Bridging to Reach Understanding

Recently while having a conversation with one of our lower school counselors, I learned about a book titled Acceptance Is My Superpower. At the beginning of the story, a 7-year-old named Lisa is teased by Lucas, one of her classmates, because she wears glasses. Lucas’s words hurt Lisa’s feelings. When Lisa gets home, she cries and tells her parents that she does not want to be different and would like to be “like others” instead. In response, Lisa’s parents first comfort her and then invite her to appreciate the beauty of being different and living in a diverse world. By using simple and relatable examples, Lisa’s parents make the point that different heights, skin colors, abilities, family structures, languages, interests, hobbies, and other human variations are what make communities more interesting. Lisa’s sadness turns into a sense of pride, and she begins to view her glasses as a special aspect of her identity. The next day, Lucas and Lisa have a restorative conversation where each expresses their feelings and makes amends. Lisa shares with Lucas her new perspective on differences and the choices we can make to accept human variation and diversity. In the end, they both agree that just like petals in a field of flowers, “diversity is beautiful” and “together we will grow.” What I appreciate the most about this story is that it acknowledges the pain and the challenge that can come with living in spaces where diversity is not seen as an asset, yet it highlights that with intentionality and support we can shift challenges into opportunities to learn and to grow. 

Like in the story, at The Windward School we believe in fostering a diverse and inclusive community where everyone feels valued and has a strong sense of belonging. We want everyone joining our community to feel welcomed, validated, and appreciated. For that reason, our practices are framed by three guidelines: 1) we treat all people with decency and respect, 2) we respect and value diversity in all of its forms, and 3) we do not blame or shame ourselves or others, especially when we disagree. Our hope with these guidelines is to encourage our community members to be understanding of each other and practice what john a. powell* of the Othering & Belonging Institute calls bridging: “to bridge involves two or more individuals or groups coming together across acknowledged lines of difference in a way that both affirms their distinct identities, and allows for a new, more expansive identity.” Bridging is an open invitation to acknowledge our shared humanity and reject the them and embrace an us. As powell asserts, we cannot thrive as a society without one another; we need to work together and learn to “turn toward each other, instead of turning on each other.” When we engage in bridging practices, we may even realize that we are more connected to people who seem different from us than we think. Moreover, since bridges are bidirectional, when we build bridges, we open a path to see our own reflection, learn more about ourselves, and experience love and appreciation. 

We want everyone joining our community to feel welcomed, validated, and appreciated.

Bridge building requires curiosity, openness, and deep listening. When we encounter a person that we disagree with, we must remain curious and open to learning about their life story and perspective. When we listen to another person's story, our understanding of the person deepens, and our perception likely shifts. This does not mean that our values and belief system automatically change. We may even continue disagreeing with the person’s perspective, but, when we listen, we expand our view. Seeking understanding, rather than judging, invites dialogue and human connection, and it is at that moment that the creation of a bridge becomes possible. We will know that we have built a bridge when we are moved to support someone we normally would not be friends with, but we do it anyway because we care enough about them to not want to see them hurt. 

It is natural for us to gravitate towards people that have a common identity with us, the same religion, race, or socioeconomic status, for example. But we need to resist the urge to remain in exclusive contact with just “our own” if we want to sustain a multicultural democracy. We should feel proud of those who look, sound, feel, and think like us. This invitation is not to give up on who you are. Rather this invitation is to lean into wonder. Have you ever asked yourself what you might be missing by not getting to know people who are different from you? Have you ever tried to do an inventory of your relationship circles? To whom are you connected? Whom do you follow on social media? Who else would you like to include? How can you make that possible? Doing this requires stepping out of our comfort zone. We must be willing to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, as it is precisely when we are out of our comfort zone that we learn and grow the most. Inevitably, with growth comes challenges and discomfort, but like Lisa’s parents did when she came home crying after being teased at school, we can take those moments as opportunities to grow, learn, and evolve. As humans we are bound to make mistakes, thus building bridges also requires grace, vulnerability, and humility. When we make mistakes, we need to make amends with the person or community we hurt, so knowing how to apologize becomes an essential skill in bridge building as well. As the years have gone by, I have learned that the more practice I get at being uncomfortable, making mistakes, and apologizing, the deeper my connections to other humans become, and the picture in my head of the world falling apart by unintentionally saying the “wrong thing” to someone different from me becomes less scary or intimidating. 

Classrooms can serve as spaces to build bridges, find common ground, learn about our similarities and differences, and develop a more profound understanding of who we are as individuals while being part of a community. Children are always watching the adults around them, and when we model openness, curiosity, and humility, they follow. Thus, as adults, we must be intentional and conscientious in our bridge-building efforts. This is what we aspire to at Windward. We do not want to pretend that we have it all figured out. We embrace Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) work as a good challenge for our School. The need for adjustments may arise as we continue this DEIB journey, but with openness, curiosity, and humility we will continue to support students with language-based learning disabilities in their whole, beautiful, unique selves. It is exciting for me to think that I can personally contribute to the creation of a community built on bridging and belonging. I hope that you are too. At the end of the book Acceptance Is My Superpower, the author states that “accepting others starts with accepting ourselves” and invites readers to list six things they love about themselves. If you were to engage in that exercise, what would you write?

* john a. powell does not capitalize his name

Dr. Pacheco’s Recommendations for Seeking Understanding and Dialoguing Across Differences


Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (2022) by Grenny, J., Patterson, K., McMillan, R., Switzler, A. & Gregory, E. 

For Younger Readers: “A Kids Book About” series. You will find books that cover all types of identities and experiences to help kids build deeper understanding of who they are and the world around them. 


Verna Myers’ TED talk “How to Overcome our Biases” 

Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” 


Listen to storytelling projects like First Person by The New York Times, StoryCorps (, or The Moth ( 

Listen to the podcast “How to Be a Better Human.” 

Explore this podcast for older kids: “Everyday Feels.” 

For Parents: Listen to the podcast “Better Grown Up.”