CREATING THE CONDITIONS FOR SCHOOL BELONGING
‘BELONGING MEANS YOU ARE PART OF SOMETHING AND YOU ARE NOT JUST SITTING AROUND ON THE OTHER SIDE… NOT JUST LEFT OUT OR LONELY.’ (STUDENT, QUOTED IN RILEY, 2017, P 57)
The Japanese word ‘ibasho’ means a place where you can be yourself. The power of the word lies in its capacity to encapsulate the importance of that sense of place and belonging. The first ‘ibasho’ project in Japan began in 2012, a heartfelt response to the East Japan Earthquake of 2011.
In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic and our increasingly uncertain and unstable world, schools need to be places of welcome, possibility and connectedness: places of belonging. Belonging is a relational, cultural, geographic, and dynamic concept which can shift rapidly into ‘not belonging’. The think pieces, analysis, tools, videos and a podcast series in this thematic have been designed to accelerate the process of positive change in schools, and local school systems, encouraging readers to look at schools afresh, through the ‘Prism of Place and Belonging’. Our podcast series includes voices from across the world, as well as inputs from our resident Rapper, Jamie Pyke.
Compassion is the super-glue that brings school leaders, staff, families and communities together: the ingredient which has the potential to redress some of the imbalances and inequities revealed by the Covdi-19 pandemic. Although the reality of the future is unknown and unknowable, the practice of compassionate leadership can help create the conditions for school belonging.
The thematic is divided into three parts: the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions: see Figure 1. Asking the questions that matter is an art form. Many organisations and leaders can tell you ‘what’ they do but only the best organisations and leaders can provide a coherent and compelling explanation of the why, what and how of their endeavour.
The organising themes – ‘ways of seeing’, ‘ways of thinking’ and ‘ways of acting’ – are supported by seven questions as outlined below.
WAYS OF SEEING
begins by asking that critical 'Why' question
Q1: Why do schools need to be places of belonging?
‘Asking this important ‘why’ question opens our minds to the possibilities of transformation, enabling us to draw on the emotional parts of our brains, as well as the intellectual and rational, and to come up with fresh solutions.
WAYS OF THINKING
asks a number of important ‘what’ questions:
Q2: What’s the evidence about exclusion and alienation, ostracization and how it affects individuals, their families and society?
Q3: What do we know about a sense of school connectivity and belonging?
Q4: What can we learn about these issues from the ways in which we research? (Asking, for example, ‘Is our school a place where
everyone feels they belong?’
Q5: What are the intentional approaches and practices that can help create a sense of school belonging?
WAYS OF ACTING
‘Ways of seeing’ (the ‘why’ question) and ‘Ways of researching’ (the ‘what questions) contribute to our understanding of what are we going to do, and what needs to change – and how. Our final two questions are:
Q6: How can school leaders create a culture of compassion, safety (physical and emotional) and belonging for young people, professional fulfilment for staff, and connectivity for families and communities?
Q7: How can systems leaders enact their agency to support place-based compassionate leadership which has a global reach, promotes system change and creates local connectivity?
Creating the conditions for school belonging is about re-imagining the future of schooling: envisioning and recalibrating a system in which young people are filled with a sense of pride, self-worth and hope for their future. Whether young people experience a sense of connectedness and belonging in school will frame how they think about themselves today, and influence how they see their future on our planet as contributing, caring global citizens.