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School belonging: the conviction of hope

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 1 November 2022

The School Belonging Colloquium Team: Julia Dobson, Professor Kathryn Riley (back row, left to right) Kristy Campbell, Dr Rahil Alipour ( front row, left to right)

The School Belonging Colloquium Team: Julia Dobson, Professor Kathryn Riley (back row, left to right); Kristy Campbell, Dr Rahil Alipour (front row, left to right)

Kathryn Riley.

It’s time to hone our skills. As educators in a chaotic national climate, we need to bear witness to what is happening today and its impact on our young people. We also need to walk the path of hope and possibilities. This is not easy.

Disconnection, disengagement and disillusionment are in the air. Poverty and insecurity are growing, with significant consequences for the very fabric of society. Yet how we talk and act as educators, will influence how young people see themselves today and view their future place in the world.

At a recent UCL School Belonging Colloquium, Dame Mary Marsh, one-time CEO of the NSPCC saw the contemporary challenge in these terms: the biggest poverty of all is that of hope’. In today’s strange, dark and difficult times schools, wherever they are in the world, need to be places of belonging and hope.

At the Colloquium (the video will be an early Christmas present), we asked:

Why is school belonging important? We know from research that in schools where belonging works, young people at all levels experience a sense of connectedness and friendship, perform better academically and come to believe in themselves. Their teachers also feel more professionally fulfilled and their families more accepted. The benefits last well into adulthood.

What happens when young people feel they don’t belong? The weight of evidence indicates that the disaffected search for ‘belongingness’ elsewhere, finding it in many ways, including extremism, self-harm and gang membership. The excluded frequently become the exploited.

Finally, we asked: How can we change things? How can we create schools which are places of belonging?

We know the expectations, beliefs, practices and relationships that can help create the conditions for school belonging, as well as the importance of turning the language of belonging and the practice of compassion into reality(see: Compassionate Leadership for School Belonging). But … Who should decide what happens?

Some years back I wrote a book entitled, Whose School is it Anyway? (Falmer Press 1998) in which I asked that question. In today’s dysfunctional national climate, it is time to ask who should decide what goes on in our schools? Strengthening community connections and encouraging young people to develop their sense of agency (their belief that what they do makes a difference and the skills and opportunities to do this) is part of a process bringing these important voices onboard.

A sense of school belonging propels young people through life; encourages them to listen and learn from others; and helps them grow in confidence and knowledge. I describe this as ‘The Art of Possibilities’.

Scanning the leadership landscape, I am confident that there are a growing number of school leaders who are working to refine this art.

 

 

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