Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity

Review: Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity:

The keys to successful equity implementation

By Floyd Cobb and John Krownapple

When students feel a sense of belonging they will achieve. – Brenda CampbellJones

For … or against

Being against racism … or achievement gaps … is a start.  But the real question, according to the authors is what we are FOR.  Specifically, we need to be unconditionally for our kids’ belonging and dignity.

Barriers to Belonging

  • Labeling students – “those kids” and “frequent flyers” – marginalizes and stigmatizes. Negative labels can result in loss of 153% of a year’s worth of learning.
  • Stereotype threat: Students underachieve when they: a) are motivated to achieve; b) socially isolated; c) conscious of their stigmatized identities.  Stereotype threat contributes to a loss of 83% of one year’s learning.  Too many students either give up … or sell out their identity.
  • Otherizing, marginalizing and a host of other conditions prevent students from simply being accepted for who they are. Kids can’t learn unless they belong.


Students need access to rigorous course work.  Too often achievement gaps are really access gaps.  You can’t learn what you are not taught.  Those who have access always do better than those who do not.  Access alone, however, is not enough.


Maslow puts belonging before achievement.  Most schools say, achieve first, then you can belong.  When we bypass belonging, we either create impossible hurdles or pits of despair.


Four types of culture … based on access and belonging:

  1. Excluded lack access and belonging. They are “outsiders” … tracked … labeled … defined by their zip code
  2. Segregated lack access. They are separated from the mainstream.  But have unconditional belonging with others in their group.
  3. Integrated have access to the dominant club but belonging is conditional, dependent upon continued performance.
  4. Included. Only the included have access and belonging.  They are the only group that is in a community that honors and welcomes them unconditionally.

Both access and belonging are needed to transform culture. Positive climate leads to:

  • improved achievement and attendance;
  • lower suspensions and fights;
  • less drugs and HIB …
  • and everyone feeling included.

Create Belonging

Belonging is the soil that nurtures inclusion and engagement.  Create brave spaces where you can wrestle with issues through authentic engagement.  Spaces where you can risk being uncomfortable.

A culture of belonging means that students are:

  1. Appreciated and included
  2. Validated and recognized; given voice
  3. Accepted as you are without compromising your identity
  4. Treated fairly and given safety

Give Dignity and Inclusion

Dignity is unconditional worth and value; respect is earned.  Relationships are at the heart of dignity.  Dignity is central to an inclusive environment.

  1. Empathy takes in new perspectives; maintains relationship even in mis-behavior. Empathy + Power Sharing = a gain of 1.5 years in Hattie’s work. Empathy builds partnerships and community based on trust, voice and agency.  Empathy is the antidote to apathy.
  2. Patience goes slow to go far; patience is the wisdom to repair harm and restore relationships through shared values, acceptance and fairness. Patience is the antidote to intolerance.
  3. Openness takes risks; stays open-minded to new ideas, experiences, and feedback. Openness affirms differences and affirms uniqueness/identity.  Openness is the antidote to judgement.
  4. Listening to understand is at the heart of healthy relationships. It presumes competence and brilliance and positive intent.  Listening is not autobiographical, solution focused, judging, or prying. Listening is the antidote to denial,

Positive Reinforcement Loop  

When you create a Culture of Dignity
… it leads to a climate of Belonging
… which increases Engagement and Inclusion
… which results in Achievement.

People will forget the things you do and people will forget the things you say.
But people will not forget how you made them feel.  – Maya Angelou

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Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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