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There's more that holds us together than divides us

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 20 July 2016

Kathryn Riley.

As a stoic Mancunian, I stagger through the sodden winter streets of Nedlands, Western Australia. My flimsy umbrella no match for the deluge, I take shelter in Morgan Marks clothing store. There is a sale on. Conversations unfold.
What brings you here? Where are you from? And the clincher…..What is happening in the UK?  I have been asked this question many times since leaving Heathrow Airport on July 4 for Hong Kong, en route to Australia: by residents at the peaceful Jen Hotel; by a Law applicant to UCL, at the Transit Interchange at Admiralty; and now by this group of interested  Australian women,  keen to share stories about aberrant  politicians.
Since the early hours of June 24, a post Referendum gloom has shrouded me. I have been in mourning for the idiosyncratic Britain I thought I knew: the ‘cultural cacophony’ of my second city, London; the roars that filled the Olympic Stadium in 2012, for British–Somalian Mo Farah. Disaffection, disenfranchisement and disengagement seemed to have prevailed.
Yet on this damp Australian morning I reply, ‘There’s more that holds us together than divides us’. And I realise I mean it.  In this fight for the ‘soul’, as Kazuo Ishiguro describes it, anger can become a ‘treacherous guide’.
I started planning a series of blog posts on place, identity and belonging several months back. We live in a volatile world – a world on the move, in which more than half the world’s 50 million refugees are children. My work over recent years has focused on the importance of being rooted: the need we all have to belong. Belonging is that sense of being somewhere where you can feel confident that you will fit in and feel safe in your identity, as the young people in the first of five videos in the Art of Possibilities Series suggest. In this uncertain world, schools are among the few shared social institutions which can create that sense of belonging. One student put it: belonging means “to feel comfortable where you are and just to feel you can be yourself”.
This blog is about how to create the kinds of social spaces in our schools where everybody feels that they belong. It’s about leadership. How leaders think, decide, act and reflect –and draw on their knowledge to create a road-map of possibilities – is critical to the well-being of children and adults, and to their sense of belonging. It’s about the teaching: how to enable our young people to recognise that it’s also an exciting world – of boundless opportunities and possibilities. And it’s about agency: equipping our youngsters to be critical and reflective learners who feel they can contribute their part in shaping society.
I finish this blog, sitting at the Matilda Bay Café. The sun is shining over the Swan River. Tomorrow, dancer and poet TioMolina and I begin a programme with Australian educators at the University of Western Australia, Leading for Place and Belonging in our Diverse and Fast Changing World – The Art of Possibilities.
Join me on my 12 month blog journey.
What do place, belonging and identity mean for you?
What can schools do to help create a sense of place and belonging?
Kathryn Riley is Professor of Urban Education at the IOE. Her books include Leadership of Place: Stories from the US, UK & South Africa (Bloomsbury, 2013).

13 Responses to “There's more that holds us together than divides us”

  • 1
    Dr Neil Hawkes wrote on 20 July 2016:

    Brilliant. Great to read that others are having such a great impact.

  • 2
    Romina Madrid Miranda wrote on 21 July 2016:

    Thank you so much for sharing this!
    The questions and issues of place and belonging are becoming more critical nowadays, in a world that at the same increase its connections and divisions. Probably you are aware of the awful things occurred in the U.S last weeks. The well-known “achievement-gap” seems to be a clear reflect of the cultural and social gap that exists between school institutions and the communities they should serve. Here is where your questions are central for school leaders.
    I also think your questions are embedded in questions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Schools have been historically participating in the creation of a sense of place and belonging for those who have the power (elite institutions are experts in developing a particular identity and sense of belonging among teacher staff, students, and families). At the same time, schools create a sense of opposition and antipathy for those who have not. (reinforcing feelings of exclusion and isolation)
    In my thesis, I explore a little bit this issue in 5 Chilean schools, however, I use the process of school choice as an entry to school, family and community relationships. I found that some schools are aware of the importance of creating a sense of belonging and a particular identity, which in turn, excludes others. Other faced struggles regarding exclusion from the community in which they are located.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts but also the research project you and others are developing.

  • 3
    Jane Reed wrote on 23 July 2016:

    Thank you Kathryn. Really enjoyed reading your blog. Have many thoughts and responses as we share the same root goals in our work. This is just a quick reply and I look forward to following your blog over the coming months.

  • 4
    Samantha Jellow wrote on 25 July 2016:

    Thank you for sharing this with us Kathryn, it has definitely given me some food for thought.

  • 5
    Zahra wrote on 26 July 2016:

    Thank you Kathryn for sharing this, I agree this topic of sense of place and belonging is a key issue nowadays. I recently lost a few family members in the Baghdad explosion that burnt innocent lives while they went out to buy their Eid clothes.
    As educators, this is one way of speaking out against hate and division. Its very intriguing to read blogs like this, I look forward to reading more.

  • 6
    Vanessa Scott wrote on 2 August 2016:

    A brilliant read. We can all relate to this on so many different levels, thanks for sharing.

  • 7
    Dr. Max Coates wrote on 3 August 2016:

    Kathryn, a great blog.
    Education is very much about the now and the not yet. Trending is the now and not engaging with the not yet will be a disaster from what ever dimension the situation is viewed. The work around place and belonging, showcased in the videos the ‘Art of Possibilities’ is exciting in itself but is also a clarion call for moving away from short – term, tunnel visioned education.
    It just may be that this is the missing piece of the jigsaw, you know that corner bit, the one with the blue sky.

  • 8
    John Wells wrote on 9 August 2016:

    While on vacation in Crete, Brexit erupted into my life – well, that’s how it felt. As a child of the 50’s, England was the land of the “goodies”; the country that helped those in need. As an adult, much of this view was blown away.
    Yet the evident, naked racism and other discriminations appeared to be melting as the century ended. Perhaps and hopefully just the habit of not discriminating, as modelled by many, would be enough to plant it deep inside.
    June 23rd made me feel like I did not want to belong to my own country. As a white, heterosexual male, nobody tended to feel the need to discriminate against me. It had been decades since I had discovered the old lies that claimed some people are inherently superior. Yet, back in my own country, people revealed themselves, like woodlice from under an upturned rock, as the true, ignorant bigots they had always been; many seemingly confused that people with black skin may not actually be European.
    The only redeeming feature of this whole debacle, is that, for a short time, I shared an ideal with people from other political parties.
    I shall now climb back into my little bubble, mixing with like-minded people, who will help me get back to feeling that this is still a worthwhile place to live.

  • 9
    Isn’t time we focused on what matters – schools in which staff, students and families feel they belong? | IOE LONDON BLOG wrote on 23 September 2016:

    […] to my first blog in this year-long series about place, identity and belonging ‘There’s more that holds us together than divides us’ is a video about what belonging   means for young people, Place, Belonging and Schools in our […]

  • 10
    Francis Lawlor wrote on 7 October 2016:

    in some ways I still need convincing. Belonging is a necessary condition to learning but by no means a sufficient one. I find it too wishy washy and “nice”. There has to be some hard edges truths such as good teaching and learning and strong leadership over and above friendship, safety, culture, identity etc.

  • 11
    Angie Towne wrote on 11 October 2016:

    Is belonging merely a feeling or is it also a fact?
    I can just anticipate misguided but well-intentioned efforts to make refugees and minority groups “feel” they belong despite ggaringly obvious “facts” of alienation such as language barriers, lack of role models and peers who look and act like you.

  • 12
    Eny wrote on 12 October 2016:

    Indeed, the world is an amazing place surrounded by endless possibilities. Therefore, as a community we need to work together very hard to develop skills so all of us can become capable to decide which opportunities we will choose. How can a system (teachers, parents, principals, politicians…) achieve this?

  • 13
    Wilfred wrote on 17 November 2016:

    beyond belonging and staying rooted, I believe in shared ownership. If members of my team feels that they own the department, they own the School, they will own the problems that the School faces and commit to brace through whatever may come our way.
    During my duty as a senior leadership team member, I can clearly divide all staff into 3 categories:
    Grp #1: Staff who will go with you wherever you go (with or without pay)
    Grp #2: Staff who doesn’t know whether to follow you or leave you. Watching where the tide goes and moves with the crowd.
    Grp #3: Staff who will not do anything even if you do everything that they want. They are probably at the organisation for the wrong reason and stayed as dead weight to the team.
    In the perfect scenario, we just need to sway Grp #2 and get rid of Grp #3, however, staffing will always be an issue if you do that. It is a challenge that I always have till this very day. Still no idea how to solve it….

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