Finding Belonging & Connection

Angela Censoplano Holmes
7 min readJul 7, 2019
My first year teaching, 1996

I am a teacher. I am an author, a speaker, and an advocate for students and teachers. I am an educator.

I have been educating underprivileged students living in low socio-economic communities for twenty-three years now. Advocating for the social and emotional aspects of learning in the classroom, and for teaching social justice to our students that ingrains in the forefront of their learning empathy, inclusion, communication and tolerance for others is at the forefront of my intentions as an educator. I advocate for teacher education and the advancement in educational practices that support the most current and innovative pedagogy in education for teachers and students.

One of the things that has fueled my purpose as an educator for more than half of my career is the California Reading and Literature Project. The mission of the CRLP is to provide high quality, standards-aligned professional development in reading and language instruction to help ensure that every California student, Pre-Kindergarten-12th grade, achieves the highest standards of academic performance. We are the bridge between educational theory and research and the classrooms and students themselves. I am a CRLP teacher leader and presenter because I am a life-long learner, wanting to learn everything I can about education and continuously improve my craft.

When I was approached by the San Diego regional director to be a teacher leader, I was asked to join in on one of the institutes CRLP invites select teachers to. It was for me, a turning point in my educational career which sparked purpose, desire, and intention for my life’s path as an educator. At that institute the state wide CRLP Regional Directors and the Executive Directors were present, all of us learning together. These brilliant educators who I aspired to be; I was in the middle of, and I was intimidated to say the least. But the camaraderie they all showed towards each other and to me left me in a state of awe. The energy of the room was positive and uplifting, which it always is, by the way. I could feel the level of passion, the best intentions for students, and purpose for education emanating from each and every teacher leader in the room. CRLP is always about the newest research and most current approaches to teach reading and literacy. It’s about the excitement and exhilaration of being an educator. I was at that moment, immersed in all of that! I remember how incredibly grateful and inspired I felt to be there. I wrote a note to my future self at that training. In that note I set my intentions of what I wanted in my future. I wanted to be one of them. I am now. In my mind I’ve surpassed what I had wanted for myself then, with the CRLP and my career as an educator. Not to say I’ve reached my ceiling, by any means!

I often think about what CRLP has provided for me and what I get out of it. First of all, the greatest teacher tribe EVER! These women Lift. Me. Up. And I hope they can say the same for me. We push each other, in the most inspiring ways.

Within this learning community, we do what people are meant to do: we learn from each other and we commune with each other, and from that we get belonging and connection.

I feel the project and all its teacher leaders and directors gave me the confidence to write a book! I felt compelled to tell my story as a teacher. Stories matter. And from studying the CA ELA/ELD Framework with the CRLP for the past few years I realized how relevant it was to listen to our students’ stories, to focus us on opening our minds to the fact that our classrooms are where we begin that development of a global culture of inclusion, empathy and compassion.

As Brene Brown says, “We have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected”. By shedding a light on what students bring into the classroom, whether it be trauma and adversity or cultural & linguistic contexts in which students live and learn, we seek to understand the relationship between that, and their identity. This all promotes positive relationships therefore improving educational outcomes. And all that talk about connection was what fueled me to finally write about it.

But what a crazy vulnerability ride that whole book writing took me on! And I was committed to lean into that vulnerability, even though it sucked, because my idea started from, ‘Hey, I’m gonna write a book about my students’ funny stories’, and ended up at, ‘Hey, how ‘bout I put all the ugly truth about my life’s experiences and my students’ so that everybody can judge me and see all my insides?’ That isn’t typically my personality. But seriously, as I sat down to write this book it just spewed out of me, the challenges I was going through with my marriage, my mother’s cancer journey, along with the terrible unjust dysfunction and adversity that was going on in my students’ lives, in this community I teach in. And to top it off, I began to see this big, beautiful connection between the two, and how I’ve been living this parallel life alongside my students’ and they’ve actually been my greatest teachers. I saw the purpose in it all and my growth in it all. I saw the connection.

Where do I see the scariness and vulnerability in it all? Oh let me count the ways…Offending people, fear of judgement, fear of exposure, fear of people lashing out at me, worry that I might offend my colleagues, my family, my students’ families…did I mention fear? It was all fine with just me reading the words I had put on the page, but when my editor fell onto my path and I realized I could actually publish this, I had this terrible fear of people reading this stuff! This was embarrassing, this was raw, this was political, this was offensive to some, this was ugly.

But I had gotten to a point in my career as an educator, knowing what’s important to teach — the pedagogy of course, but also, again, going back to chapter 9 of our framework about shedding a light on what students bring into the classroom; whether it be trauma and adversity or cultural & linguistic contexts in which students live and learn . Again, we’re seeking to understand the relationship between all that, but missing the “why” to me was the elephant in the room. Their stories. I’ve watched my students go through so much adversity throughout my teaching career, teaching in an area home to many low-income, impoverished families. Many of our students and their families face great adversity, and the impact on the children can be seen academically, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Yet these students have so much resilience and perseverance. They’ve taught me that in the midst of all the grief, the hardship, and the tough times, you’ve got to just let go of the reins and live in the present. Getting to the point I’m at in my career as a teacher and saying I did nothing to bring their stories to light, would be ignoring the “why”.

Writing this book is an opportunity for me to provide those of you inside and outside of education an intimate look into the lives of teachers, students, and the families of a low socioeconomic urban community of many immigrants. I want to shed light on and advocate for teachers and students and share an unapologetic look into the world of the classroom.

By sharing these stories I could communicate an understanding that we are all connected.

Before, I often felt detached from my students and their lives, but I soon realized I was no different from them. And soon I saw clearly: we ALL are one and the same. We all are more alike than we think.

By writing this book, self-publishing it, rumbling with vulnerability every time I talk about it on Twitter or Instagram (which is always nerve racking), I get to see myself as courageous for doing so. With my CRLP teacher tribe and learning community always providing my scaffolds of belonging and connection, again, as Brene Brown says I should: I rumbled with vulnerability (still am), I tried to live into my values by advocating for these students and the adversity they bring with them, I trusted it would all be okay even if it was scary, and by doing all of the above, I’m learning to rise. And I’ve concluded that life is a classroom, literally and figuratively for us. It’s all been a great big learning experience. And I’m still learning!

My Teacher Tribe



Angela Censoplano Holmes

Author of 🦋Life is a Classroom, A teacher's journey. District Resource Specialist, & Teacher Educator who ❤s learning and advocating for students & teachers.