I recently had the opportunity to listen to Soledad O'Brien speak at a conference. In her keynote, she talked about a sense of belonging, and how schools who are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion might, in fact, be missing the critical piece of belonging. If a school truly wants a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment they must build a community in which all of the members have a sense of belonging.
It actually seems simple, but if so many systems (schools, towns, and businesses) are missing diversity, equity and inclusion, then we must be missing the sense of belonging and community.
When she spoke, it hit home for me because I was recently part of a community where I lost my sense of belonging. It happened slowly, because when I started at the school it really did feel like I was a member of that community. I remember feeling an incredible sense of community and belonging. Fifteen years later, however, it was devastating to come to the realization that I no longer felt like I belonged.
I responded by walking away, leaving that once familial community behind.
Now I'm a new member of a community, and that has left me with a question: Whose job is it to become part of the community? The person who is already a part of that community, or the new member?
There is incredible power in belonging.
I can tell you from personal experience that without that sense of belonging, there's no reason to stay, to work hard, or to engage.
I'm letting that be a lesson to myself as I join this new community, find a way to make sure I create a sense of belonging in this new community. Make sure everyone is seen. I started in my classroom; classrooms are often hierarchical. The teacher is a monarch, the high-achieving students are the nobles, the kids who struggle and work hard are the knights, and the kids who slip through the cracks are the serfs.
Why do you think those kids slip through the cracks? Could it be because they're not seen?
How do we change that?
I am not going to pretend to have the answer, but if we go back to what we celebrate in our classrooms - what if we celebrate the kids who persevered, those who worked with others, those who pushed themselves to achieve something, those who failed to succeed. If we take grades away, then hierarchy goes away too! But so much of the educational system is built on the success of passing. Very little celebration of the struggle.
We cannot create a sense of belonging, without a celebration of struggle.
I challenge you to consider if you have a community within your classroom, and what you can do to celebrate something other than grades.