Since 2019, we have been in partnership with four districts in Southern Oregon. Nicolette Smith, School Improvement Specialist and SOREN Implementation Coach, plays a vital role in helping schools implement the systems and practices learned through collaboration with BELONG Partners. SOREN’s defined aim is Safety, Significance, and Belonging. “That’s what we want for every person in our schools,” says Nicolette, “and the collaboration with BELONG Partners supports this aim.”
Each community has unique needs
Over the past four years, BELONG Partners facilitators have collaborated with Nicolette and other educators in Southern Oregon. We help Nicolette and her team build support for social emotional learning (SEL) systems from the ground up. They have a commitment to listening to the unique needs of each local community in their district. The school districts encompass both rural community schools and those in bigger cities with access to more resources. Each area has their own strengths and culture.
The engagement with the BELONG Partners approach usually begins with offering the professional development workshop, Rooted Relationships: Growing Equitable Learning Communities, co-taught with BELONG Partners facilitators. After educators have learned the tools and approach offered in that workshop and witness the impact in their classrooms, they often recommend the workshop to their entire school community.
The importance of data
Nicolette shares that school data teams are an essential component of the approach. These teams provide schools with a structure for collecting and analyzing patterns of behavior. This analysis can reveal systemic issues within a school that are contributing to behavior challenges. A representative team of classified and licensed educators then propose solutions – emphasizing that making small, incremental changes can significantly impact systems, teach skills, and ultimately, improve behavior.
Patience and urgency
Because the Southern Oregon team is committed to a ground-up approach that is inclusive of many diverse perspectives and experiences, Nicolette says patience is required to make change. She and her team understand that increasing demands are placed on educators, and there is a sense of urgency for change that will support student and educator well-being. Just like all other educational communities, balancing that tension between the urgency and the time required to make effective system-level change is something that Southern Oregon experiences.
Positive impacts and outcomes
Nicolette reports many positive impacts and outcomes have been observed across the Southern Oregon region as a result of working with BELONG Partners. These include increased student voice, truly collaborative problem-solving among educators and students, schools that elevate the expertise of teachers and staff, and data teams that consistently propose and implement successful solutions to challenges.
In June of 2023, staff from 11 regional schools came together to learn from each other’s experiences, reflect on their practice, celebrate their accomplishments, and plan for the coming school year. It was a powerful experience to gather in person for the first time – having worked over Zoom throughout the pandemic – to celebrate each other and recognize all that they have collectively accomplished.
A yearly convening is one way we intentionally maintain our collaboration and support of our Southern Oregon partners and other districts who invest in implementing the BELONG Partners approach. We are grateful for them and look forward to bringing what we have learned through our partnership to more school communities in the future.