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In the Covid-19 landscape, belonging is more important than learning.

“You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you'll never be this way ever again.” Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

As a geographer, I can speak with confidence about belonging to a place. Belonging is entwined with the places that we visit and interact with. Every one of us views every place in a slightly different way. Belonging to a place; belonging to a community is an essential human feature.  In the current situation, we ignore nurturing bonds of belonging as we lurch and strive toward online learning at our peril.

During the Covid-19 craziness, take 10 minutes. Pause. Reflect on where you feel belonging.

What did you come up with? For me, I belong to:

  • my family, spread all around the country. (For clarity this includes Leah Moo as she's bound to ask and the Dog Tryfan). I am separate from my son at the moment, and that's hard.
  • my country of Wales. Although I haven't lived there since the ripe age of 18, it's part of my soul and part of by identity.
  • my running club. I used to run alone, joining in with the magnificent Rogue Runners has led to lovely adventures and developing a greater connection to where I live now and enjoying what I have on the doorstep. 
  • my school. Ever since having to give a five minute chat to 1500 humans, I've been hooked.
My point? All of these things that I belong to, are part of my identity. Who I am and where I visit and interact with are inseparable. 

How is this connected to the current climate? I love striving for new ways to share learning. I've created resources in the past few weeks, informed by a grounding working as a distance teacher of staff and students for two years. I take nothing away from this. It's important. It's vital.

What is just as vital, for every student, not just the labelled, is that we maintain their sense of belonging to our communities.  For that is what schools are. That's what teachers are a part of. A living, breathing, highly human community.  When this is all over, and it will be, teachers and students will return and we will start in a different place. We won't be in the same place and it won't be like after the summer holidays. So, my question is, what are you doing to nurture the sense of belonging with your children and colleagues? 

Of course, in the vacuum created by poor DfE and local authority advice, no blame can be, or should be, aimed at those that focused solely on the continuity of learning. But now is the time to think about ensuring that they also belong.

I could give lots of justification for this, perhaps pointing toward Maslow's hierarchy or research on motivation which shows that a sense of belonging and academic achievement are needed. The ever brilliant team at Durrington set out in their top tips that the human touches are important also. But I'm rather going to give some pointers. Of course, I haven't gotten this right by any means and we are developing ideas. Indeed, these ideas have come from the brilliant colleagues  that I work with. However, the simple, human touches are best (within safeguarding and GDPR guidance of course...). And remember, that it's about children a colleagues.

  • Tutors are setting up a tutor group Google Classroom. Then set a weekly quiz and activities that encourage engagement. Those that aren't seen are receiving a quick phone call (prefacing your number with '141' withholds your own number). This is a way of providing pastoral support.
  • Recording feedback via Loom or Screencastify - there's no need to show live lessons but making videos and giving feedback shows a human touch. I spent two years giving A'Level lessons online, and being live is not needed. Pre recorded videos and recorded PPTs are fantastic. Before the severe lockdown I made this for Year 10.
  • The DSL, behaviour and year leader teams are contacting those known students to us, remembering that every student needs contact.
  • Thinking about transition from Year 6 into the school; Year 9 into 10; Year 11 into 12 and 13 into the world. 
  • The Chaplain and brilliant staff volunteer team are delivering free school meals in the community and asking colleagues to include individual messages of support and hellos. These are collated through Google Slides.
  • Teachers are including personal touches such as 'hope you and your family are well' and 'looking forward to seeing you again in class once this is over' in the feedback. 
  • Not chasing and punishing students for not working, but enquiring if extra support is needed or other barriers are in the way. 
  • I'm sending out a weekly video 'hello' to teams and using GoogleHangouts to hold 'keep in touch' chats. This includes trainees and every member of the team. These are about saying hello, not accountability. Fact finding, not micromanaging. Trusting, not worrying. As a result some wonderful solutions are organically being created and shared.  
  • Limiting email communication so that there are clear messages that aren't diluted.  This is a time for simple, clear messages. Show caring, set some work, be understanding, stay positive. 
  • Linking in colleagues into the amazing communities out there on social media.
  • Splitting Whatsapp groups into the silly and serious. We all need a place to share those funny memes and rant against the government, but we also need a place to quell anxiety and ask questions.
I'm sure that there are many other examples of brilliant, human interaction taking place. Of course, learning is our core business. However, our main duty is to look after our community. To ensure that they still feel a sense of belonging to our world so that, when we all return, we remember the kind, human touches that will motivate us to get through the hardship to come.

We don't just deliver and measure knowledge accumulation. We are far more than that.

What are you doing to maintain the sense of belonging?

‘I am a part of all that I have met’ from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson


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