From Isolation to Belonging

Did you know that one out of every two fellow citizens is experiencing measurable levels of loneliness at any given moment? This staggering statistic, highlighted by the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, underscores the gravity of the mental health crisis we face today. Loneliness has become its defining cause. In the face of this, I take great pride in the impactful work happening in California through Growing Your HEART Skills, a HEART in Mind program dedicated to supporting adults in developing their social and emotional capacity. County Offices of Education are adopting this course in a hybrid format, fostering communities of practice that learn, share, and uplift one another. Reach out to learn more about this transformative initiative.

If you are committed to growing your social and emotional skills this fall, join me and hundreds of educators to grow HEART skills. We intentionally explore and practice SEL strategies to support ourselves in increasing awareness and developing purpose. Join us!

Sadly, we are still dealing with the side effects of the pandemic in schools, where the mental well-being of children and adolescents is a pressing concern. Simultaneously, educators find themselves navigating a landscape where things never went back to “normal,” and despite their best efforts, their levels of burnout continue to increase while their well-being decreases.

These challenges underscore the need to intentionally create communities of belonging, where students and adults can feel seen, loved, and cared for. But this effort should not merely be a response to the present challenges; it should be a commitment to a better future, where every individual can thrive socially and emotionally.

This effort involves a deliberate commitment to creating schools grounded in connection, empathy, and mutual support not only for students but also for adults. A place where our need for love and belonging can be met, where we can trust our fellow human beings and bring our authentic selves forward. Consider the following concrete actions:

  • Staff meetings dedicated to open discussions about educators’ current needs and well-being. Action items should follow these discussions.
  • Mentorship programs for educators to support each other. This can be pairing veteran teachers with novice teachers, or educators within the same grade level or subject supporting each other.
  • Community-building events where personal stories and experiences can be shared, so adults can understand one another and gain additional insight into people’s perspectives.

The challenge lies in overcoming social and cultural norms that compartmentalize our identities. In a way, we are socialized to “show” the parts of our identities that fit in the mainstream culture and we reserve the rest for our intimate spaces. Imagine a school environment where educators could celebrate their own diverse backgrounds, along with their students. This process would redefine what it means to ‘fit in’ and recognize that diversity enriches our collective experience.

As an immigrant in the United States, it took me years to realize that my difference could be an asset and not an obstacle and that my strength was grounded in the ability to see things through a different lens. I also learned that I could connect with people at deeper levels not despite our differences, but because of them.

According to the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, belonging is both aspirational and practical, something we build through our daily and momentary actions. That means paying attention to how “we are” in community, and intentionally uplifting each other with empathy, cariño, and a commitment to positive change. Everybody can do it, and you can too!

In this journey to create communities of belonging, let’s not forget the tangible steps we can take today. As we aspire to uplift each other, the Growing Your HEART Skills program stands as a timely and valuable resource. It provides a structured pathway for individuals to develop the necessary HEART skills to foster genuine connections and meaningful relationships. In adopting this program, we not only equip ourselves with the tools to navigate today’s challenges but also contribute to a future where every person—student, educator, and parent—can thrive socially and emotionally. Reach out to explore how Growing Your HEART Skills can be the catalyst for transformative change in your community.

Photo by Hannah Busing

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