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On Belonging

On Belonging
Silvia Davis

The summer provides the opportunity for more reading. The author Jeanette Walls aptly phrases it in her memoir, The Glass Castle, “One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” 

On Belonging

The summer provides the opportunity for more reading. The author Jeanette Walls aptly phrases it in her memoir, The Glass Castle, “One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” Perhaps it is the added daylight hours, or perhaps it is the warm days which relax one’s state of mind; regardless, it is true that many of us tend to read more in the summer. Among my more recent reads was a book called Tribe: On Homecoming and Belongingby Sebastian Junger. Tribe takes a sociological and Responsive Classroom Approach over the last two years. In schools that use Responsive Classroom practices, there is a living ethic of care which exists in a thus optimal environment for academic and social growth. This idea is well-described in another book from my summer reading pile, All Learning is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The authors use the term public spirit to name an “active interest and personal investment in the well-being of one’s communities.” It is the public spirit that enhances the community to that of strong interconnection. As we continue our journey in Responsive Classroom, it is important to understand how the consideration of public spirit and social/​emotional learning enhances academic achievement.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) spends a good deal of their work in case studies and longitudinal research regarding the connection between academic and social/​emotional learning, and their findings indicate that this work is incredibly important. At our November Coffee and Conversation, we’ll discuss this idea more.

Each day we continue to live our mission. We continue to prepare students to lead and succeed in a world of global interconnection. We continue to provide an educational atmosphere characterized by academic challenge, rigorous inquiry, support for individual excellence, diversity, and a familial sense of community. 

The Center for Responsive Schools begins one of their school leader books with this final thought in the preface, discussing the topic of “we.” 

When school leaders say “we” are improving, who exactly is “we?” The authors continue to quote the poet Marge Piercy in her poem “The Low Road” speaking about the power of people working together to bring about change: “it starts when you say We /​ and know who you mean, and each /​ day you mean one more.” The authors challenge school leaders to develop a better definition of “we” saying, “When all constituents at school are included in this important work, all constituents can pull together. That collaboration is crucial to our children’s learning and growth.”

The inside of the dust jacket of Tribe, says, “We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding - ‘tribes.’ This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.” While the book’s main topic is understanding the originations of war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, it is an exploration into what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty to one another, a sense of belonging within a group who share an ethos, and the eternal human quest for meaning. Tribe asserts that we are stronger as individuals when we come together as a group, and in today’s world, divided by modern conveniences such as, cars: so we do not have to commute with anyone else; grocery stores: so we do not have to share food with anyone else, and social media, so we do not need to physically see or be present with anyone else, the understanding of tribal life is crucial to our survival. 

At the beginning of September, we welcomed over 100 new students and their families to our tribe at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School. In tribes, you find a shared ethos, living ethics of care for one another, and an unexplainable feeling of being important to the group. Junger writes, “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact, they thrive on it; what the mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.” In the coming days, weeks and months of the 2019-2020 school year, each person here at W+H will learn how necessary they are.  

In the words of the late Toni Morrison, “Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.”

  • 2019-2020