March 24, 2022
Today’s teachers face enormous — and exciting and overdue — pressure to “create belonging for all students.” The vocabulary varies across school communities — safe spaces, leaning into hard conversations, honoring psychological safety — but the task is the same: make all students feel seen, heard, and important every day at school. Who wouldn’t want that?
Here’s the problem: I think we are asking teachers to do something impossible. Why? Because fundamentally, belonging cannot be created for students by adults. For belonging to be authentic, it has to be co-created with and among students. True belonging is earned through lived experience, and its most fundamental attribute is mutual trust.
Trust is impossible to engineer, but I do believe that adults in schools can design structures that help students foster a trusting, inclusive culture. In this article, I offer three steps a teacher can take to use class discussion — a high-stakes academic experience where students are particularly likely to feel as if they belong or don’t — to build trust and, ultimately, co-create belonging with their students.
Step #1: Name the challenge: trust is earned over time.
I was recently chatting with an ed-tech start-up and…