Belonging in SMSD

In June of 2019, the Shawnee Mission Board of Education approved the 2019-2024 SMSD Strategic Plan. This plan, developed in collaboration with students, staff, parents and community members, represents the direction for the district for the next five years and beyond.

The plan has a clear objective: Each student will have a personalized learning plan, which will prepare them for college and careers, with the interpersonal skills they need for life success. This is an ambitious goal, one that is worthy of a great school district, but also one that will require significant changes to teaching and learning, in order to meet this objective for all students.

The community direction is clear: These objectives must be met for ALL students. A great school district cannot be great for only some of its students. The first step in making these changes is for us as adults to look at our own practices, to ensure we are providing every student with the best opportunity to be successful. We must be willing to ask ourselves difficult questions:

  • Are we really holding all students to the same high expectations?
  • Are specific groups of students (such as female students, students with disabilities, students whose first language is not English, students of color) not reaching these objectives, and if so, how can we strengthen our practices, to give them more opportunities to be successful?
  • Are our schools places where all students and staff feel connected and have a sense of belonging?

To improve our practices, we needed focused attention on why particular students are not succeeding. Shawnee Mission School District previously partnered with Corwin Publications in 2019 to engage in equity work. This work was specifically designed to strengthen our ability to give all of our students the best chance for success. Through this work, our team members have had the opportunity to examine our environments for teaching and learning. This, along with publicly available data, tells us that we are not being equally successful with all students.

Through professional development, we are invited to challenge past assumptions about who our different learners are, and to develop better ways to identify and understand their needs. In doing so, we are developing stronger classroom and school cultures in which we strive for students to feel connected to their teachers and other students, and build pride in their school. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us that students’ basic needs, including the feelings of safety and belonging, must be met before higher needs such as accomplishment and achieving their full potential may be realized.

The work helps to identify and remove barriers to achievement so that all students have the opportunity to reach their highest success. It helps us work together with students, staff, and families to identify how best to challenge past practices that may not have proven effective for all students, and helps our system grow so that all students may realize their fullest potential.