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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

ALP and Belonging, Part 2

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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