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Reflections on Belonging: My Journey and Call to Action

By Lianne Dominguez
Reflections on Belonging: My Journey and Call to Action

I recently had the privilege of attending a leadership conference for international schools, and I couldn't help but notice that the word "belonging" seemed to echo through every keynote, workshop, and even casual lunch conversations with colleagues. It got me thinking deeply about the human-centered nature of this word, and it reminded me of Brene Brown's powerful definition of belonging. She describes it as "the innate human desire to be a part of something larger than us."

As an Asian female in a leadership role within international schools navigating various cultural, academic, and professional contexts, the concept of belonging has taken on a unique significance in my life. I've often found myself as a minority in these spaces, and it made me ponder: What does belonging mean to me in these diverse settings? How did I manage to cultivate a sense of belonging in each of these spaces? What roles have others played in making me feel like I truly belong?

After deep reflection, I've distilled my thoughts into the top three shifts in my thinking and the top three actions that others have done for me that have allowed me to feel a sense of belonging and enabled me to lead in a human-centered way.

Shift 1: Embracing Vulnerability 

One of the most profound shifts in my thinking was learning to embrace vulnerability. Brene Brown aptly stated, "Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness." In each of the diverse environments I've navigated, I've learned to be open about my thoughts, fears, and experiences. This vulnerability allowed others to connect with me on a deeper level and made me feel like an integral part of the community.

Shift 2: Cultivating Empathy 

Empathy plays a pivotal role in human-centered leadership and fostering a sense of belonging. I've consciously worked on cultivating empathy towards others, understanding their unique perspectives, and actively listening to their stories. This not only helped me bridge cultural gaps but also made me appreciate the richness of diversity within these spaces.

Shift 3: Embracing Continuous Learning 

Belonging is not a static state; it evolves as we grow and learn. I've embraced a mindset of continuous learning, actively seeking opportunities to expand my knowledge and understanding of different cultures and leadership styles. This has not only enriched my experiences but has also allowed me to contribute more effectively to these communities.

What others have done for me: 

1. Inclusive Leadership

In each of these spaces, I've been fortunate to encounter leaders who embrace inclusive leadership practices. They actively create environments where everyone's voice is valued, regardless of their background or identity. This inclusivity has made me feel seen and heard.

2. Mentorship and Support

Having mentors and colleagues who believed in my potential and offered guidance and support has been instrumental. These individuals not only helped me navigate challenges but also encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone.

3. Community Building

Building a sense of community is essential in fostering belonging. The people around me, including colleagues and friends, have consistently worked to create a supportive and inclusive atmosphere. Their efforts have made me feel like I'm part of something greater.

But this journey is not just mine alone. It's a call to action for anyone who finds themselves in similar spaces, whether you're an educator, a student, a leader, or simply someone navigating diverse environments. Belonging is not a passive state; it's a conscious choice and a collective effort.

My Personal Call to Action:

Embrace Vulnerability: Don't be afraid to open up and share your thoughts and experiences. Vulnerability is the bridge to genuine connection. By sharing your authentic self, you not only invite others to do the same but also create a more inclusive and empathetic space.

Cultivate Empathy: Take the time to understand the perspectives of those around you. Ask questions, actively listen, and immerse yourself in the diverse narratives that make up your community. Empathy breaks down barriers and fosters a sense of belonging.

Commit to Continuous Learning: The world is constantly evolving, and so are we. Embrace a mindset of lifelong learning. Seek out opportunities to expand your horizons, challenge your assumptions, and grow as an individual. In doing so, you contribute to the dynamic tapestry of your community.

Practice Inclusive Leadership: If you find yourself in a leadership role, be a champion of inclusivity. Create environments where every voice is valued and heard. Lead with empathy and inspire those around you to be their authentic selves. I am deeply appreciative to be a part of the Principals' Training Center (PTC). They have been pivotal in championing a leadership style that not only recognizes diversity but actively champions it, ensuring that every individual's unique perspective contributes to a richer, more vibrant whole.

Offer Mentorship and Support: If you've benefited from mentors and support, pay it forward. Lift others up, believe in their potential, and offer guidance when needed. Mentorship creates a ripple effect of empowerment and belonging. Sincere thanks to the Association for International Educators and Leaders of Color's (AIELOC) Kevin Simpson (he/him) and Dr. Nadine Richards for giving me the opportunity to be a mentor for others! Read my mentorship journey with AIELOC here.

Build Community: Whether it's in your school, workplace, or any other setting, actively contribute to the creation of a supportive and inclusive community. Your efforts will not only make individuals feel valued but also foster a collective sense of belonging. I’m grateful for the work of Joel Jr Llaban and Margaret L Park in trying to build and bridge Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities in international school settings.

My journey in human-centered leadership has shown me that belonging is not just a destination; it's a continuous voyage. It's about building connections, embracing diversity, and creating spaces where everyone feels like they belong. Together, we can shape a future where belonging is not just a buzzword at conferences but a lived experience that enriches the lives of individuals and communities around the world. So, let's be on this journey together, and in doing so, let's not just find our place but also create spaces where others can find theirs.

Read more about Lianne’s leadership experiences in Navigating Stormy Waters: Using Human-Centered Principles in Difficult Conversations and Conquering Imposter Syndrome in Leadership.


Originally published on LinkedIn.


Lianne Dominguez is a dynamic and innovative leader within the international school community with extensive experience in academics, residential life, and international school operations. Her expertise brings valuable insight to complex challenges and program development. As the Secondary School Principal and founding member of Shattuck-St Mary's Forest City International School in Malaysia, Lianne's leadership in articulating the school's mission and vision has been crucial in driving its growth and success. A firm believer in creating safe practices for professional growth and supervision, Lianne is dedicated to promoting staff and student success. She has successfully implemented programs that foster a culture of support and collaboration among staff, ensuring that everyone has access to the resources and guidance they need to thrive and flourish. As an experienced mentor and educator, Lianne has worked with both adult learners and adolescents in schools and NGOs. She also serves as a facilitator at the PTC Summer Institute and is a NEASC Accreditation Visitor. Currently, Lianne serves as a mentor for the AIELOC’s Aspiring Leaders of Color program, reflecting her passion for diversity and inclusion initiatives. Her commitment to empowering the next generation of leaders and fostering inclusive communities has made her an exceptional role model and a valuable member of the education community.

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