How One Nonprofit Is Helping Students Feel They Belong
Teaching Empathy and Social-Emotional Skills Builds Community
Devin: Michelle, what is your superpower?
Michelle: I would say above all else, probably I’m a connector. And that I’m very introspective. I’m an introvert. I really enjoy this one-on-one conversation and the connections that can happen. I want to meet in person. I don’t want to meet digitally, but I connect people, whether it’s to another person or to a book that I’ve read or to this, you know, talk that I saw. And I want to build that. I want to build those connections, and I want to have genuine deep relationships and deep conversations.
Michelle Goldshlag is the co-founder and CEO of Cultured Kids, Inc., a nonprofit working to help children develop social and emotional strengths. The pandemic has heightened stress for parents, teachers and children, leaving everyone feeling overwhelmed, proving the need for its work.
“Our programs engage students’ sense of curiosity about themselves, their peers, and the world,” Michelle explained in advance of our conversation. “We believe this curiosity is critical to the impact students will have as future leaders and world-changers.”
Michelle is a changemaker herself. “I am not confined by any box, am willing to disrupt the status quo, even if it means disrupting my own personal life, and I truly believe all things are possible. I am driven by the power a true sense of belonging can have in a person’s life.”
Many schools have diverse student populations and an increasing need for social, emotional training and preparation. “So, that’s where we come in,” Michelle says.
“Every child has a superpower, right?” Michelle asks. “But they don’t necessarily know what that is. They don’t know how they could use it to help make an impact in their school.”
By helping students find their strengths and build on them, Michelle hopes to help them feel included. “Our goal is to help you understand what those strengths are. Learn how to use them to provide a positive impact on the world because you are valuable.”
Michelle’s superpower is connecting.
How to Develop Connecting As a Superpower
Perhaps because of her introspective nature as an introvert, she has learned to help people in personal ways, preferring one-on-one communication. She finds this skill helps accomplish her positive impact with Cultured Kids.
It gives her extra impact through the confidence she’s developed that she can connect with anyone. She doesn’t feel “like there’s any barrier or wall between [her] and anybody.”
She developed her skill early in life. She is among the middle children among six kids. “I’ve always been trying to be the bridge, trying to resolve the conflicts. Another strength of mine is just being restorative, trying to resolve the conflicts, trying to create the connection in my family.”
Fundamentally, she believes the training Cultured Kids provides helps to build connections. “We deliberately create activities where kids are working beside others that have a shared strength. Identifying those areas of commonality is huge, especially in schools, elementary, middle, even high school.”
Seeing shared traits can serve you as a model for making connections. Look for the surprising parallels between you and others. Do you share a strength? You can leverage simple commonalities to build rapport.
Michelle helps students connect in new ways by grouping students according to their strengths. This pattern puts kids who may never otherwise become friends in situations where healthy relationships develop. You can choose to do something similar in your efforts to connect by looking for the hidden commonalities between you.
Another tool Michelle recommends for making connections is reading books. She helps students find books with characters they can relate to so they feel more seen. You can similarly use books about people who are different to help you connect more easily with the people they represent.
For instance, as a white, middle-aged male from a predominantly white community, reading books by and about African Americans helps me develop greater empathy and understanding that helps me make more meaningful connections.
By following this pattern that Michelle uses, you can strengthen your ability to make meaningful connections. Perhaps it can become your superpower.