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Blog: Thursday, September 26th, 2019

Who Am I? Do I Belong?

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Danny was an incredibly quiet boy in one of my classes when I first became a teacher. While most of the students took the bus to school, his parents drove him. He was smaller in stature and tended not to engage in the rough and tumble activities that the other boys typically engaged on the playground at recess and lunch. Instead, he tended to stay in the classroom. And when I nudged him outside, he would invariably read quietly in a secluded spot or socialize with some of the younger students. He rarely volunteered answers to questions asked in class, though when I deliberately called on him, he always demonstrated a level of insight that would impress me. He was polite to a fault and consistently complied with all my directions, though I knew he had not yet found his voice.

It was purely by chance that I discovered that Danny was a talented pianist. As November approached that year, I remember brainstorming with my students about what we would contribute to our school’s Christmas concert. This was the topic of conversation with a friend of mine, whose daughter, Anna, was in my class, and I knew she played the piano. When I discussed this with Anna, she offered to do a duo with Danny, whom she knew could also play. I was somewhat surprised that I did not know this about him, but when I asked him, he eagerly accepted. It was a while ago, but I do recall that the concert went off quite well. The other outcome was that this changed things considerably for Danny and how his classmates (and teacher) oriented themselves to him. Over time he seemed to find a more comfortable place in the classroom and seemed to carry himself a little differently. His musical skills opened all kinds of social and academic doors for him, which impacted the kind of year he had in my class.

I share that story only as a reminder about the fundamental importance of identity and belonging to the lives of our students (and adults for that matter). Each of us wants to know that we matter and belong somewhere and that our experiences and talents are valued. This is particularly true for students. One of the often overlooked core competencies is Positive Personal and Cultural Identity, which involves “the awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the factors that contribute to a healthy sense of oneself, and includes knowledge of one’s family background, heritage, language, beliefs, and perspectives…” (BC MoE). We have come to realize just how important it is for students to see themselves on a daily basis in the instructional ecology of our classrooms, and so it makes sense that we invite their whole selves into our classes.  At its core, developing positive personal and cultural identity supports deep learning and belonging in our classrooms.

There are a myriad of ways that we can foster positive personal and social identity in classrooms. I am always encouraged to see so many examples when I visit schools. From simple things like having students share special facts about themselves and their families to their classmates; to programs like Genius Hour, Heritage Fairs, Flex Time where kids are given more pronounced opportunities to pursue a personal passion, or to share their family’s heritage; to project-based units of study inviting students to connect their personal and cultural histories to curricular content.

All of these approaches let students know that they have a place in the world and that it is honoured. Students will invariably tell or show us that they appreciate such experiences by virtue of their engagement. It was a lesson that Danny taught me many years ago, and one which I am delighted to see flourish in our schools.

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.