What is this?


Back in 2017, the K12 Lab had the opportunity to focus on a topic that had been bubbling for a bit across different projects: Belonging. 

Belonging plays a central role in how students and teachers show up in school, whether they feel they can be themselves, whether they can see themselves as learners. We were moved by Camille Farrington’s work on belonging in schools and john a. powell’s framing of othering and belonging as central question for building a fair and inclusive society. Given our collective interest in this theme, we soon realized it was time to be more purposeful in understanding how to introduce the role that design can play in crafting conditions for belonging to emerge.

In order to better understand how design shapes belonging, we visited and observed in libraries, skate parks, airports and schools. We spoke with a number of participants in those spaces, as well as individuals who had unique perspectives. And yes, we did some academic research. Ultimately we drew on the work of john a. powell (as well as Peter Block’s understanding community) to identify some key dimensions of belonging, which you can read in our one page resource (print it back to back and fold it in half).

In addition to these dimensions, we identified levers for belonging, which are outlined in the print resource and further explained in this slide deck. Ultimately, belonging is a feeling, not something you can design concretely. What you can design concretely -- space, role, ritual, processes -- we call levers of design. We find these levers useful in generating ideas for helping foster a sense of belonging, and it is our hope you use this framework in your own work to create schools and classrooms where unique identities are welcomed and everyone feels they belong.

How would I use this resource?

There are a few ways you might use the slide deck and 1 pager resource. We imagine you could grab a few colleagues and explore the topic of belonging and analyze how you may already be using these design levers. You could simply read through the framework by yourself, imagine new ideas that would foster a sense of belonging and prototype them in a scrappy way. Or this could fit into the context of a larger design project on the topic of belonging where you might explore how students or other community members feel a sense of belonging

What’s a lever?

We think of levers as aspects of your school that you can have influence over. In the design process, we like to use them as we brainstorm because they are a category of thing to be designed which can help when you are grouping ideas.


Ariel Raz K12 Lab
David Clifford K12 Lab, DSX
Susie Wise K12 Lab