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Opinion, Teaching

Including Ourselves and Our Students in the Room of Possibility

Belonging uncertainty: a shift in perspective

On the first day of my masters (about 7 years ago now?! Seriously, Time, slow down) I surveyed the adults around me – some of them principals, some vice principals, and all of them serious looking – and panicked and it dawned on me: “I don’t belong here.”

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At the first break, I gathered some courage and approached one of the instructors to tell her about the problem. You know, about how I didn’t belong there.

She threw me a razor sharp look and said, “Brooke – if you had the balls to stop giving marks, you have the balls to be here.”

Um. Okay. With one statement and a laser-certain stare, Linda cured my “belonging uncertainty”. So I stayed.

Flash forward to Delta MakerLab’s summer camp for 9 – 13 year olds last month: out of fourteen makers, two were girls. I popped in during the week to learn about 3D modeling and how to code; I kept looking at the girls and wondering about their experience in this predominantly male environment. Finally, I asked them what it was like to be the only girls.

“We’re all kind of similar; we all like to create stuff,” one said while tinkering with the robot bug she had made.

Oh, I thought. When I looked at these kids I kept seeing division because of a gender imbalance. But deeply engaged in their learning, these girls saw themselves belonging in a community of similarly engaged and motivated peers.

All this makes me wonder about how much energy I put into making categories where some people belong and others do not. The categories, however, are not the stereotypical ones that come to mind.

I don’t, for instance, see myself as a mathematician. In a room of math-lovers, I have belonging uncertainty. However, I do see myself as a problem solver. I see myself as creative, curious, and inquisitive. I see myself as persistent and thoughtful. Perhaps I am more like those math-lovers than I think. Perhaps I do belong in the room.

And if I belong in the room, perhaps I might even like math. At the very least, liking math becomes a possibility.

I’m talking about shifting our mindsets towards a stance of belonging rather than suspicion about not belonging. If we do not shift our mindsets in this way we limit ourselves and others.

Many elementary school teachers who teach math, for example, don’t actually like math or see themselves as mathematicians. Rather than inviting this math-baggage into our interactions with highly impressionable children who notice our nuanced attitudes, let’s place ourselves “in the room” with math lovers and look for the ways we belong. Because if we model belonging, everyone is in the room.