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Quilt Pieces

Growing up, my mother had many hobbies. Some came and went, like soapmaking, spinning wool, and bottling mead, but others she’s kept up throughout my life: sewing, knitting, quilting, weaving. So many fabric and fiber arts overflowed from her craft room, making it a childhood of homemade mittens and endless trips to the fabric store.


When I was in my early teens, she had begun work on a “crazy quilt,” a chaotic style of quilting that uses a wide assortment of fabrics and stitching techniques. I watched from the doorway as her workspace was slowly taken over by paper, pins, and piles of fabric. Day by day I watched these piles shrink and the quilt grow, a frenzied arrangement of mismatched buttons, bits of cotton, strips of silk, even a small bit of blue damask in a corner. No single piece was the same shape as another, nor did any line of stitching match in design to any other stitching. The quilt became the visual embodiment of haphazard in my eyes, but my mother carried on.



How often do we look at something part way through the process and just see it as a mess? There is such a satisfaction however in seeing the different pieces and parts, coming together to make an incredible work of art. It’s a common metaphor, and for years, this was my perception of how a good and productive community worked: Everyone comes together by magic and what a great thing that just happened! All of these mismatched pieces just fit so perfectly, what luck! This way of thinking can work for a while, but its greatest flaw is that it’s only looking at the beauty of the quilt, and not the work of the quilter.


My mother’s quilt was a beautiful and bizarre mess, but my belief in its improvisational nature was patently false. Once completed, it hung proudly in our living room, and only then did I begin to see the order in the disorder. Subtle square panels were blocked out, each with similar designs and color schemes that complemented one another. It was tremendous, and (I learned later) had taken her hours and hours of planning before she ever made her first cut.


Systems and routines are found in every group of people working towards collective goals, be it a youth sports league, a cubicle filled office, or a school. These kinds of places can only function well when the individuals involved feel connected to these goals. Building connections and a feeling of belonging must be an intentional decision, and one that is shared by all members of a community. In her article “Why Students Need to Feel a Sense of Belonging and How to Create It,” Sarah Whedon compares this work to passing a baton. She writes, “As each adult learns what works for students, their hobbies, and how they like to feel seen, they can share that with other adults who are supporting those students.” Teachers, support staff, and administrators should be working every day to piece together their own community quilt, and in doing so, they are finding a place for everyone to be their best selves.


The role of school staff in a student’s sense of belonging cannot be overstated. It is through that work —the combined work of everyone striving towards a common goal—that a patchwork group can become an amazing composition. It won’t happen by accident, and it won’t be overnight, but creating change is a powerful reminder of what intentional acts can do.

Here I’ve put together some resources and guides for changes you can make, big and small, in your school:






Can you identify practices in your own classroom or school that are helping bring students together as a community? What are the intentional acts and specific roles that you can do to bring individuals together? How does the work you already do support your own “ community quilt?”


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