Recently I had the privilege of attending a virtual Winter Webinar Series put on by the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning or CTTL, as they are known at St. Andrew’s School in D.C. This center has been at the forefront of research in education and often offers inspiring discussions for educators both local and abroad. What caught my eye was the addition of Elena Aguilar, whose book, Coaching for Equity, has a prominent place on my bookshelf. Evident in the title was that this was a subject much discussed in schools these days – what is the intersection of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging with Mind, Brain, Education? During the webinar, messages that were running concurrent included the important value that positive self-identity and belonging have in predicting student success in the classroom and that our intentions around making our classrooms places where there is inclusion and belonging do not always translate into meeting all student needs.
Educators explored a variety of graphics that illustrated the important differences between inclusion, exclusion, segregation, assimilation, and belonging. These words can all represent the various experiences in a student’s life in school over time. (Some may be part of the experiences of a single day.) Focus on making “belonging” an understood term and a priority for every student was explored. Case scenarios were unpacked in small group sessions and, if nothing else, commonalities around our general inadequacies to tackle big problems was evident.
Some take-aways for me to share include the idea that we are facing an increasingly complex world where the link between the social/emotional and academic needs of our students are completely overlapped. We will not succeed as educators, no matter how well designed our curriculum is or how individually tailored lessons may be, until we see that each student is in a safe and secure place. Our Responsive Classroom program is a start. Our Toolbox lessons may add-on a few more items to a student’s arsenal of social/emotional supports, however both of these systems may not be enough.
As a school, the commitment to wellness is real. Diversity teams, counselors, and teachers in the classroom come together to plan for student wellness and put a sharp lens on ways that we may be failing our most vulnerable students. Our summer read, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, continues to be unpacked during professional development days. Small steps, every day.
The three guest speakers who spoke at the Winter Webinar referenced above did not disappoint. Elena Aguilar produces a podcast, linked below, that not only explores equity in schools but touches on how “we live a fulfilling, meaningful life.” Dr. Tracey Tokuhama Espinosa is a professor at Harvard University’s Extension School and a researcher in neuroscience as it relates to how health and wellness impact learning. I am excited to share her work related to the neuroscience of writing, ThinkWriteMBE, with our writing teachers in lower school! Finally, Dr. Mary Helen Immordino Yang told her educational story that has her now working as director for the USC Center for Affective Neuroscience, Development, Learning and Education (CANDLE). She spends her days looking specifically at “the complex connection between emotions and learning.” Her book, linked below, looks like a wonderful read for this summer. Enjoy these resources.