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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson


Today or tomorrow I will get my answer as to whether or not I have been approved to be a Swedish citizen.

It has got me thinking about belonging.

This is a word that came up often during my trip to Australia... not just about creating spaces that belong to the children, but also about indigenous people and their right to belong - to the land that was taken from them and also to belong to society as equals where their culture is valued and not "othered" or only found in museums like an exhibit... its a living culture.

This also makes me think of the teachers I worked with in both Palestine and Israel and their complex sense of belonging... who belongs where, senses of loss, guilt, fear and grief. The politics are messy and I don't fully understand them... but talking to the people and hearing their stories I feel the need to belong. I think belonging is very much connected to heritage too... as a complicated relationship... you have to feel as if you belong to be able to connect to the heritage, and you need to know your heritage to feel that sense of belonging - but I feel the sense of belonging has the stronger need in a person's well-being. Belonging is a simple word for an extremely complex concept. If we are to really think about it - belonging is a human need. In the early years and in all classrooms we need to ensure that all the learners feel a sense of belonging, to feel connection with the place, with the people and to feel valued. One of the best ways to help facilitate belonging is to focus on similarities rather than differences... this can help build a community. This is why I have found philosophy with children such a useful tool - the children can learn that it is OK to think differently from each other, but they also discover that others think like them, or that their thinking connects and inspires each other... by dialoging together rather than debating against each other they create community and respect and a sense of belonging. Dialogue is about creating understanding, while debate is set up to win or lose. I dialogue the children can understand and accept each other's ideas... acceptance does not mean agreement... but acceptance is important for belonging. As educators we need to think about the words we use... some words create separateness and other promote togetherness - so be aware of the impact your words can have not only on the individuals but also on the sense of community and belonging. This means being aware of your prejudice and bias, being aware of the norm, in order to include those that get excluded by it, by trying to expand the norm within your community... whether it be a small group, classroom or larger community...

In an Edutopia video series on “How Learning Happens,” Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute says, "When that sense of belonging is there, children throw themselves into the learning environment and when that sense of belonging is not there, children will alienate, they will marginalize, they will step back."

Creating learning communities where all the children belong is important... this means that we need to listen to the children... to not only validate them as their teacher, but also to support the children to validate each other. This is why it is not enough for us to listen, but we need to create listening environments... the space needs to listen to their needs and interests, but they also need to listen to each other... which brings me back to philosophy with children again... a dialogue space that encourages this listening relationship.

Listening to every story and not just the mainstream stories... to be aware of the danger of listening only to the single story, the norm. This has been and will continue to be something that I strive towards, personally, but also in the workshops with others, to understand the rich complexity that many stories can create together... a whole, rather than looking at the world through the keyhole.

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