Family trees and belonging walls

As educators, we talk about fostering a sense of belonging and identity within our services and communities—one way we do this is through the use of photo displays. Reflecting on this in relation to how we display images of ourselves, our educator teams, and the children and families within the service, I wonder what impact this has on those it is aimed at supporting and how it contributes to their sense of belonging and identity. I know personally I don’t always feel comfortable looking at photos of myself as body image issues come to the fore. For others, photos might evoke different issues or ideas.

Context in displays is important.

Historically in education and care settings, there is a strong emphasis on displays of learning and art, with many including photos of children and families within our services. These visual displays, which for the most part take place on walls, include Family trees, belonging walls, walls covered in memes, and welcome signs in various languages. These always seem to take priority at the start of the year as a way of fostering this sense of belonging for our newest cohort of children, families and educators. After 31 years in the education and care profession and of course in various roles, I still wonder about how these trends impact on families that have experienced, or are experiencing (in particular), the effects of domestic and/or family violence.

There is an old saying, ‘Nobody truly knows what happens in a relationship, except for those in it.’ How many of us could pick which of our families are experiencing trauma beyond the walls of our ‘belonging’ and ‘family walls’. For example, in New South Wales alone, one in four children are exposed to domestic and family violence—that in itself is alarming—and as a result leads to homelessness for children in our country (FACS, 2018).

Consider the mixed emotions of families and children walking into the space for several months, seeing a smiling family picture on a toddler wall, when behind household doors, that child’s life is in turmoil. Do we expect families to ask us to remove it and replace it with justification as to why?

Having ‘relationships’ with families does not mean unintentionally navigating their right to privacy. That said, I ponder what our relationships really look like, sound like and feel like for each of the different families who are part of service? Do we need to have a family tree? And what about our complex families? Those who don’t “fit the norm” or are separated by work, distance or other factors.

Is it not enough that children, families and educators observe genuine and supportive relationships everyday by coming together in a collective and respectful space? Does having photos on one wall mean you ‘belong’, when you are looking at that wall and not at the other walls? We are so diverse and have different views on what a relationship is, therefore, this is going to be different for every family, child and educator and their context/background/home life.

I am concerned by unjust societal statistics that are on the increase. I am equally concerned about the education and care sector, as there seems to be the need to reflect on traditions, norms and trends from multiple perspectives without taking authentic relationships into consideration.

As educators, we need to consider how to navigate the path of advocacy. Ultimately, we need to dig deeper, authentically and respectfully, and reflect often. There is rich learning when we open ourselves up to feel comfortable being uncomfortable for the benefit of ourselves and others.

As educators, it is crucial we foster respectful relationships with and for families, authentically valuing their sense of belonging and identity in ways they contribute to, however that may look.


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Molly Rhodin

Molly Rhodin is an outside the 'circle' thinker, consultant, teacher and trainer. Molly has been proudly involved in the early education and care sector for more than 26 years in roles ranging in each sector type and from hands on teaching to executive leadership and management. During this time Molly has rode the wave of change, challenged it, accepted it and created it-and continues on the wonderful journey. Known for her practical, energetic and very creative techniques of teaching and inspiring, Molly has branched off from teaching at CIT Canberra and is now the Managing Director, primary consultant and trainer for her popular business, Down to Earth Practical Solutions.

7 thoughts on “Family trees and belonging walls”

    Ruth Patterson says:

    Great thoughts!!

    Hayley Williams says:

    Love this article. Thanks for inviting us to think differently and deeper on this.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking article Molly. Being inclusive should be a priority and some educators may not have thought about all of these issues. One way to promote the bridge between home and the service for children can be as simple as a photo of their special people in their bag if they want it or need it.

    James Scott says:

    Great topic and some great points. So much of the beginning of the year is spent superficially decorating walls with areas like this. While you great points my experience is we ask the pictures to reflect the child’s home life, parents are encouraged to change them throughout the year, we have easily detachable so the children can take them down as they like if they want to look, share, or carry a picture of someone special for comfort. Then the wall is there, interactive with children and families have some control.

    Frances says:

    Thanks for sharing.

    Pam says:

    A great read to reflect on practices in belonging, this article challenged me to critically think beyond a family tree which I had every intention of creating. I will discuss this further with the room assistants and see what other ideas we can create. We have a belonging wall on entry to our room and this seems to engage the families better and the children are delighted to see their photos displayed their as are their families.

    Lauren Dunn says:

    Thought provoking- Thanks Molly!

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