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design for belonging

Belonging means we feel feel seen, heard, affirmed in our identities, appreciated for our strengths, and supported in our struggles. A basic human need, belonging is different from fitting in. Fitting in means we hide, diminish, change, or ignore parts of ourselves in order to be in a group. Belonging means we can be who we are, together in a community.

Creating a sense of belonging at school means more than doing an occasional community-building activity. While such activities can be fun, they can send the implicit message that community is something that happens separate and apart from the “real” business of school. This workshop series shows how to foster a sense of belonging through the ways we structure students’ interactions with their learning, their work, and their classmates.


All sessions are two hours long. Any session can stand alone, and any two or more sessions can be combined into a longer workshop or multi-day series. When logistics require it, any session can be cut down to 90 minutes, split into hour-long parts, or presented virtually.​

Session 1: Belonging Means Feeling Seen. We‘ll begin this session by reflecting on some of the times when we felt seen and unseen in our own learning. Then, we‘ll examine two instructional elements that help students feel seen: inclusive materials and connective prompts. We’ll learn a protocol for choosing materials that both reflect students‘ experiences and introduce unfamiliar perspectives. Because instructional materials can be relevant to students‘ lives without necessarily resonating, we’ll also learn how to create prompts that help students find or build personal connections with the topics they study.

Session 2: Belonging Means Being Heard. In this session, we‘ll consider how students can participate actively in class without really listening to each other. Then, we‘ll practice a discussion process that enables all students to make meaningful contributions, listen to and value one another‘s contributions, and build community in the process of learning together. We‘ll see how the process can be used for whole-class, small-group, and partner discussions, as well as how teachers can modify or scaffold the process so all students can participate.

Session 3: Belonging Means Being Affirmed in Our Identities. This session focuses on how we can get explicit and implicit messages about ourselves through the feedback we receive on our work. After assessing our own experiences with feedback, we‘ll distinguish between evaluative and responsive feedback, and we‘ll discuss how to use both kinds of feedback in ways that help students improve their work and feel affirmed in who they are. We‘ll practice using a responsive feedback tools that can be used for teacher-student, student-student, and caregiver-child feedback that honors and empowers the student.

Session 4: Belonging Means Being Appreciated for Our Strengths. Appreciative reflection means students not only notice their own learning; they also acknowledge their classmates’ positive impacts on them, their role in the learning community, and the benefits of learning together. In this session, we‘ll try out several different appreciative reflection tools that help build students‘ relationships and reinforce their interdependence.

Session 5: Belonging Means Being Supported in Our Struggles. This session is about how to dignify the struggles students inevitably face when they‘re learning. We‘ll discover activities that teach students how to share their emotional responses to the material, ask for and receive help with their work, and draw strength from their relationships.

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