As I continue my sharing of the Aspirations Framework, it is important that I spend considerable time highlighting the eight conditions that make a difference in schools. (Student Voice, pg.24). The first condition, “belonging”, is the belief that students are valued members of a community, while still allowing them to maintain their uniqueness. The Upper School strives to foster an atmosphere where all students can be their best selves as they experience the academic and social opportunities available. While the condition of belonging is aspirational, it does come with certain considerations.
As students enter high school, any high school, they are faced with a choice: adopt the ways of the school environment, or, adapt to the school environment. Most times students choose or are forced to adopt the ways of the school. In doing so, students often replace part of their authentic selves with certain aspects of the new culture in order to ‘thrive’. It is my contention that students should adapt to their new school culture. The process of adapting implies that students maintain their ‘full’ selves and use their innate talents and attributes to navigate their new culture.
Over the years, I have seen students struggle in school because they were not successful at adopting the school’s culture. The act of replacing part of who you are in order to ‘fit in’ can be draining and demoralizing. Instead, when students are experiencing a sense of belonging, it often can be attributed to the fact that they have remained whole, and have not had to let go of any aspects of their being. This feeling leads to a higher level of success academically and socially.
As an Upper School, it is imperative that we create opportunities for each student to shine for the unique individuals that they are. We want students to bring their whole selves to school each day so the community can benefit from this collection of wonderful human beings. I am cognizant of the fact that not all students experience a sense of belonging on a daily basis. This is where the work of the Upper School faculty and staff becomes an essential part of creating an atmosphere of Belonging. Curriculum design, student programming, collaboration with students and parents, and connecting Bush to local and global communities are ways in which we move closer to ensuring that all students are feeling seen, valued, and heard.
I remain committed to creating and sustaining resources for students to access as they navigate their journey in the Upper School. Student voice is important and necessary. As we think about the days ahead, I encourage all of us to think about moments when we feel a sense of belonging—and in doing so, identify the reasons that created those moments.
I look forward to continuing my sharing of the 8 conditions for making a difference in students’ experiences in school. The next condition will be “heroes: the everyday people in students’ lives who inspire them to excel and to make positive changes in attitudes and lifestyles.” (Student Voice, pg. 24).