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Building an Enduring Sense of Belonging

Head of School with students

– by Diana Owen, Head of School, published in ViewPoints issue 2022-2023

Last fall, I had the pleasure of meeting the documentarian and author Charles Vogl. Vogl shared how his early life, his work in the Peace Corps, and his experiences in graduate school led him to write the book The Art of Community: Seven Principles of Belonging. Given all we’ve been through over the last few years, I couldn’t imagine a more timely and meaningful topic than discussing the idea of building belonging.

Communities are intentionally cultivated

Vogl drew upon his research of 3,000 years of history and personal experience to develop his seven principles of belonging. He determined communities are not just “happy accidents” but intentionally cultivated. Vogl distinguishes between a group of people versus a community of people. A group of people may share proximity or have a common interest or purpose. A community is a “group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another’s welfare.” This brought me back to my days teaching geometry. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. All communities are groups, but not all groups are truly communities.

Students learn best when they feel known and supported

Two community-building principles Vogl highlights are “rituals” and “stories,” which we see demonstrated at the beginning of the week at Pine Point’s All School Morning Meetings. A ritual, Vogl says, is a practice that marks a moment as special and important. I am so grateful we take the time to start together every week. We set aside this time for our students, faculty, staff, parents, and friends to see each other and be seen. We know students learn best and are willing to take intellectual risks when they feel known and supported. There is warmth and comfort in the ritual of this weekly gathering. The meeting serves as a clear reminder to everyone present that they are part of a community that encourages their learning and growth.

We share stories to deepen our community connections

More consequential than the fact that we hold a weekly all school gathering is what’s shared, which is Vogl’s principle of “stories.” Vogl explains that stories can “connect the present with things in the past and our hope for the future.” Sharing reflections at All School Morning Meetings helps us celebrate accomplishments. Hearing announcements helps us build understanding and enthusiasm for upcoming educational adventures. We provide time for our youngest Lower School students to build their confidence and voice in front of an attentive audience while amplifying the emerging leadership of our Middle School students. We are curious about our students’ messages and demonstrations of learning, and we honor their contributions to our community. We share stories to deepen our community connections and reinforce how we strive to treat each other.

Pine Point’s educational philosophy is that engaged learning is not only experiential and interdisciplinary but also relational. Our All School Morning Meetings are dedicated to taking the time to express our authentic core values and to building an enduring sense of belonging. I am heartened to see such wonderful attendance at our All School Morning Meetings this year. Please don’t hesitate to join us! We would love to see you. You are a member of the Pine Point community, and you belong.

Diana Owen
Head of School

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