Sparking a sense of belonging

There was this energy, and this coming together. And while we started off by looking at belonging in a playground during recess, this idea of belonging was starting to really spark deeply throughout our school.
— Sharron Rosen, Teacher

Sharron Rosen and Laura Frew wanted a challenge. As co-teachers, they were looking for new ways to bring the lived experiences of their Grade 1-2 students into their classrooms. Integrative Thinking was their answer.

When Sharron and Laura first started experimenting with Integrative Thinking, a growth mindset quickly came to the forefront of their teaching and their own learning. Sharron described their attitude as: "We don't know all the answers, but we're going to ask really good questions, and that's going to lead to more questions - so we want you [our students] to ask questions too."


Sharron and Laura's breakthrough moment with their classes resulted from a real problem that was happening at Fairbank. The school had recently transitioned from a middle school to a K-8 school, which had created tension in the recess yard between younger and older students. Sharron and Laura seized the opportunity to use Integrative Thinking with their students to explore the opposing models of indoor and outdoor recess.

Beginning with the Pro-Pro Chart and Causal Modelling, Sharron and Laura's students followed the Integrative Thinking process all the way through, culminating in a trip to the Rotman School of Management to present their solutions to friends, family, and members of the broader community:

Click to enlarge.


What made the challenge especially dynamic was how Sharron and Laura wove art, technology, equity, and experiential learning into the different stages of the Integrative Thinking process. Their students took field trips to several parks, documented their research on iPads, tested playgrounds for wheelchair accessibility, used tableaus to dramatize spaces they were drawn to, and so on.

As they explored further, Sharron, Laura and their students found the underlying need that was shaping the challenge: belonging. Together, they deepened their understanding of the concept by asking intentional questions like "What was it about that space that gave you a sense of belonging? What does it mean to belong? Why is it important?" 

The next stages of the process, ideating and prototyping, became opportunities for community building within the school itself: "the doors were always open, so students began to come in and ask what we were doing - they were interested, and they were coming together."  This extended to the teachers, as well. Sharron describes how "it offered more conversation for our colleagues, who have very busy days so they don't always get that chance to connect to plan. There was talk happening in the halls, during prep - this whole idea of co-teaching and team teaching began to take on a whole new life in our school." Even the principal of Fairbank, Cassandra Alviani-Alvarez was "always popping into the classroom" and talking with students about their work. 

Now, Sharron, Laura, and Cassandra are excited about future possibilities, and confident in their students' abilities to solve real problems: "I know come September, whether I'm their teacher are not, they are going to be saying 'Why don't we try this?', 'What are the models?' and they're going to be problem solvers. It was always within them - this just really allowed them to show and shine."

This is the best thing that’s happened to Fairbank. Our kids are capable - that mindset of growth, and the ability to do and go beyond is there.
— Cassandra Alviani-Alvarez, Principal