This morning, I put on my school sweatshirt. It arrived a few months after I arrived at Beckett Farm PS, my new school. Putting it on today actually felt like something important. The staff have been more than welcoming and the administration could not be better at providing a sense that I matter. Finally sporting the school’s logo, though, feels like belonging. I know that it’s not, really, but it is, too.
When my daughters wear my coveted rock t’s, I feel a deep sense of connection to them. I have saved many of the t-shirts from my teens, and my husband and I made it a requirement to know at least 3 songs by an artist or band before being able to sport the t. At the beginning, it was like a game to approve the Janis Joplin or Guns n’ Roses t-shirt by testing song knowledge. Now that they think my clothes are theirs. I watch them with a distant pride thinking that they connect to me through their love of music and musicians. They feel connected to their groups of friends who also love classic rock and other retro things. My shirts connect them to their friends and their time- strange but true.
When we were launching Strum and The Wild Turkeys in April, we decided to order t-shirts. At first, they were for ourselves and for giveaways, but we added them to the website because it went so well with the theme of belonging in the story. When you join the band, you want to wear the shirt. This summer, I went up to the ranch where the book takes place for an event, and I got to sing my song Different is Good with a few good people and their guitars. Looking out at an audience sprinkled with Wild Turkey band shirts felt next level for me. We were all a part of something really meaningful.
Growing up in the eighties, wearing the right article of clothing made you a part of something. It was a Lacoste t at first and then the mandatory Roots attire. You have to be Canadian to know that the beaver logo was an essential piece of wardrobe and community. Does money buy belonging? Maybe it did and it’s still true. Maybe it’s all excess and privilege, but I actually believe it’s more than the superficial. I think it feels good to be a part of something.
It’s not that I didn’t feel like I belonged at my school. I was experiencing an odd feeling of exclusion seeing colleagues and students in every hallway sporting the school logo on t-shirt and hoodies in different colours and for various occasions and not feeling a part of it. My students were as excited as I was when my Beckett Thunderbolts hoodie arrived, and it made me wonder if this was like my official foray into our “Farm”ily. Belonging can be experienced in an article of clothing, and so can exclusion. As Cobb and Krownapple wrote in Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity, "When students feel they belong...they feel confident that they are seen as a human being, a person of value." What happens when they don't? How does that impact their learning? This is about so much more than a t-shirt.
The more I think about mattering and belonging at school, the more I see that belonging happens through big and little things. I work very hard to build my classroom around who is in the room through my various BOB projects, through how I approach unit planning and assessment, and through casual conversations in hallways or over lunch. I am left wondering, though, that while I have the freedom and privilege together with the gear to make me feel connected, who continues to be left out and what can I do about it? I want to get to a place of belonging both personally and for my students where it feels like a right that is easily attained and not an achievement that has to be earned or granted. What are your thoughts?