The Cariboo-Chilcotin School District uses a Circle of Courage model of positive youth development, based on the universal principle that to be emotionally healthy all youth need a sense of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. The district’s focus on developing a sense of belonging forms the foundation everything they do with students, and involves not only teachers but support staff, bus drivers, maintenance workers and parents. Their shift in thinking (“belonging is the key”) has changed the way that they work in the District. They have enhanced their original Sense of Belonging Plan, and now annually update their “Building Resilient Learners School Plan”. Their focus is on doing just one thing – building connectedness – and seeing all other work and opportunities through that lens.
Schools are busy and demanding places. We cannot ask them to do any more, but we can ask them to do what they do better if we as a District make the demands feel lighter. In Cariboo-Chilcotin we decided to focus on JUST ONE THING that would help our schools to do better. Through our work with Dr. Martin Brokenleg and the Circle of Courage, we came to understand the importance of first building a sense of belonging; our District’s JUST ONE THING. By wrapping all other demands and initiatives around this foundation we were able to bring clarity and calmness to our direction. We focused on building a sense of belonging for students and staff, in our structures and systems, and with parents and community.
It all became clear. Our work with the Comprehensive School Health (CSH) framework showed us the way. We all worked within the pillars of CSH: teaching and learning, partnerships, policy, physical health and healthy eating and social and emotional skills and environments with a single goal: fostering school connectedness (a sense of belonging) by building relationships and connections in as many ways as we could.
Our District provided the overall vision and focus and each individual school developed their own way to approach the goal. This allowed schools to build on their strengths, address their own needs and control how they put the pieces together. Schools worked individually and developed their School Plan which detailed their journey to achieving that shared district vision. CommunityLINK funding supported school plan initiatives, allowing the ideas to develop into concrete action.
Our District has enjoyed productive times. We have great examples of both school and district level projects and programs that supported building a sense of belonging. But the work is never done — people and structures change. We need to ignite the passion for sense of belonging (school connectedness) with new members of our school communities, and re-ignite it for our existing staff and school communities.
Focus on one thing. Asking people to do more is not realistic – but perhaps they can do things.
- Strong district leadership has been demonstrated in making sense of belonging a priority for schools across the district. Schools take the lead in developing their own Sense of Belonging Plan utilizing their own individual strengths and interests.
- Families and community are actively engaged as partners in building students’ sense of belonging. Communities That Care have been an important partner in building connectedness.
- Students’ social emotional skills are developed in a variety of ways including Positive Action and Roots of Empathy.
- Classroom teachers and district programs like the Alternatives to Suspension program use a variety of teaching and learning methods that respond to the needs and interests of the students.
- Fostering caring relationships are central to building a sense of belonging.
- Professional learning opportunities support all staff to adapt their practice to focus on sense of belonging.