Connection and Belonging

The Hispanic Heritage Luncheon was a delicious success!  Thanks to all those who contributed by bringing a dish or just showing up to partake in the festivities.  Thank you Marga and Marcia for coordinating this event for us!Luncheon(2)

At the start of our workshop on Friday, I spoke about connection and relationships – and the opportunities we have in place for students to connect with adults, peers, and the OM community.  All of these opportunities, places to find a niche and fit in, are critical to students’ social-emotional success which is fundamental to academic success.

Consider the implication of those strategies you learned on Friday (sensory, graphic, and interactive supports) in helping our academic language learners, not just ELLs, connect with the content and the power that has in helping students make the abstract more concrete.  Thank you for your work.  I look forward to the systems and strategies we develop to support our students!

For more on the importance of connections and belonging, check out this article:

Ruby Payne on Connection and Belonging

“In the past 20 years, the push for high achievement, along with a very narrow definition of achievement at the federal level, has forced many schools to neglect the very foundation of learning: safety and belonging,” says author/consultant Ruby Payne in this article in AMLE Magazine. Payne says she’s heard increased concern among educators around the country about “cutting” – various forms of self-harm. She believes the “hurt” that drives adolescents to cut themselves has to do with a lack of connections, safety, and belonging.

Generation K (teens 13-20, many under the spell of Hunger Games icon Katniss Everdeen) “has a deep distrust of institutions – especially governments and corporations,” says Payne. “They watched the Great Recession and the spike in terrorism… Today’s adolescents generally perceive their external environment as harsh, unpredictable, and unsafe. Terrorism, Facebook envy, and cyberbullying are all part of their daily reality. The school environment has become harsher under the pressures of state assessments (you make it or you don’t) and zero tolerance in discipline. And in middle school, students often are bullied in school and out of school – in person and via social media. No place is safe.” According to one study of American and British Generation K girls, 30 percent are unsure or negative about marriage, 31 percent feel the same way about having children, 86 percent are concerned about getting a job, 77 percent about going into debt, and 22 percent have considered suicide.

In this environment, human connections and belonging are essential, and if those are absent, some teens harm themselves, while others engage in avoidance behaviors. One study found that the average American teenage boy watches 50 pornography clips a week and, by 21, has played more than 10,000 hours of video games, mostly alone. Activities like these rewire boys’ brains for constant arousal, novelty, and excitement, says Payne, and instill a preference for being isolated from social contact.

“Schools cannot change the external world nor the perception that the world is ‘not safe,’” says Payne, “but they can address the issue of ‘belonging.’” Her suggestions:

  • Have students volunteer or engage in community service. “Volunteering is a powerful way to gain a broader perspective and get outside one’s own fears and concerns,” she says.
  • Have students do academic tasks in pairs. This is particularly helpful to keep boys from becoming isolated from others.
  • Connect students to people in another country, particularly in Third World countries, via Skype or Google Hangouts.
  • Never allow a student to eat lunch alone. “Assign student ambassadors whose explicit responsibility is to befriend,” says Payne.
  • Survey students about their best friends and the topics they discuss, and then counsel them on how to be “better friends” who ask questions rather than giving advice and who alert adults when they hear troubling references to pornography, cutting, heavy drug use, and suicide.

“Your students may not thank you,” says Payne of such interventions, “but they will be the beneficiaries.”

“Keeping Students Safe from Harm” by Ruby Payne in AMLE Magazine, October 2015 (Vol. 4, #3, p. 36-37), no free e-link available; Payne can be reached at rpayne@ahaprocess.com.

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