I was thinking while avoiding the pile of washing (waiting patiently to be folded and put away) behind me on the spare bed: What would be the best topic to write about in 2016? I thought with the start of a new year, belonging was the most logical choice for me.
For many people, big and small, 2016 will be filled with new beginnings...
- Perhaps as a child starting their first day ever in a setting?
- Perhaps a child starting at a new service, because they needed to leave their old one? A mix of familiarity and starting all over again.
- Perhaps as a fresh bright-eyed graduate starting a new role?
- A student commencing studies?
- Starting a new position at a new service – or even an old one?
- Volunteering or perhaps being on placement?
- Beginning a leadership role? Team leader? Director/Manager? Educational Leader?
I am sure many of us are feeling quite lost. I know I did. In fact, although I’ve been at my current service for 9 months, I still don’t feel a sense of belonging. We all want to feel that we belong, and that brings us to this question:
How do we facilitate a sense of Belonging? For Children? For Colleagues? For Ourselves?
I don’t have all the answers. I’m just nutting out and putting down my thoughts on this thing that is often presented in the shape of a tree: A Belonging Tree.
A belonging tree isn’t going to do it. [I’d love to know who started this belonging tree thing] Putting a child’s name on a birthday chart so high up they can’t even see it isn’t going to facilitate a sense of belonging. It especially won’t facilitate belonging if they can’t read or recognise their name or are so young their eyes cannot focus at that distance. Family photos on a wall? Nope. Names on lockers, names on hats, children’s photos on walls etc – they don’t create belonging. They are merely a collection of strategies that together plus something else MAY help to foster a feeling a belonging. These strategies are not guarantees. You cannot implement them and then walk away and say that your efforts at ‘belonging’ are done. Tick those boxes. No. Just no. It just doesn’t work that way.
I believe the most important thing we can do to facilitate belonging is through relationships. It is so critical that we respectfully connect with people as people:
- educator to child
- educator to parent
- educator to family
- educator to educator
- educator to leaders
- leader to educator
How did you feel?
- How did you feel when there wasn’t a space for you to put your belongings? Either as a child, a student, relief educator or employee?
- When you weren’t greeted when you arrived?
- When your name wasn’t spoken?
- When your name was pronounced incorrectly, repeatedly?
- When your name was overlooked on a list?
- When your name was spelled incorrectly on your paintings, repeatedly?
- When conversations around you didn’t include you?
- When conversations in the staffroom excluded you and included topics you could never participate in?
- When your position title: “floater” implies you don’t have any belonging to a space – you merely waft in and out with no connection?
- When people had their backs to you?
- When they didn’t bother to greet you and say good morning/afternoon/evening/night?
- When an educator you were working with in a team calls up the staff person you were covering and tells them how much they miss them and can’t wait for them to return so things can get back to normal?
- When colleagues don’t greet you much less even acknowledge that you are in the room?
- When colleagues discuss their plans for spending time together but exclude other educators in the room?
- When you see an educator giving consistent special attention to one particular child and not to you?
- When you were crying because you felt so alone, and someone said “Stop crying, you’re fine.”
- When you didn’t speak the language that everyone else was speaking?
- When you were down low, and everyone towered over you?
- When someone refused to give you a hug because someone else said “Put her down, or she’ll expect you to hold her all the time. She has to learn.”?
- When you’re frustrated and want to do something so badly and someone laughs at you and says “Oh he’s such a little girl!”
- When you’re a girl and you hear someone use your gender as an insult?
I could really go on ... But you get the gist.
I feel horrible even writing those ... but the sad truth is they are all real. They exist. They existed in my past, I’ve experienced or witnessed them or colleagues have shared these stories with me. These moments may exist in someone else’s present and sadly they may exist for someone else in the near future.
Would you feel you a sense of belonging in those spaces?
Probably not. You might one moment, but not the next.
So what do we do? How could we foster a feeling of belonging?
- Smile reassuringly. Be genuine – not artificial.
- Be welcoming. Greet people, big and small and say “Hello. Good morning.”
- Make eye contact – see them. Let them know that you see them! They exist! If they don’t want to make or maintain eye-contact don’t force them! That’s creepy. Don’t be creepy.
- Speak their name. Make every effort to pronounce their name correctly. Ask their parents – write it down phonetically. Fo-Net-I-Call-Ee. Learn it. It’s ok to make mistakes. Just don’t make mistakes for a year. Or change their name to suit you. That too is not cool.
- Re-assure and acknowledge feelings: “I know that you are upset; I can see that you are feeling sad/scared/angry/happy/joyful.”
- Be present and connect. “I am here to be with you. You are not alone.”
I think we give Belonging lip service. I think it’s something that is taken for granted. I think it’s a piece of plywood we have had laser cut in the shape of a tree and tacked on a wall or written on a notice board. I think we just gloss over it because it’s compulsory. It's something we "have" to do in order to pass Assessment & Rating.
I challenge you - in 2016 to really think about your education spaces. Do you feel a sense of belonging? If yes, how and why? What contributes to those feelings? How could you embrace others in your space to support their sense of belonging? It doesn’t have to be ‘new’ colleagues, it could certainly be established team members. If you don’t feel a sense of belonging, how could you support yourself to feel a sense of belonging to your space? What changes would you need to make to manifest this for yourself? Would you need to speak up and voice your feelings or would modelling be enough?
How does all this translate and have impact upon the children in our care?
How important is Belonging to you, really, and what are YOU going to do?
Please put the trees down ...
And no, don't pick up the bloody rainbow ...
Belonging is more than a tree ...
It is more than a tokenistic display ...
Belonging is a feeling.
© Teacher's Ink. 2016