Building a Community of Belonging
Creating an inclusive community requires work in several areas: personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional. Focusing on these areas also informs practices and systems within our school environment. This section provides some of the ways The Oaks intentionally creates a sense of community, individual belonging, and navigates difficult conversations.
GUIDELINES FOR INCLUSIVITY
The Oaks School continually engages in expanding its anti-bias and anti-racist practices to be as inclusive, welcoming, and diverse as possible. To effectively communicate across differences, we use the Guidelines for Inclusivity. These guidelines were created through our work with Visions, Inc. and provide universal and consistent language for staff, faculty, students, and families to engage with one another.
Remaining open to trying new concepts, strategies, and ideas is a key aspect of expanding understanding and diversifying perspectives. By fully engaging in new ways of doing things, one can then reflect upon and refine practices in a more meaningful and deeper way.
It’s okay to disagree. It’s not okay to blame or attack self or others.
Disagreement and diversity of thought are important parts of being in a community. Learning how to navigate disagreements in ways that maintain respect for yourself and others allows differences to be fully expressed and helps to release the idea that we all need to be, think, and act the same.
It is important to speak about our own experiences rather than making broad, universal statements. Using “I” statements rather than saying “you,” “we,” or “one” makes it clear that you are speaking from your own perspective and not applying your thoughts and ideas to others. This invites and creates space for multiple perspectives to be shared—especially when they are different from yours.
Practice "both/and" thinking.
Both/and thinking intentionally creates space for multiple things to be true at once. Additionally, it keeps the lines of communication open whereas either/or/but language often shuts it down by implying that there is one way to think or do things.
Notice process and content.
When building a collaborative and inclusive space, being mindful of how decisions are made is just as important as the decisions themselves. Another way of thinking about this guideline is reflecting upon the journey and process of reaching your goal is as important as the goal itself.
Be aware of intent and impact.
Actions based on good intentions may still create harmful impacts for others, especially across racial, gender, or other cultural differences. It is important to be open and receptive to hearing the impact of your actions or words, regardless of your intentions.
Creating a space in which others feel comfortable sharing personal experiences is of the utmost importance. While you can share your own learnings and experiences, be sure to keep what others have shared with you confidential unless you have explicit permission from them to share. Practicing confidentiality builds a community norm that allows people to tell their own stories in ways that feel most comfortable to them.
A brave space encourages dialogue, recognizes differences, holds each person accountable to do the work, and encourages participants to approach topics with a growth mindset. In brave spaces there is an understanding that the learning is often difficult and typically uncomfortable.
Ways to Engage in a Brave Space
- Enter the conversation with curiosity
- Take risks
- Hold yourself accountable
- Assume good intentions
- Sit with and lean into discomfort
- Examine your relationship with the subject
- Resist centering your own shame, guilt, fear, and emotions
- Stay on topic and be mindful of avoidance tactics
- Avoid trying to control others' emotions, experiences, and/or pain
- Allow learnings from the conversation to leave with you and individuals' stories and specifics to remain in the room
the restorative process
Using a guiding set of questions, the Restorative Process intends to repair relationships and reduce punitive solutions when conflict arises. The restorative process at The Oaks School is a facilitation technique and skill-building practice that restores friendships and community relationships by meaningfully addressing harm and engaging with conflict through thoughtful introspection, personal accountability, and mutual understanding.