To foster belonging, to create safer and more inclusive international schools, intentionality in our words and actions is key. Taking purposeful steps towards safeguarding physical, psychological, social and emotional wellbeing, driving equity forward and promoting inclusion, can actively foster belonging in our many different international school contexts. One of the biggest challenges that international schools are facing is the impact of social distancing. International schools continue to deal with the damage that has been caused by the disconnect, the loneliness and isolation, as connections and relationships have been severed. But there are many leaders, teachers, students and parents who will have felt a disconnect before social distancing began. 

So how intentional are you being to create a safe and inclusive environment? To bring about acceptance? To foster belonging?

Some of MiniPD’s experienced coaches, who are IB and non-IB international school educators, foster belonging from different perspectives. Working in K-12 international schools and intercultural environments, they share their insights below, some of which they share as bite-sized strategies here as part of MiniPD’s Fostering Belonging Month November Calendar. 

Take Action for Safeguarding

Intentional actions that foster belonging must sit within and build upon the solid foundations of safeguarding best practice. The International Task Force on Child Protection (ITFCP) set enhanced standards adopted by school evaluation agencies. As Matt Harris, CEO of advocates, we all have a role to play

  • What can you do now? Read and reflect on the International Task Force on Child Protection Standards, to increase your awareness of your individual role in safeguarding physical, psychological, social and emotional wellbeing. Or read  MiniPD Coach, Engy Olama’s article Essential Agreements Nurture Belonging where she suggests practical steps ‘to establish expectations that hold everyone accountable to ensure that the working environment is safe and sets everyone for success.’ 

Take Action for Inclusion 

Peter Dewitt, openly gay author, presenter and leadership coach, talks about his struggle to feel accepted and to belong during certain times in his educational career. MiniPD Coach, Kaitlyn Somers, shares her personal experience coming out as a queer educator to colleagues and the process of creating a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at her middle school. She shares a few tips on how to get started and the impact these clubs can have on students. 

Take Action for Equity

Black author of Care at the Core, Sherri Spellic, asks us to be aware of our cultural and racial blindspots. She says, ‘What you see depends on what you know, are aware of, have had experience with. Seeing beyond our experiences means talking to people in other positions: getting proximate to those who are not us.’  (Beyond Armchair Antiracism, ELMLE, Nov.23 2020).

Take Action to Impact Staff Belonging

Our micro actions and interactions on any given day can have a notable impact on the extent to which others around us feel they belong. Purposeful practice to develop listening skills can support empathy building to foster a sense of belonging in colleagues. MiniPD Coach, Tom Hetherington asks, ‘How can we utilise our full-body listening skills to create a supportive network where our colleagues feel valued and supported?’

Take Action Within the Classroom for Student Belonging

As teachers in the classroom, consider being more intentional to shift thinking from tolerance to acceptance. After all, acceptance is essential for mental health. MiniPD Coaches, Penelope Preen and Maria Herrán provide practical approaches to develop inclusivity in classroom practice. Penelope invites us to use a simple debriefing strategy framed by key questions that invite collaboration and build connections. Mercedes invites us ‘to aim for the creation of cross-age PBL spaces where students can relate through interests and not just age groups.’ 

Take Action Beyond the Classroom for Parent Belonging

As mentioned, there will be some international school parents who will have also felt a disconnect before social distancing began. MiniPD Coach, Sara Shehata invites us to foster belonging through encouraging community engagement. She suggests asking ‘parents or family members if they can be ‘expert’ guest speakers at your school to support student investigations’, or ‘to create community suggestion platforms for parents to voice their praise, opinions and feedback.’

We all need to feel accepted, to feel a sense of belonging to be motivated, happy and well. It is essential for good mental health for all individuals that we are intentional in our actions and words. It is our duty as international educators to intentionally promote open-mindedness in our community, to nurture connections and relationships, to ensure all members of our communities feel accepted; feel a sense of belonging. 

Join the Conversation

We invited educators from around the world to join us in a Coaches-in-Conversation on Fostering Belonging in November 2021, and would invite our readers of this blog to benefit from the conversation as well.

Wanting to further the conversation?  

Needing a thought partner? A critical friend? Schedule one-to-one coaching sessions with any of our inspirational MiniPD Coaches above about areas that can support you to foster belonging in your international school community!

The MiniPD Team

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