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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

When I first started seriously considering the quality of Belonging as one essential for our kids in our schools, I thought, somewhat provincially, “Sure, it’s fine for Hawai’i, but how could this possibly work in New England?” New England is not the center of the universe and it’s not the most important place in the world, but it’s where I live.

Also, it’s a good counter-case to Hawai’i. We have an ocean, but it’s cold, not gloriously tepid. We have giant rocks, but they’re granite, not igneous, volcanic formations. We have a miserly approach to sunlight, not an attitude of abundance. We love to brood. I’m reluctant to generalize, but when I was in Hawai’i I definitely felt an anti-brooding energy.

Could I imagine the Maine Commissioner of Education saying things like, “We’re not here to create college and career ready students. We’re here to create beloved community?” That’s really hard. Could I imagine New England schools adopting belonging — defined as “the relationship that cannot be undone” — as an essential quality to develop in schools? Also really hard.

But hard is not impossible. Carisa Corrow, founder of Educating for Good, has been working with Franklin Schools (SAU #18, NH) for two years on developing a Portrait of the Graduate. As part of their work they looked at how other folks do PotG, including Hawai’i’s Nā Hopena A‘o (“HĀ”). Carisa wrote about the experience and discovered that, contrary to my expectations, this New England learning community did latch onto belonging as essential (also, joy). Their final listing of six commitments (go here, scroll down) clearly reflects the influence of HĀ.

ALP veteran Bob Montgomery, of WestEd, also attended the HĀ conference in 2019, and was also fascinated by the question of belonging. In a correspondence he wrote the following:

Is belonging in my hands to improve or is it rather in the hands of my community? I think it may be both. As learning experience designers, how do we create the conditions for belonging AND opportunities for learners to improve their capacities to belong?

In what ways is belonging a disposition that we can improve at? If belonging is trusting that we will be understood and can find support from people around us when we need it, if the opposite of this is feeling ‘alone’ or left out, then what can we do to improve trust?

If belonging reflects how much we feel a part of a ‘learning community’ – at school, at work or at home, or in our wider social network. If it’s about the confidence we gain from knowing there are people we learn well together with and to whom we can turn when we need guidance, support and encouragement in our learning journey…. then, how can we strengthen our sense of belonging?

These are not rhetorical questions, but worth asking and of vital importance. Thinking, writing, and having conversations about belonging will help us get beyond the limits of our imagination, and possibly cut off my own brooding instincts. Could this be one way to get at joy in our schools?

COMING IN PART 3: We talk to Kau’i Sang, Cheryl Ka’uhane Lupenui, and Puni Jackson, leaders of the Nā Hopena A‘o (“HĀ”) project, about how Hawai’i’s work around belonging has evolved during their six years with ALP.

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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

Joy at the Pueblo High School Fall Encuentro (Photo by Gary Chapin)

One of the things we insist on at ALP is that learning and assessment can be joyful. And, in fact, must be. There’s a long conversation to be had about this—and we will have it in February—but the best question to ask when we say this is, “What does that look like?”

In November, while in Tucson planning the February ALP Convening, a bunch of us were privileged to attend an Encuentro—an evening demonstration of learning hosted by Pueblo High School, of the Tucson Unified School District. It was held in the courtyard, mostly, and the energy was crackling. Folks—teachers, parents, kids—moved about, looking at the many tables set up representing classes (such as, CR Math, culturally relevant math) and student organizations. Art hung on the walls of the makeshift student run day care that was set up in the cafeteria. Students sat at tables showing off their work. And in the middle of it all the most amazing Mariachi band I’ve ever heard, playing for an extraordinary group of dancers. This was Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School and the Grupo Folklorico Los Guerreros de Pueblo High School, both student groups.

I don’t know if I can convey the feeling. The music played with such irresistible passion, the dancers spun perfectly, and then one of the singers in the band took a mic, and started singing. The audience, I kid you not, swooned. A colleague later told me that this was a well-known traditional love song and I believe it!

I’ve never been at a demonstration of learning—an exhibition, presentation, or portfolio defense—where the audience swooned. That was something.

“Oh my gosh,” I wrote in my notebook, “This is what joy looks like.”

Victoria Bodanyi, a Pueblo social studies teacher, leads the team that organized the Fall Encuentro. We had a conversation.

What’s the vision of the Encuentro?

“This event has been going on at Pueblo longer than I've been here. It's one of the pillars of the CR classes here—the culturally relevant classes—that we throw at least once a year, if not twice. And it's a demonstration of learning. It's showing that the kids are accountable and responsible. They do the legwork to set it up. The way it originally was intended, pre COVID, is kids brought in food to share. We had a huge potluck kind of dinner and then they shared their learning. And so there would be performances by kids on guitar, piano, Folklorico, different groups.”

At this event there was a huge variety.

“There would be art presentations … There was a math puzzles table that was inside the school. There was feminist club, there was garden club, there was AP chemistry. Different ethnics student services groups were all there. And then there were outside organizations. We had El Rio, a health care system that we have here in Tucson. They have a teen arm to it. We had some environmental groups, mental health groups. Adelita Grijalva [was there], one of the council people for Tucson. We tried to kind of hit all the areas of anything that we thought would be helpful to students and their families, really.”

As much as this is about the demonstrations of learning, what I saw was culture, celebrating kids, relationships, and belonging. Also, joy.

“It's not parent teacher conferences. You're not going to hear anything sad about your kids. It is a joyous kind of thing. Parents are more willing to come because there's less trauma associated with this than there is with just coming to school and being yelled at by a teacher about what you or your kids are doing, right or wrong. We keep all of that out. It's just supposed to be like, come, let's break bread together, let's go learn together, let's dance together.”

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By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

This story features the work of the Hawai’i Department of Education’s Office of Hawaiian

Education. They reviewed this blog post and are happy to have us share their work with you.

Learn how to use ALP practices to promote academic learning while validating identity and expanding belonging and agency of individual learners.

— The First Corner of the ALP Theory of Action

The word, belonging, has been showing up more and more in the field, but without much discussion of what we mean by it. A superintendent says, “Kids should feel as if they belong.” Of course, this is true, but what would that look like? How would that be different from now? The concept of “belonging” as essential to equity and transformation came most strongly into the ALP community via our colleagues in Hawai’i—who were part of the first wave of ALP partners—and is informed by native Hawaiian culture and pedagogy.

The Nā Hopena A‘o (“HĀ”) policy and outcomes framework, led by the Hawai’i Department of Education’s Office of Hawaiian Education, has been one of the most extraordinary projects of the original 12 ALP grantees. Being invited into the conversation by the Hawaiian team has been one of the joys of ALP. Folks encountering it were mesmerized by HĀ’s view of belonging.

In the materials on the Nā Hopena A‘o website, “belonging,” is described in one way as “the relationship that cannot be undone.” This idea is astounding. What would it mean in a school setting to have a relationship that cannot be undone? What does it mean in the school settings in New England? In Boston? New York? Atlanta? Louisville? San Francisco?

What does it mean in Hawai’i? The designers of HĀ created the following descriptors as a starting point for a strengthened sense of Belonging.

I stand firm in my space with a strong foundation of relationships. A sense of Belonging is demonstrated through an understanding of lineage and place and a connection to past, present, and future.
I am able to interact respectfully for the betterment of self and others.

  1. Know who I am and where I am from

  2. Know about the place I live and go to school

  3. Build relationships with many diverse people

  4. Care about my relationships with others

  5. Am open to new ideas and different ways of doing things

  6. Communicate with clarity and confidence

  7. Understand how actions affect others

  8. Actively participate in school and communities

It’s remarkable that a quality as wholistic as belonging can be rendered so briefly in such comprehensive and observable terms. The Nā Hopena A‘o team came to ALP to explore the implications their framework had within the realm of assessment for learning. In future blog posts we’ll talk with that team about their learning. We’ll also talk with other ALPers about how encountering Nā Hopena A‘o has impacted our work as a community.

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