Creating a Culture of Belonging

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference on Creating a Culture of Belonging in my role as a community trustee of The Presidio Hill School in San Francisco. I was excited to be invited as a member of the PHS cohort to attend this very important conference hosted by San Francisco Friends School and Pollyanna. Being a trustee at a school whose mission and vision I believe in as well as whose leader,  Lisa Jeli, is one I believe in is an honor and a privilege. The day was filled with learning, opportunity, moments of heartache, and moments of hope, all met with listening to understand and curiosity. 

Jamil Zaki, author of The War for Kindness, Building Empathy in a Fractured World and an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University was the keynote speaker. He spoke of many critical things related to empathy.

Right Fit AND Right Growth

Are you looking for the right fit candidate for your institution or for the right growth candidate? Or both?

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

“No matter how effective your organization’s recruitment tactics are, there’s never a guarantee an employee will live up to expectations – even if they seem to be the perfect cultural fit.

You’ll know you’re on the right track, however, if you see a diverse, unified, and happy set of employees who are motivated to help achieve business objectives.”

-Megan McNeill, The Pros and Cons of Hiring for Cultural Fit

Both Can Be True

Are you looking for the right fit candidate for your institution or for the right growth candidate? Often times in hiring groups, I would hear members discuss a candidate and make comments such as:

‘That person would fit right in with our team.’

‘This candidate is a great fit for our institution.’

‘This candidate can slide right into our group so easily.

One Set of Values is all You Need

I had to code-switch as a kid living in a Sri Lankan immigrant household and then going to a suburban predominantly white school in New Jersey.

On a daily basis, I switched who I was depending on where I was.

Do you have one set of values for how you show up at work and another for at home? Ideally, you should be able to be the same person at work as you are at home, with some small changes (maybe no pajamas at work). For some, this is a privilege that we do not even notice and for others, it may feel like a luxury. In fact, we all should be able to show up with one set of values that is true for us in both settings. 

The Importance of Values

When I begin coaching a new client, we often work through a values exercise. We use a list of values and narrow our way through to the few values that are most meaningful for the client.

Your Words Matter: Think Before You Talk

As a young child, my father had a phrase, I might even say it was a mantra, that he often communicated to my sisters and to me, ‘Think before you talk.” Even as I type it out now, I feel the eye roll of an adolescent child begin to take over. As a young female in a South Asian immigrant family, I interpreted this phrase as ‘be quiet’ or ‘speak when spoken to’ and I did just that. I was an introverted, quiet child who spoke rarely in the school setting. I often kept a long and winding inner narrative alive in my head but rarely shared my thoughts with others. I did not think my words mattered to others. Now as many years have passed, I actually find myself thinking of this phrase with new meaning.

As an adult, a leader, an educator, and a parent I have learned through many small and big moments that this was not the full interpretation of the phrase.

What’s Behind the Behavior?

When I was teaching, each child in the classroom acted differently. Their behaviors were a way of communicating: of sharing thoughts, feelings, and needs that were maybe not being met. As leaders, we can look at our teams similarly to how children act in classrooms. Look closely at your team and think of their behaviors. A close exploration of their actions can help you understand their beliefs and so much more. Elena Aguilar talks about transformational coaching and the 3B’s, behaviors, beliefs, and being. She talks about behaviors (instructional practices and skills) leading to effective practice, exploring the beliefs (about teaching, learning, children, and families) that you operate from, and ways of being, “the ways in which our sense of self and identity impact our experience”. What is your team telling you, both as individuals and as a group through their behaviors? 

Questions to ask as you observe your team:

  • What is the need behind their behavior?

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? When I was growing up, I can’t tell you the number of times people either mispronounced my name or just didn’t say it at all. In ninth grade, I switched schools and somehow a classmate assigned me a shortened version of my name. It stuck. This made life infinitely easier. As time went by, I felt a loss for my full given name. Who was I making it easier for? Me or others? I realized I was just trying to avoid microaggressions and awkward, challenging moments that others created because they couldn’t be bothered to take the time and effort to attempt an unfamiliar name.

Names are a big part of a person’s identity and probably one of the first things that you learn about a person. It’s natural to sometimes mispronounce an unfamiliar name. Most of the time, there are no bad intentions involved. Still, the impact of mispronouncing a name, not taking the time to learn the correct pronunciation, or using ‘nicknames’ can be harmful.

Develop a Sense of Belonging

How can you develop a sense of belonging this year? As you prepare for students, families, faculty, and staff to return to campus, there is much to think about: maintaining health and safety, preparing facilities, gathering supplies, and so much more. When you welcome your community back to campus, remember an important part of your preparation: How will you develop a sense of belonging? 

Belonging, One of Our Basic Needs:

According to psychiatrist William Glasser, Belonging is one of our basic needs. He defines love and belonging as one of our essential psychological needs for seeking relationships, making connections, giving and receiving affection and feeling part of a group. Sebene Selassie, mindfulness expert and author of You Belong, describes belonging as coming from within a person and states that difference does not mean ‘not belonging.’ Selassie writes, “Difference” does not equal “not belonging,” but as many of us live farther away from our families and as we connect to multiple communities and cultures, our sense of belonging feels tenuous.”

Keep Asking Why

When you heard about the tragic murders of Asians in Atlanta, did you ask why? When you watched videos of police brutality against Black Americans, did you ask why? When you learn about the violence and oppression of marginalized people in this country, do you ask why? 

Did you ask why or were you simply shocked and surprised? I hear people saying, “This is so surprising! I can’t believe it!” We need to believe it and we need to ask why. We need to educate ourselves and know our history. We need to stop being surprised and understand the systems. The reasons for something happening today are deeply connected to the past. It’s not about ‘having a bad day.’ If we don’t understand this, we can’t make a change.

What can schools do? 

Schools have a duty to teach students accurate history that holds many narratives, not just the narrative of the dominant people of the region.

Stay in the Discomfort

It is imperative that we stay in discomfort. Discomfort is a feeling of anxiety, uneasiness, and embarrassment. We must acknowledge this feeling and learn from it. Embracing discomfort is a form of compassion, learning, and honesty. Discomfort is a sign of something happening. Pay attention to the feeling. Do not fight it or feed it.

A recent article highlighted how the people who have historically experienced power, privilege, and comfort in independent school communities are now feeling uncomfortable with the way these schools are educating their kids. Independent schools, many of which are founded on serving and educating white males, are now serving very different communities. Schools need to change when their communities change. The curriculum needs to change. Approaches need to change. The distribution of resources needs to change and so much more.

What can schools do?

  • Schools need to move forward with their decisions and stay the course.
  • Stay in your discomfort as well.

Leaders: Inclusivity Matters

Inclusivity matters.

Do you have an inclusive workplace? 

Do your employees feel welcome each day? 

Do they have a sense of belonging in the community?

Inclusivity matters. When people don’t feel a sense of belonging, they feel excluded, their performance goes down, and it impacts their health and well-being. According to Professor Binna Kandola in his book, Free To Soar, Race and Well Being in Organisations, “A sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace is vital for all employees’ well-being, yet the default state that minorities find themselves in is exclusion.”

The leader is the catalyst. They play a key role in creating an inclusive workplace. This intentional work can create more positive work environments for all employees and help typically marginalized employees feel included which can lead to better performance and increased health and well being. Think of your workplace as a classroom with you as the teacher.