As a stoic Mancunian, I stagger through the sodden winter streets of Nedlands, Western Australia. My flimsy umbrella no match for the deluge, I take shelter in Morgan Marks clothing store. There is a sale on. Conversations unfold.
What brings you here? Where are you from? And the clincher…..What is happening in the UK? I have been asked this question many times since leaving Heathrow Airport on July 4 for Hong Kong, en route to Australia: by residents at the peaceful Jen Hotel; by a Law applicant to UCL, at the Transit Interchange at Admiralty; and now by this group of interested Australian women, keen to share stories about aberrant politicians.
Since the early hours of June 24, a post Referendum gloom has shrouded me. I have been in mourning for the idiosyncratic Britain I thought I knew: the ‘cultural cacophony’ of my second city, London; the roars that filled the Olympic Stadium in 2012, for British–Somalian Mo Farah. Disaffection, disenfranchisement and disengagement seemed to have prevailed.
Yet on this damp Australian morning I reply, ‘There’s more that holds us together than divides us’. And I realise I mean it. In this fight for the ‘soul’, as Kazuo Ishiguro describes it, anger can become a ‘treacherous guide’.
I started planning a series of blog posts on place, identity and belonging several months back. We live in a volatile world – a world on the move, in which more than half the world’s 50 million refugees are children. My work over recent years has focused on the importance of being rooted: the need we all have to belong. Belonging is that sense of being somewhere where you can feel confident that you will fit in and feel safe in your identity, as the young people in the first of five videos in the Art of Possibilities Series suggest. In this uncertain world, schools are among the few shared social institutions which can create that sense of belonging. One student put it: belonging means “to feel comfortable where you are and just to feel you can be yourself”.
This blog is about how to create the kinds of social spaces in our schools where everybody feels that they belong. It’s about leadership. How leaders think, decide, act and reflect –and draw on their knowledge to create a road-map of possibilities – is critical to the well-being of children and adults, and to their sense of belonging. It’s about the teaching: how to enable our young people to recognise that it’s also an exciting world – of boundless opportunities and possibilities. And it’s about agency: equipping our youngsters to be critical and reflective learners who feel they can contribute their part in shaping society.
I finish this blog, sitting at the Matilda Bay Café. The sun is shining over the Swan River. Tomorrow, dancer and poet TioMolina and I begin a programme with Australian educators at the University of Western Australia, Leading for Place and Belonging in our Diverse and Fast Changing World – The Art of Possibilities.
Join me on my 12 month blog journey.
What do place, belonging and identity mean for you?
What can schools do to help create a sense of place and belonging?
Kathryn Riley is Professor of Urban Education at the IOE. Her books include Leadership of Place: Stories from the US, UK & South Africa (Bloomsbury, 2013).