Category Archives: education

Belonging Matters

We’ve all experienced times when we felt we didn’t belong. That feeling can range from uncomfortable to excruciating. The human need to belong and form relationships refers to our need to associate with, be accepted by, supported by, and known by a group. We feel this need in many areas of life: our profession, family, school, on teams, among friends, and in our churches. The need to belong is a natural and universal need. We all want to be heard, loved, and cared for.

God, who has eternally existed as Father, Son, and Spirit, created humans in His image. As God’s image bearers, we long for the sense of belonging that exists in the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This need to belong is wired into our DNA and plays a critical role in our overall wellness. When we feel that we don’t belong, we may experience emotional, psychological distress and isolation.

Belonging influences motivation and behavior.

The desire to belong motivates us. This motivation can be both positive and negative. For instance, a longing to belong to a group may motivate us to conform to norms and relate positively to others. However, when our desire to belong is out of balance, we may conform to the point of compromising our values or identity.

We can also over-emphasize comparing ourselves to others in a group. This can create self-doubt and self-criticism. However, comparing ourselves can also be a positive motivator and initiate self-reflection and personal growth.

We are wired for relationships.

A sense of belonging increases happiness and reduces isolation. Belonging instills a sense of safety, where people feel they can be heard, understood, and known. Belonging encourages creativity and problem-solving because people in healthy relationships thrive. A sense of belonging promotes avenues for fellowship, service, learning, and stimulates personal and professional growth.  

In the fellowship of belonging, we cultivate and restore our sense of humanity. A healthy sense of belonging impels us to seek out healthy relationships. It motivates us to participate in clubs, teams, community service, and faith-based activities. Community is cultivated upon the foundation of belonging. This is because we are spiritual beings, and our need for love and acceptance lie at the core of our being.

Build a sense of belonging.

  1. Building a sense of belonging requires personal investment. Look for people with similar interests or aspects of life (children, marital status, vocation, etc.). Take a class or join a Bible study. Join a yoga or swimming class. Enroll in a college course or seek out specialized training.
  2. Work on accepting others. Get to know people who are different from you. Serve in an inner city ministry. Visit nursing homes and shut-ins. Participate in a prison/jail ministry. ‘Adopt’ a widow or single mother. Volunteer at a hospital, school, or community outreach.
  3. Focus on serving. It’s always possible to find someone to serve. Offer respite breaks to a caregiving parent or spouse. Offer free child care to a single parent. Become a mentor. Teach your special gifts/talents to someone who would appreciate learning.
  4. Take time for self-assessment. What do you enjoy? What kind of people do you enjoy being around? What special abilities do you have? What groups interest you? Pray and ask God to direct you to an area of need.
  5. Seek out churches, community activities, and ministries that create a sense of belonging.
  6. Be open to change. Ask friends and family who know and love you where you might fit and how you can best reach out to others.
  7. Evaluate your effectiveness at helping others feel that they belong. What qualities do you possess that create a sense of belonging in others? Where could you improve?

Tips for Churches and Organizations

  • Foster an environment of service. Organize groups that offer practical help to widows, single mothers, the sick or injured, caregivers, people who are moving or need transitional housing or home maintenance. Wherever there are people, we find needs.
  • Teach your team to communicate compassion and grace. Train greeters, teachers, staff, and personnel in your church/organization how to nurture an environment of belonging. Training should be ongoing and be modeled by leaders who lovingly and graciously instill a sense of acceptance and care for others.
  • Teach your people to put themselves aside and reach out. Offer opportunities for service as part of membership training. Incorporate media clips that teach about and show your people reaching out to others and thriving in groups. Model compassion and soul care in leadership.
  • Know and pray over the needs of your members. Involve your church or organization in prayer chains and ongoing posting of prayer needs.
  • Walk alongside people. Create a sense of safety by living out a culture of transparency, welcome, and grace.  
  • Inventory the groups in your organization and evaluate how their need for belonging is being met: married, divorced, single, widowed, chronically ill, caregivers, parents, those without children, students, etc.
  • Become knowledgeable about barriers to belonging: health challenges, power imbalance, discrimination, shame, loneliness, emotional wounds, and lack of social attunement, socioeconomic and cultural factors, to name a few. Seek out training from experts about how to meet these people where they are.
  • Create environments for people to fulfill the “one another” commands of fellowship, confession, repentance, encouragement, forgiveness, friendship, and walking together in love: small groups, accountability, breaking bread together, prayer groups, hosting others, service groups, etc.

What about you? I’d love to hear how the need to belong has influenced your personal or professional growth.

What does your organization do to foster a culture of belonging? I’d also welcome your story of helping someone else gain a sense of belonging.

Peace and hope,

Dr. Clem


Learn by Serving Others

Serving others blog
Nurse serving dinner to a senior man in an armchair at home

When we think about serving, we typically think about what we offer others.

But we should also see service as learning. Serving others allows us to develop and refine leadership and relationship skills that maximize our personal growth. Working alongside others allows us to gain new perspectives and learn from the experiences and wisdom of people whose diverse lives can inform our thinking.

Humility

Serving others requires humility. Jesus, who was God in human form, repeatedly chose the role of a servant. He came to earth and took the form of a human, washed the feet of His disciples, switched places with people in lowly positions, and intervened on behalf of powerless people.

When we serve, it’s easy to see ourselves as saviors. But when we humble ourselves, we understand that everyone else is just as important as we are. We lay aside our agendas so we can elevate the people we serve. When we treat people as though they are as important or more important than ourselves, we dignify those we serve and demonstrate true humility.

Gladness

Serve gladly.
Avoid complacency, inaction, and self-centered actions.
Don’t use your status to demean others or gossip.
Use your position wisely: your words, your influence, your resources. Every God-given gift is bestowed to enable us to do good in the world.

Listen

Intentionality fosters relationships. Take time to serve by sharing a meal, playing cards, or taking a walk. Get to know the people you serve. Look into their eyes. Learn their names. Ask about their lives. Listen for the subtext beneath their words. Is the person you’re talking to lonely? In pain? Needing comfort? Fearful? The gift of listening can greatly impact someone’s life.

Taking time to listen also enlarges our capacity for compassion and our knowledge of how to care for those who are hurting. Listening increases our empathy and sensitivity to others and can powerfully change both them and us.

Care, Even When It Costs

When we open our hearts to help, we may be asked to change our agendas or step out of our comfort zones. But service is marked by willingness to put others’ needs before our own. 

This can be as simple as tea with a lonely friend or picking up groceries for a busy caregiver. It might mean giving up a round of golf to help paint a widow’s house or taking your granddaughter with you for a visit to a nursing home. It could even be as humble as cleaning for a friend whose body is wracked by pain.

Solution or Support?

Listening to people talk about their heartaches can be draining. Our natural response is to try to fix problems or to distance ourselves from things we can’t fix.

Our job isn’t always to bring a solution to a problem. Sometimes our job is to listen and provide support. This means trusting God and letting go of control. Our greatest service may be stepping  back and allowing Him to work through others.

God is responsible for changing people’s lives, not us. We’re called to love people where they are and listen for God’s call to serve. This is not an excuse to sit and wait for someone else to help. When the Spirit moves, we should confidently move forward.

The Good Samaritan

It would have been easy for the Good Samaritan to look at his enemy’s problems as too big or complicated for him to get involved. After all, he was on a business trip and had places to go and things to do. But instead, he stepped in, did what he could, found a place for the Samaritan to stay, and people who could care for him. The Samaritan didn’t try to create peace between the two communities or address local crime rates. He saw a need he was able to address, and he did something about it. The Samaritan took responsibility for his enemy’s problems because he saw them as God saw them; the Samaritan believed it was his responsibility to go the extra mile—even when it was costly and inconvenient.

Be Willing to Be Served

We create opportunities for the flow of mutual respect and growth when we allow ourselves to be served. Allowing others to serve us (accepting coffee, a meal, prayer, hospitality, hugs, or gifts of gratitude) tells people serving us that they have value, dignity, and that we engage equally. Accepting places us on level ground.

Jesus allowed others to serve Him. He also quieted Martha’s worries when she was more caught up in the act of serving than the heart of serving. On the other hand, Jesus defended a woman who spent a year’s wages on perfume to wash his feet in an outrageously sacrificial act of devotion.

  • Be content to be interrupted and disrupted.
  • Make space for someone else’s unique personhood, value, and worth, and learn to see them through God’s eyes.

Most of all, if we desire to serve, we must first live by Jesus’ words:

“Whoever finds their life will lose it,
 and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” 
— Matthew 10:39


10 Strategies for Balanced Living

Photo Credit: Unsplash

One Saturday afternoon, I took a break and reached out to friends I had not been in touch with for a long time. During one conversation, I questioned a friend who seemed to have it all together.

“How do you accomplish everything you do as a mother, wife, community volunteer, and employee with a full-time, demanding job and still find time to exercise, eat healthy, and take time for personal growth?”

Her answer was simple.

“I work to balance my priorities, but it’s not easy.”

My friend’s response confirmed what I had learned over the years: successful personal growth flows from intentional living. Effective individuals schedule time for development because they live with vision and purpose.

Living with vision and purpose requires us to balance our busy daily lives with our personal development goals.

I’ve found the following strategies helpful in learning to live a balanced life while making time for personal growth:

  1. Identify areas of your life to target for growth that will help you become the person you want to be.
  2. Schedule 15 minutes every day to learn. Read, watch challenging videos, listen to podcasts or audio books, or seek mentoring.
  3. Schedule time slots each week to do things that inspire you, fulfill you, or help you meet a goal, even if it is small steps.
  4. Become comfortable with the realities of balance. Various seasons of life will require you to focus on one area more than another, depending upon needs and circumstances.
  5. Be realistic. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Your work will always be there. It’s okay to occasionally leave items unchecked on your to-do list.
  6. Set firm boundaries around your availability. Notify colleagues, clients, and family of your schedule. Explain that setting boundaries makes it possible for you to be 100% there for them when you are “on the clock” with them.
  7. Take technology breaks. This allows you to be focused and productive and releases you from the tyranny of notifications and calls.
  8. Schedule brain-intensive tasks during your most productive hours, and complete low-energy jobs during your ‘slower’ times of the day.
  9. Delegate tasks and consider paying someone to do house cleaning, yard work, or errands.
  10. Last, but definitely not least in priority, schedule important family and personal activities such as regular vacations. Then, treat them as top priorities because they are. Enjoy your family, relax in the sun, hike, and tour your favorite locale—whatever energizes you, renews your soul, and draws you closer to those you love.

Now, what about you? How do you balance personal development, professional life, and family priorities? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Peace and Health,

Dr. Clem


Wisdom Wins

For all my life, I’ve pursued wisdom. I vividly recall my mom encouraging me to hang out more with older people, especially those with grey hair because they are great sources of wisdom. My parents planted this seed in my heart when I was a child. They also taught me to look beyond actions and behaviors to causes, effects, influences, consequences, and relationships. Education became part of my pursuit of wisdom—acquiring knowledge that could be applied to transforming communities, people’s lives, and positively influencing the world.

But what is wisdom?

The word often defines wisdom as higher knowledge or application of knowledge. I have gained wisdom through personal experiences, observing and interacting with others, and trying new things.

As a woman of faith, I look to God as my ultimate source of wisdom (James, 1:5), as human knowledge and reasoning are always limited and flawed.

Aristotle believed that wisdom is the understanding of causes. Understanding causes involves the ability to analyze cause and effect, interrelationships, and therefore, understand interdependence. For instance, a wise person understands that today’s decision will influence life down the road. They understand that time is a commodity to be invested and not spent. And they also comprehend the many ways their actions (and inactions) influence others.

Wisdom sees the bigger picture and makes decisions that respect the goals and values of life.

For me, values of life encompass faith, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and investing in my community and in others. At the core of wisdom is love for others that allows us to make decisions that override selfishness and me-first, right-now, make-me-happy motives.

Wisdom

  • considers the bigger picture.
  • evaluates outcomes on others.
  • makes decisions with long-term goals.
  • is motivated by mercy, grace, and love.
  • waits for the right moment and circumstances.
  • gracefully responds to the hurt, disappointment, and grief of others.

The journey to gain wisdom never ends.

For me, acquiring wisdom and learning from others has become sweeter with each passing year. As part of my self-study,  I recently came across the Center for Practical Wisdom at the University of Chicago.

https://www.uchicago.edu/research/center/the_center_for_practical_wisdom/

I believe that life should be a journey to acquire wisdom. What about you? What are your thoughts on wisdom? I’d like to hear from you. Comments are always welcome.

Dr. Clem


Tips for Becoming an Academic Success

Dr. Clementine Msengi ©2018

 What does it mean to be academically successful? You may think it means achieving the highest grades in your classes, but there’s much more to it than that. Academic success also involves the kind of person you are the influence you choose to have on others. Academic success can be measured by your investment in becoming the possible best version of you by maximizing your educational experiences. Here are a few tips for how you can achieve this goal.

Get involved and get to know people. Build a support system and become part of a support system for others. Get to know your school and its resources. Take advantage of organizations and campus events. Participate positively in class and outside the classroom from the very first day.

Participate. Go to your classes. Professors do not always follow the content of a textbook. Tests and exams are often based on lectures, discussions, and class participation. You can’t know a professor’s expectations unless you’re present in their classroom. Choose a seat in front, use body language that shows you’re engaged, answer questions, participate in discussions, come prepared, take notes, and work to the best of your ability . . . and put away your cell phone.

Don’t wait to ask for help. Make an appointment with the campus tutoring center to learn how to review material, master content, and maximize your learning. If you’re having trouble, talk to your professor right away.

Get to know your instructor. Visit your professor during office hours during the first few weeks of class and introduce yourself. Ask what you can do to be successful. Know each professor’s policies on attendance, missed classes, missed and/or late assignments, make-up work, due dates, penalties for late work, special circumstances, cell phone use, and other matters.

Accept constructive criticism. Professors provide valuable feedback when they critique your work. They provide their observations so you can learn. Approach your assignments with a teachable spirit. If you find your work marked up, be grateful for the significant time that your professor or teach invested helping you learn to improve. Instructors who provide little feedback rob students of the opportunity to learn. Accept feedback positively and learn from it.

Get organized. Use a calendar or planner.Schedule major assignments, quizzes, tests, and exams. Include study time, work, and campus activities. Professors assume that a student studies two hours outside of class for every hour spent in class. A student carrying an average load of 16-18 hours per week should study 32-38 hours a week in addition to class time. College is equivalent to a full-time job, and time management is critical for success.

Take comprehensive notes. Learn to summarize and identify main points.

Write down anything the professor writes on the board or presents by PowerPoint. If you have questions or are confused, ask for clarification during class or immediately after. If you have difficulty taking good notes, find someone in class who does it well, and ask if they can teach you how to organize as you listen and write.

Challenge yourself. Lean on support systems to help you study: use the campus tutoring center or join study groups. Look for student tutors who have passed the course already. Be open to thinking critically about new points of view and learning from people whose backgrounds are different than yours.

Remember, academic success is not about a grade—it’s about investing in yourself as you build the character and skills for a successful future.

 

 


Tips for Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

By Dr. Clementine Msengi

We all had favorite teachers as kids. But do you remember what made certain teachers your favorites? Carl Jung has said, “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

The foundation for effective learning is positive personal relationships and trust. Building a positive classroom environment is a critical first task for all educators. This requires forethought, consistency, commitment, and a heartfelt interest in helping all students learn. As a professor in education and also as an educator who teaches effective mentoring, I offer the following suggestions to all teachers who hope to build a firm foundation of trust from their first day of class.

Focus on relationships.

Teacher-student relationships set the social climate of the classroom, which influences how students perform. Research demonstrates that when students feel respected by their teachers, they are more successful academically and contribute more positively.

Research conducted by Catherine C. Lewis, Eric Schaps, and Marilyn S. Watson with The Child Development Project has demonstrated that when kids care about one another, are motivated by important, challenging work, and are respected by their teachers, they are more apt to care about learning and be more successful. The opposite is also true. When students do not trust their peers or their instructor, fear and failure typically follow.

Commit to finding or making time to talk to students both inside and outside the classroom. Maintaining a high rate of positive interaction with students and show genuine interest in their lives. Praise students for good choices, and be specific. “Good job” and “Great work” can sound insincere. Recognize specific acts of character, integrity, and hard work or service to others. Challenge yourself to make at least two positive statements to each student in your class every day, then build from there.

Teach social skills.

What are these valuable social skills? Sharing, listening to others, disagreeing respectfully, honesty, sensitivity, concern for others, respect, reliability, responsibility, a sense of humor, and service, to name a few. Many students have never learned these skills because they never have been taught them. If this is true, these skills should become part of your classroom curriculum.

Teach problem solving skills.

Students aren’t prepared for life or the workplace until they have mastered problem solving skills. This is as relevant for preschoolers as it is for college students. Becoming an adult who can navigate competently in a complex world requires specific skills: communicating effectively, working well with others, respectfully expressing opinions and beliefs, understanding and respecting the viewpoints of others, and the ability to disagree, negotiate, and compromise. Skill in problem-solving increases student confidence, improves relationships and academic performance, as well as one’s overall quality of life.

Robin Wagner, Karen Blasé, & Hewitt “Rusty” Clark of the University of South Florida at Tampa devised an effective problem-solving framework that helps student work through a consistent process. It is called the SODAS Problem-Solving Method:

S          Situation

What is the problem (who, what, when, where, how)?

What are the facts?

What are the feelings?

O         Options

Generate possible options.

Reinforce students for their contributions.

What can be done to solve the problem? What is the goal? How can it be achieved? What else could be done?

D         Demonstration

Role-play a demonstration of the solution and take notes.

A         Advantages and Disadvantages

Explore the advantages of each option (Options can be revised or combined).

Positives and benefits. What is important?

Explore the disadvantages of each option (Options can be revised or combined).

How might people, including family members and others be affected?

S          Solution
Guide students in choose an option that is safe and resolves the problem identified in the first step. Is the step practical and possible? What will be required to implement it  (who, what, where, when, and how). Refine options as needed. Is the solution appropriate for the situation?

For more information on the SODAS problem-solving framework, go to
http://www.coalitionny.org/the_center/youth_initiative/documents/TheSODASFramework.pdf

Teach students to respect school rules and policies.

Your classroom is part of the larger school culture. Reflect the vision for your educational institution, and develop classroom expectations that are consistent with a shared vision. Consistency builds trust and an environment of safety.

Be a role model.

An instructor who expects respect should demonstrate respect for students. Students often learn more by watching us than from what we teach. What do your speech, body language, and verbal communication say to your students? Are you open, warm, and approachable? Are you trustworthy and dependable? Are your evaluation and teaching methods fair and realistic? Do you create opportunities for success, or are you a teacher who “never gives an A”? You set the tone for success in your classroom. Your students will believe in themselves if you let them know that you believe in them.

Communicate clear expectations.

Your classroom policies and expectations tell your students whether or not your learning environment is positive and whether or not you believe in them. Your policies tell students that you believe they can achieve the standards you have set for them. Clearly state consequences for late assignments, absences, etc. Make sure your consequences are appropriate, immediate, and consistent. Equally important, they need to be delivered with empathy, not in anger.

State your policies positively. This helps create a positive classroom. Keep rules short and simple (“Turn assignments in on time”). Keep rules general (Be respectful and kind). Publish your grading rubrics and be sure that students understand them.

As educators, we may have a stellar knowledge of content and teaching technique. But if our students to not feel safe, respected, affirmed, or are not given the tools to solve problems or enjoy positive social relationships, our instruction will be ineffective. Communicate clearly, and always ask for clarification to make sure students have understood.

As Maria Montessori said, “The greatest sign of success for a teach is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”

 

I’d love to hear your comments, experiences, and positive suggestions for other readers.
–Dr. Clem

Note:  The statements and opinions in this blog are those of Dr. Clementine Msengi. They do not represent her employer or other personal/professional affiliates.


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