Not long ago, an old friend/mentor I had not heard from for years reached me through Linkedin. She had experienced a tremendous personal loss and had disappeared to collect herself for a while. She began reconnecting with others after settling into a new life and new home. She shared with me her journey and asked me if I would like to work with her on some Reinvention Coaching based on her work with Nancy Levine. She was training to be a coach using this method. I was honored that she asked me to work with her. When I left my job in July, I vowed I would be open to new possibilities that would support new growth, knowledge, networks, or opportunities. Hence, I said: “of course I will!”

My third week of coaching uncovered something compelling in the session. We discussed our beliefs.  These were not our traditional beliefs and values but the stories we tell ourselves. These are beliefs we hold about ourselves that are rooted in experiences of the past. We often create beliefs or stories about ourselves based on negative experiences ignoring all of the positive experiences that could negate or challenge these beliefs. In this session began exploring my fear of not belonging in a community, organization, or relationship. When I went back in my life, this belief about not belonging was rooted in an experience I had in my teen years.

In Ontario, when you go to grade 9, you usually go to the school in your neighborhood. There were no options beyond that, except in my area, you could choose between a school that was non-semestered and your neighborhood school. With my grade 8 teacher’s guidance and advice, my parents felt this other school would be a better option for me. I said goodbye to my friends and classmates, many of whom I had known since Kindergarten. I headed to a school across town where I knew very few other students. The long and short of it was that I never really settled into the community. I could not find my tribe, my place, or my path there. I always felt like I was always on the outside looking in. It was an uncomfortable four years. So much so that when I had the opportunity to leave high school and enter university early, I jumped at the chance.

This fear of belonging has been with me for a long time. It creates anxiety for me in both my personal and professional life. When I enter into new communities and meet new people, the voice in my head is always there, asking me what if they do not like you.  What if you do not belong here?

Unpacking this over the last few days has me thinking about school communities. Each community has a unique identity, beliefs, values, priorities, and groups. This fall, I hope to join a new school community and hope that voice in the back of my mind that forces me to question whether or not I belong there is quieter than in the past. As I process these discoveries and sketch out an entry plan for a new school, I wonder what questions I should ask and who should be answering them so I can uncover how the community welcomes its new members.

These are the questions that are rolling around in my head:

How do leaders create the conditions that support or hinder a sense of belonging for others?

What leadership skills, behaviors, and attitudes support the development of a community of belonging? What diminishes this?

How do we honor and learn from others who hold different beliefs and values from the majority of the community?

How can we make room at the table and create conditions that allow us to discover and learn from and with one another without fear or judgment?

How are we modeling the values of belonging and inclusion for our children and students?

How has remote learning and the trauma of the pandemic reinforced or uncovered a greater need for community and belonging?

How do we as leaders ensure that we are rebuilding or reimaging our communities?

How do we repair, re-establish and revitalize the relationships that make communities thrive?

I know this new knowledge and understanding gives me a new perspective and approach to creating a caring learning community that supports success for all.

What questions would you ask?  What are you wondering?


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