In Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in Your Communities, Susie Wise explains the importance of belonging:
Belonging helps us to be fully human. It gives us permission to share our talents and express our life force. It enables cooperation, collaboration, and the ability to work across difference. It emboldens our creativity and our problem-solving abilities. When people feel like they belong, they are able to be their best and do their best.
According to Wise, we can all design spaces that help people feel they belong, and she represents this intersection of belonging and design as “belonging + design = new ways of bringing people together, or new ways of people being together.”
Belonging means that we feel accepted and that we can show up as our authentic selves; we also feel that as a member of the community we can raise issues and challenge ideas. In contrast, othering is treating people who belong to a different group or community as inferior.
We can shape belonging and avoid othering by using what Wise calls the levers of design. These levers are tools that help us move toward the goal of creating spaces where people feel safe to participate fully. They help us experiment with new ways of engaging with others.
- Space: cues us to what, how, and who we can be
- Roles: because they are designed as part of systems, they can be redesigned to create belonging
- Events: designing an event is crafting the experience, so belonging must be a through-line
- Rituals: help us focus on personal, interpersonal, and communal meaning-making
- Grouping: to foster belonging, be specific about what you hope to achieve by designing group structures
- Communications: be aware that all communications send explicit and implicit messages about who belongs and who does not
- Clothing: can act as a symbol of belonging
- Food: is sometimes an opportunity for coming together
- Schedules and Rhythms: can play an important role if they are designed to support people and their needs.
No matter what role we play, we can be reflective about whether or not our interactions create belonging or othering. When we become aware of the levers of belonging in our own communities, we can begin to use them with intention. Although this book is not specific to education, there are countless spaces educators can apply these principles to design and redesign spaces within our classrooms and school communities to foster belonging.