Research tells us that in schools, students who feel a positive connection – a sense of belonging – with both peers and adults, are in general, more caring and ethical, less prone to behavior problems, and more academically motivated. Children who feel a sense of identity within the group tend to be well-adjusted and successful. How do we encourage that sense of belonging in our schools and classrooms?
- First impressions are important. Create an inviting, welcoming entrance to your classroom. Personalize with students’ names or photos in elementary school.
- Be present. Meet your students at the door and briefly connect with each one.
- Be culturally aware. We all live in the bubble of our own culture and often don’t know what we don’t know. Get to know the students and families who come from a culture that is not yours. Begin to notice your own unconscious biases. (We all have them). When all children are welcomed they develop a sense of belonging, feel secure, and know they have a place.
- Vary groupings. Create opportunities for students to connect with students they would not usually seek out. They will learn things about each other when they are collaborating and engaging around meaningful learning.
- Involve students in creating class guidelines. The process of agreeing on what a learning community can be gives children ownership and a deep sense of belonging. Revisiting and re-evaluating the guidelines regularly reminds them that they have a voice and helps increase awareness of the shared vision.
- Have class meetings on a regular basis to build connection, develop communication skills and have experiences solving their own and their peers’ real problems.