Q: Identity or belonging – what would you choose? A: Both!
By Becky Ford, Headteacher, Woodston Primary School
As the new girl in ‘tOWN’, I have been on an exciting voyage of discovery, which started back in March of this year. I’d learned that Woodston Primary School was advertising for a Headteacher and something about this piqued my interest, so I made it my mission to find out everything I could about the school, and OWN Trust.
Finding out about the school was easy. I’d had some experience of working with Woodston in 2012 and remembered feeling it was a happy and vibrant place. In fact, I sent an email at the time to Mrs Mitchell telling her just how happy my visits to Woodston made me! When I visited again (11 years later), I felt the same overwhelming sense of happiness and something ‘pulling’ me in. Warmth emanated from every part of the building and the people. I felt that Woodston was a place where I could ‘belong’: a theme that Mr. Goakes, our Executive Deputy, wrote about in a recent OWN Trust blog.
If you could indulge me for a moment, I would like to hover over the concept of ‘belonging’ and share a quote with you from a book I’m reading, which states the following about human beings:
“We have evolved to form ourselves into groups with mutual responsibility and shared purpose, and to crave the feelings of belonging, meaning, and community such membership creates. This profoundly shapes our motivations and desires – even when, as is often the case, we don’t realise it.”
You may be questioning why I am sharing this with you, and the answer is simple. Being part of OWN Trust is feeding my craving for belonging, meaning, and community on a daily basis and this is certainly having a profound impact on my motivations and desires.
OWN Trust has pledged an ongoing commitment to achieving a shared culture through ‘Our Passion’ in which ‘we strive to create a single sense of identity and culture’. In practice, this translates into a powerful collaborative learning culture, where staff and pupils take calculated risks and challenge each other in an ethos of high care. Sometimes ‘Our Passion’ means doing ‘tough’ things, but at OWN Trust, we do this with human hearts at the forefront, in a culture of psychological safety.
OWN Trust understands that people are its most important resource and significant investment is made in ensuring there is efficacy and understanding between people. Everyone shows up in schools as human beings, as well as educators of young minds. It is for this reason that I have quickly developed a strong sense of belonging, not only to Woodston School but to OWN Trust as an organisation.
Prior to taking up this post, I completed a Level 7 Executive Coaching Qualification and spent a great deal of time developing my understanding of effective organisational culture, authentic leadership, and ensuring people thrive within organisations. I spent many hours coaching a range of leaders and staff in schools to help them understand their own values and beliefs and how these drove their behaviours. My passion for people is nourished and nurtured within OWN Trust and this is very much reciprocated in the way in which I am supported and challenged. My passion is ‘Our Passion’ and that of everyone else within the organisation. A ‘single sense of identity and culture.’
I didn’t know it at the time (as is often the case, we don’t realise it), but I am now certain my coaching experiences led me to OWN Trust; a place of belonging. The synergy that exists between my values and those of the organisation, energises me and excites me so that I am profoundly motivated to do good work for the people I serve.
It was not my intention to write another blog about belonging, but it seems my reflections have naturally led me to this place. Having said that, perhaps it is not inconceivable to think that this is a blog about identity too. For hundreds of years, people have struggled in societies and groups where they’ve had to compromise their beliefs: denying their identity, in pursuit of the human need to belong. OWN Trust has created a very strong ‘single’ sense of identity, but they also do a beautiful job of valuing difference and allowing individuals to flourish within this. This is quite an achievement and an exciting prospect for our pupils and staff.
I haven’t looked back since taking up my post on 1st September, only forward. In my voyage of discovery, I have found both myself and a place where I belong. My wish for you today is that (like me) you find yourself in a place where your identity is welcomed and you feel you belong. It should never be one or the other, and you owe it to yourself to expect both!