Creating Cultures of Belonging in Public Schools

Author: The Tower Foundation

Power of Place fosters cultures of belonging in schools through professional learning experiences that help educators and school district leaders examine personal assumptions and biases, gain new skills, and collaborate with peers. “It is not easy to teach and lead across differences,” said Jane Feinberg, PhD, founder and executive director of Power of Place. “But when educators come together in a non-judgmental space, they can more easily engage in work that requires vulnerability and openness. Our theory of change is that when educators make the commitment to continuous learning, students will, too.”

Power of Place’s Reach:
20 School Districts, 150+ Schools, 69,000+ Students

Dr. Feinberg had the idea of bringing together educators across school districts—creating opportunities to connect and collaborate. She had seen examples of such cross-pollination in Northern New England and found it compelling. In addition, “This idea came to me through lived experience,” said Dr. Feinberg. “I was dismayed by the way my daughter was treated in schools. None of it was explicit or intentional, but I could see her teachers attaching a stigma to her disability and lowering their expectations for her. I knew we could do better.”


The Tower Foundation supported Dr. Feinberg’s vision with a grant to launch the Essex County Learning Community, now the flagship program of Power of Place, a multi-district collaborative that continues to this day. Tower Foundation staff were struck by Dr. Feinberg’s passion for the work, the respect she had for educators, and her desire to help historically under-resourced students have the best experience possible. Providing educators across Massachusetts with the skills, tools, and resources to create cultures of belonging was fully aligned with the Tower Foundation’s vision.

To create programming, Essex County Learning Community engaged with the educators and school leaders in their first cohort of six school districts. They understood that those closest to the issues often know best how to address them—even if they lack the tools to do so. Partnering with Dan French, then executive director of the Center for Collaborative Education–and informed by conversations with its first group of participants—Essex County Learning Community designed learning experiences focused on helping educators better support students with learning disabilities, past trauma, and rich variation in cultural and personal identities.


“Delving deep into systemic racism, including the history, impacts, and current forces keeping these systems in place has been profound in my understanding and empathy for my students and families affected by these systems.”
Essex County Learning Community participant

Originally designed as a two-year intensive professional learning experience, Essex County Learning Community became an ongoing network at the request of members in the first cohort. Essex County Learning Community brought in three additional cohorts over the next several years, expanding its reach to 20 districts throughout the county. With continued Tower Foundation support, Power of Place was officially created to serve as an umbrella nonprofit organization to foster new learning communities in various regions in Massachusetts, with Essex County serving as a model. The mission is to spread the values, principles, and practices of Essex County Learning Community to hundreds more educators.

“This is slow and patient work; it may not be efficient, but it is effective. That’s something that the Tower Foundation understands completely,” said Dr. Feinberg. “I’m incredibly grateful for their vision and their partnership. They give life to the phrase ‘trust-based philanthropy.’”

“We need to create appreciative spaces for our educators, spaces where they feel just as valued as every other professional.”
– Jane Feinberg, PhD