Sense of belonging: an invisible essential condition for thriving school-based Learning Ecosystems

Last Friday December 3rd 2021 we celebrated our SchoolWeavers Workshop with the project Community of researchers, school leaders, teachers and district leaders from 17 countries around the world, spread over the five continents. These precious time together allowed us a deeper weaving, a deeper thinking and a deeper support between people froma schools, universities and educational organizations who join the SchoolWeavers. It is amazing how connected and aligned we are beyond our contexts and diverse realities, we speak the same language and we face similar issues, and most importantly, we share the purpose of reimagining our school communities to enhance learning and wellbeing opportunities for all. Thanks for your involvement in the session and to share your learnings, thoughts, ideas and expertise with all of us. The Workshop experience is an invaluable source of collective wisdom that allowed us to grow together and strengthen our community and purpose. 

The ScholWeavers tool is an International project led by the NetEduProject team (Catalyzed by PSITIC, Blanquerna) and funded by the Jacobs Foundation and the Government of Spain. The intention behind the SchoolWeavers tool is to weave school communities around the globe to rethink learning and bound the transition from standardized educational systems to human and caring ecosystems that enhance personalized learning and equity. The tool claims to facilitate a process of cultivating and weaving trustful ecosystems in school communities around the world, strengthening and expanding meaningful human interconnections within and across school borders, focusing on seeding a relational environment that holds and inspires the best version of all its members. 

During the session, we explored how we can better create opportunities for a sense of belonging in our lives, schools and communities. We started by sharing experiences where we felt that we belong, and discussed how these sense of belonging ideas resonated with our dayly work. Then, we shared the school and university experiences to support the engagement of all school actors (students, families, teachers, leaders, staff and community collaborators). And finaly we shared how we are doing all this through the ScholWeavers tool. 

A key assumption of the SchoolWeavers model is that a sense of belonging is essential for us to feel connected and involved in our communities. Thus, a sense of belonging is a fundamental human need that is crucial in the process of weaving learning ecosystems. Here we can grasp a few ideas shared around the science of sense of belonging.

  • Social relationships are important because they provide opportunities to belong and grow together. 
  • Sense of belonging makes people feel distinctive and special, so a lack of it is associated with a host of negative psychological outcomes. 
  • Sense of belonging increases positive interaction between individuals and is related to feeling trust and passion. 
  • It also fosters individual and community resilience.
  • A good organizational culture can play an outsize role in fostering belonging via beliefs and values.
  • Sense of belonging in students drive positive peer and teacher relationships and helps to intervene against bullying. 
  • Finally, sense of belonging in students is also related to academic achievement, expectations and aspirations. It also adds more value to learning experiences increasing self efficacy. 

Therefore, we should create opportunities for people to feel and experience a sense of belonging to our communities as an invisible but powerful condition in the work we are all doing in our schools and universities. Some of the ideas shared by team members were: ‘if everybody knows that they will be heard, this creates a powerful sense of belonging’; ‘feeling valued and that we belong is essentia on building trust’; ‘we should shift thinking from -I do what I do and I belong- to -I belong and then I do what I do-’; ‘being yourself is a key ingredient to be part of the community, and allows you to LEARN and participate in a wider range of community experiences’; ‘having a supportive and encouraging environment cultivates our sense of belonging’.

As a beautiful gift, our colleagues and leaders from Daniel Mangrané School (Catalonia, Spain) and Montemorel School (Chia, Colombia) presented their ongoing experience on strategies to involve the school community in the SchoolWeavers project. Mainly, these experiences and strategies focus on creating spaces to engage with all actors in the community, exchange ideas and actively listen them. Daniel Mangrané has linked the Tool model (Showed in the images above) to their ongoing school pilars: Cultivate dimension is related to cohesion within the school community in a project called “junt@smilor” that involves participation in the daily life of the school. Facilitate dimension involves immersing in innovative projects through the process called #makingmagrané. Thrive dimension focus on #strategiclearning, a learning comprehension where students not only get good marks but focus on individuals. With this in mind, they are mobilizing their community with teachers and students involving also families. It is highly interesting the way students are actively involving their families in the project.

Montemorel School main strategies used in the initial phase are to generate expectations and prepare communities around the different dimensions the tool proposed in its model. They work in each dimension progressively starting from empathy and finishing with equity. Some of the strategies used are: To share videos in families-teachers meetings; To develop human flourishing workshops; To explain benefits and goals the tool will help to achieve through posts on social media; To organize Individual meetings with community actors (parents, administrators, students) to talk about dimensions. 

Some final ideas from our discussion

  • Sense of belonging is essential in the development and involvement in the SchoolWeavers project
  • We need holistic and interconnected strategies to reach all school actors and weave a collective sense of belonging in our community.
  • It is important to explain to schools and teachers that the tool is not to evaluate their work but to improve learning. 
  • It is important to open spaces to share better with families what we are doing and the sense of education. Sometimes they don’t understand why schools are proceeding in some ways at the same time that we do not take advantage of the potential of the families being engaged with the school project and feeling that they belong.
  • We need to understand that many changes are needed to weave better ecosystems, so as leaders we have to use diverse and multi dimensional strategies.
  • Researchers can better support school communities in the SchoolWeavers by being part of their team and purpose, being part and belonging to the school communities.
  • Although some circumstances are similar between contexts others are different and need differentiated and contextualized approaches.

Schools, universities and educational organizations who join the School Weavers tool project are co-creating learning ecosystems around the globe, and at the same time, are starting to become a global learning ecosystem. We are part of something greater, we belong to a wider movement where energies and efforts support learners to take care of themselves, society and planet, and we are not alone, there are other communities and schools sharing this values and mooving toward these learning goals. We are the type of change we want to see in our schools, experiencing a shift in our collective mindset beyond achievement, deeply taking into account relational and collaborative processes to strengthen human relationships, and holistacaly support each other in our learning and living journey.

Invitation to UNESCO-NetEdu Learning Ecosystem discovery event

We invite you into a participatory discussion and the project initiation of the UNESCO-NetEdu Learning and Digital Ecosystem Tool. Sign up now to October 27th 5- 6.30pm CET (RSVP here). We would like to engage with you on the novel approach being taken to co-design and co-prototype an online tool aimed to support government leaders and policymakers to weave country and local learning and digital Ecosystems.

Our hope is that, in time, this tool will support and enhance opportunities for lifelong learning and wellbeing at country and regional levels. The intention for the tool is to facilitate a process of cultivating and weaving trustful and innovative learning ecosystems, through strengthening the quantity and quality of meaningful interconnection between public, private and civil society stakeholders.

The project is led by the NetEduProject –FPCEE, Blanquerna– in collaboration with Teach MIllionsKaleidoscope lights and the Jacobs Foundation. The tool is being commissioned and supported by UNESCO and will be built in the context of the Global Education Coalition, as part of the efforts to achieve a resilient and sustainable recovery from the pandemic.

We are hoping to connect with potential partners that share our collective purpose and that would be interested in the further collaborative development of the UNESCO-NetEdu tool, as well as share their experiences and learnings within this space. At this point, the tool is in process of development. A prototype pilot is being designed for application in a country to be selected. 

The Ecosystem tool will use social network analysis and Ecosystemic visualization features, allowing users to collect live data from social relationships, map community interconnections, analyze strengths and weaknesses and finally, translate insights into strategic action to strengthen the learning and digital ecosystem. 

We are very looking forward to your participation.

With gratitude,

UNESCO and NetEdu team

Practical wisdom from the NetEdu Workshop on Cultivating trust in learning ecosystems

Last Tuesday January 19th 2021 we celebrated our NetEdu Workshop on TRUST as a fundamental seed to be cultivated in learning ecosystems. It was lovely to see and listen to you all, and was amazing to share the learning space with more than 40 leaders and educators from the 5 continents that are really devoting their energy on making educational systems more human, relational and interwoven. The term ‘Learning Ecosystem‘ is gaining a powerful attention across the world -and this will increase in 2021- as a crucial approach to transform education and enhance learning opportunities for all, empower every student as a changemaker, weave caring and meaningful relationships within and across school boarders, enable school-community collaboration, grow individual and collective well-being and foster planet sustainability. But the huge expectations on the concept and named outcomes contrast with the low research based knoledge and understanding we have around how we can weave these human ecosystems and try to enhance all these relevant and ambicious challenges. And this is why the NetEdu Community and all these faces are so important!

Meditating and connecting to our collective purpose

However, there is already a big consensus around the idea of TRUST being the glue of learning ecosystems, but we strugle when we are willing to land in schools, districts and cities and start weaving meaningful relationships based on individual and collective TRUST. And this was the purpose of our session, to capture our collective experience and expertise to enlight the dialogue with practical wisdom. For this, we had the wonderful close testimony from three leadership teams from diverse countries that are using our tools to collect data around TRUST in their educational ecosystem levels and build TRUST as a crucial seed and sistemic outcome. Down here I will share some of the highlights of the session shared by members and facilitators, not as a conclusion but as a starting point to continue our glocal conversation and learning journey around how are we building trust in worldwide learning ecosystems.

One of the words that best captured the very rich and deep discussion that we had was “together“. Trust is built when we engage around shared hopes and dreams, and are able and willing to work together to achieve them. It can be expressed through words with a “com-“prefix, that indicate togetherness, such as “Com-passion” (shared struggle) and “Com-fort”(shared strength). Trust is also built when there is integration and “togetherness” individually across heart, mind and spirit, and organizationally and systemically across different systems levels and objectives, for instance education department, district, school leaders, educators, learners and community levels. 

In this sense, being integrated within ourselves also allows for healthy mirroring to occur. It is now known that the phenomenon of  mirroring is a neurological, biological and emotional occurence. We work well together when we are able to mirror back to each other what is happening in our system. Students thrive in environments where teachers and leaders are able to mirror to them what agency looks like. It is therefore so important for us to attend to these levels of teacher and leader wellbeing, so that these environments of healthy mirroring can occur – and not to focus solely on what is happening at the learner level. When leadership and educator levels are well, and are integrated across heart, mind and spirit, environments are created where not only learners, but everybody within that system can thrive. 

Social Network analysis helps visualize emotional and intangible exchanges in the ecosystem

We also discussed how trust struggles to emerge because of the lack of “familiarity” with an organization, with someone or with her or his work: familiarity is connected to empathy and compassion, and may emerge from an authentic interest in the other person and from testing ways to connect with his or her work. This last point is particularly salient for trustful interactions in inter-organizational contexts, where people may have a preconception of how distinct their different organizations and actions are. In this sense, a “silo structure” and individualistic culture, where there is low transversality and low empathy, dramatically decreases trust across the whole organization.

Therefore, the ability to listen emphatically becomes a proxy for benevolence. To develop a trusting environment, we need first to insist on developing an authentic disposition towards students’ wellbeing. A caring teacher, for example listens empathically, knows how to express and make sure that the student felt that she/he is genuinely interested in her/his well-being. We also believe that teachers and staff should always be able to step back, emphatically, and distinguish what the student “is” from how she/he may behave or have learned. Institutionalized spaces and dispositions to express feelings and emotions are a key element. For this we need to work on rebuilding the relationship we all may have with mistakes, distinguishing the error from the person who commits it, and this happy-error culture needs to travel from classes to teachers labs. In this sense, trust in a school or community setting is a situation where the individual is empowered and not judged by his or her actions. The lack of judgment was also central in the discussion as a cross-sectional trust driver.

However, measuring trust in order to inform the conversation and enact was also a relevant piece in our conversation. Colleagues from Barcelona shared the metaphore placed by Kaplan in 1964. As we guess from the image below, an illuminated area is an area where it is possible, even simple, to find something and obtain quantitative data. The light provided by the research itself means that the data found can be presented as objective, even indisputable. The dark street is the rest of the space, and these are the areas where obtaining data would be complex, perhaps impossible in relation to the means available. Thus, collecting data on trust in practice can be sometimes imprecise but extremely meaningful and useful to strengthen the community and weave the ecosystem. And this was highlighted by leaders as a core value of the research-practice partnership lived and experienced with diverse tools co-developed in the NetEdu community.

Regarding school leader’s relationships with teachers and other staff, we shared that it is essential for school leaders to replicate these relational features in their interactions: coherence is fundamental to promote a caring and trusting environment. Also, for this latter kind of relationship, we need to rethink the idea of control as a support on teachers’ activities, for example, shouldn’t be an external judgement but collaborative and adaptive support in order to foster trust: their formulation and implementation may be co-constructed and adaptable to ground dynamics. In this sense, we discussed the differences between the trust-terms Solidarity and Support. Solidarity is connected to community and a sense of belonging, and is an ongoing process, while support can be momentary as a feeling of “someone having your back”, as the school leader or the colleges.

Regarding the city level ecosystem, we came into the idea of the need of supporting the multiplicity and interconnection of diverse formal and informal networks that conform the whole ecosystem, identifying weaving opportunities and duplicities and favouring the flow of resources exchange. The strategies discussed to generate trust across levels were mainly based to create a relational climate in the network of diverse organizations and professionals based on horizontal and supportive relationships, considerng purpose and previous learnings of the participants, and facilitating universal learning conditions where everyone feels part of the whole and feels supported to participate. It was also relevant the intent of building new learning across all actors through spaces of metacognition, sensemaking and deep reflection; thus favoring the increase of professional capital among teachers and educators, and being faithful in each session to coherence and symmetry priciples: what we want to happen in our organizations and classrooms, we make it happen first with the global network. Thus, four systemic strategies were shared to be developed at this macro level of the ecosystem ecosystemic: leverage Systems thinking and networks to create a shared vision; focus on collective intelligence and co-ideation; personalize and contextualize; and co-design solutions to create the enabling conditions for change.

Finally, we were all invited to continue our deep conversation in our local contexts and organizations. A second invitation was to encourage all of you to consider whether your work on trust could be captured in a blog post and shared across our community and beyond (contact us if you have an idea for that;-). In our view it’s vital that all of us are encouraged to continue to experiment with the ideas around cultivating trust in learning ecosystems and specifically wrestle with applying and learning from them. We will end with special thanks to all the energizers of the session: Juan David and Diego Pinzon, school leaders from Montemorel School in Cundinamarca, Colombia; David Vannasdall, superintendent weaving the Arcadia Unified School District of 12 schools from California, United States; and Tatiana Soler, Victoria Ibañez and Imma Adell, co-leaders of the City School network Networks for Change weaving around 300 schools in Barcelona, Spain. And of course, special thanks to our beautiful trust builders and co-facilitators in the session, Alan Daly, Gitte Miller, Martin Scanlan and Juan David Pinzón.

NetEdu Workshop: Cultivating trust in learning ecosystems

Hello friends from the NetEdu Community,

In our collective journey of transitioning from standardized educational systems to human and caring learning ecosystems, we are happy to share with all of you the date and focus of the next NetEdu Workshop that will happen on January 19th 2021 from 5 pm to 7.15 pm CET time (by Zoom). This time the workshop discussion will be focusing on a hot area for the global project: How leaders cultivate the seeds of learning and caring ecosystems, and specifically we will focus on trust building as a key seed for ecosystemic growth. For this we will have three leaders as panelists that have used our NetEdu tools from diverse ecosystem levels from around the world:

– Juan David Pinzon, school leader and principal from Cundinamarca, Colombia –Montemorel School
– David Vannasdall, superintendent, district leader from California, United States -the Arcadia Unified School District
– Tatiana Soler, Victoria Ibañez and Imma Adell, School network leaders from Barcelona, Spain –Networks for Change-.

We will have a deep dive on trust drivers and consraints, its relevance, its measurement and its meaning, with crossed discussion from the leaders ground, we will also have breakout rooms, a fish bowl and of course, many surprises to come. As we usually do, building community will be a goal for us so you all can invite your close networks and aligned partners in your local or global contexts. We also share with you our latest blog post also focused on trust as a pillar of learning ecosystems: A question of trust: the case of the Arcadia Unified School District.

If you are interested in joinng the session please contact Jordi Díaz-Gibson (

Warm regards,