Start the Year by Belonging

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Brad Choyt
Those of us who work in schools naturally have high expectations for the beginning of the year and all the learning that will take place between now and June. But for these expectations to be met, students need far more than high quality instruction accompanied by the required pencils and textbooks. Perhaps the single most important thing we can provide for our students at this time of the year is a deep sense of belonging.  

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The comfort level students experience in their classrooms is often proportional to their success. Feeling welcome and safe in a school is part of the equation, but developing a sense of belonging is a gradual and more nuanced process that leads to a deeper sense of comfort. Belonging also requires a sense of unconditional acceptance and not being judged based on one’s identity or background, including gender, race, religion, or disability status.   

Conversely, students who perceive that the classroom's or school's environment is unjust or somehow designed to advantage certain individuals may become disengaged, hurt, or angry, making it much more difficult to be engaged and to learn. 

Researchers who study these issues recommend a range of practices to cultivate feelings of belonging, including encouraging teachers to highlight the strengths of individual students regardless of their differences, actively challenging stereotypes within our culture, and strengthening connections between a school and its surrounding community--particularly with organizations that serve a variety of populations. But there is no substitute for the warmth and acceptance that teachers can foster in their classrooms for every student. And when a universal feeling of belonging is in place, so much more can happen.

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