts and abilities that are a direct result of what is in our DNA. How we respond to our environment, our susceptibility to disease, and even our life expectancy is largely dependent upon our genetic makeup. We are also very adaptable. As we become more self-aware of our unique strengths and weaknesses, we find ways to compensate for shortcomings and build on our strengths. That awareness and our ability to respond plays a major role in our quality of life and general happiness.

Over my lifetime I have had the opportunity to live and work in many communities. I have also worked with dozens of communities across the nation as they attempt to engage with schools in an effort to improve student outcomes. What I have learned as a participant and observer of these local conversations is that like us, every community is unique, possessing its own kind of DNA. But obviously what makes up the DNA of a community is very different than our own. However, it is that same self-awareness that will determine the quality of life and general happiness of its citizenry.

A community’s DNA is as complex as our own. Although you can’t necessarily see it, the DNA manifests itself in how the community responds to challenges and opportunities. Many factors are at play making the understanding of what makes each community “tick” complex. The factors influencing the “genetic makeup” of a community include existing leadership, relationships, local workforce demands and economy, culture, history, resources, and education opportunities to name just a few. The interaction of these factors ultimately determines how communities look and act.

As communities across the country try to problem solve issues and create new opportunities. My best advice to communities is to become fully aware of your community DNA. That awareness helps communities identify those strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and abilities that will ultimately define the approach needed to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities.