Hedreich Nichols

…Do I Fit In?

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Small Bites Friday Five 10-8-21:

20-30m – Visit the University of California San Francisco’s Youtube page for a phenomenal selection of videos on belonging, diversity and inclusivity. Start with the “Faces of…” series, featuring diverse student stories in their own words.

15-20m – Listen to this Journey to Belonging podcast with Ilene Winokur entitled “Belonging Before Blooms”. As a matter of fact, bookmark the podcast. She explores the theme of belonging and it’s importance with a variety of inspiring educators from across the globe.

10-15m – Visit the University of California San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ YouTube resource center. The 7 minute introduction video is especially helpful for explaining diverse terms and definitions.

5-10m – Read this “Toolkit for ‘You Belong Here’ article from Learning for Justice” (formerly Teaching Tolerance) on the impact of the student-teacher diversity gap in our nation. Helping diverse students feel a sense of belonging means ensuring that diverse teachers feel a sense of belonging too.

0-5m – The stigma around mental health issues impact how we “other”, so once again, visit the UCSF’s Youtube page to listen to Kristin’s story, a story about anxiety and depression. Reflect on how to better include students struggling with mental health issues, both the readily visible and the invisible ones.

“My Kids”

If you listen to teachers talk about their students, they often refer to “my kids”. I too have often said “my personal kid” to ensure that people know which “my kids” I was talking about. I don’t have any research, but I am willing to bet that not caring if kids fit in or don’t fit in is not common in this profession. Still, when kids are asked whether or not they fit in or not, the answers are all too often less than positive. How can we turn that around?

In Finding Your Blind Spots, the first chapter talks all about how we “other”. “Othering” is what we do when we categorize people as different, as the “them” to our “us”. Othering is not Black or White. It’s not male, female or non-binary. It’s what we do when we come across someone who looks, behaves, thinks or even ‘feels’ different. We other the mom that dresses “too sexy”. We other the guy who doesn’t like sports. We other the person who doesn’t get our jokes. And even though we don’t mean to, we other students in our class who are unlike us (or maybe too much like us) every day.

Be Intentional

I can use all the Big Bad Diversity Words and talk about DEI, the ‘isms”, CRT, race politics, or even a “gay agenda”. Those words usually send people off to rantville in all sorts of political directions. But this space is for educators. And teachers, well, we believe that our kids should feel like they belong, full stop. So when some inflammatory headline threatens to pull you in one direction or another, I am asking you to remember that they are all “your kids”.

Creating classroom and campus spaces that welcome every student every day should be the goal. But like with any goal, reaching it takes intentionality. Besides using the resources above, do the following:

  • Consider taking a few of the Harvard Implicit Bias gamified tests to find your own blind spots.
  • Use the above information to make an action plan based on your personal hidden biases (i.e., refer fewer BIPOC students to the office; learn more about the LGBTQ+ community; make more opportunities for non-male students in STEM courses and clubs, etc.)
  • Look at your roster and pick 2 students with whom your relationship could be better. Have a transparent conversation with them, letting them know that you feel you could get to know each other better. Then, make time to get to know them better. Let them get to know you better as well.
Lead the Way

I am well aware that sometimes, it’s not teachers but students who often make other students feel “othered”. Explicit teaching on kindness and humanity are as necessary as lessons in reading and math. Our kids are watching us. They hear what we say and feel what we don’t say. Your disdain for “the bad kid” becomes theirs. Your barely perceptible annoyance comes across loud and clear to a kid already struggling to fit in. Make it a point to check in with yourself. Admit to yourself how you feel about your kids. Then be intentional about changing anything that might cause a child to feel othered.

When you are intentional about creating a sense of belonging for all your kids, when you teach your kids to do the same for each other, you’ll have a foundational culture shift that changes trajectories for your students. Let’s be intentional about creating a sense of belonging for all our kids.

As Ilene says, belonging before blooms.