Belonging is a fundamental human need; whether we are conscious of it or not, we are always monitoring how well we feel we fit in during all of our social interactions. When we don’t feel like we belong—when we feel excluded, rejected, or like an outsider—it saps our precious mental resources and energy, distracts us, and keeps us from being fully present in the moment.
A student who is insecure in his sense of belonging might see a bad grade as proof that “people like me can’t do this,” while a student with a higher sense of belonging might think he just needs to study more next time.
Starting school is a big change for children
Not only do they have to cope with schoolwork and teachers, but they also have to get used to being part of a class and a whole school. A lot more is expected of children when they start school and there are lots more people to get on with. It helps children to know that there are people at school who will look after them and care about their needs.
All children need to feel that school is a safe place where people will care about them, where their needs for support, respect and friendship will be met, and where they will be able to get help to work out problems. When these needs are met children develop a sense of belonging at school. Belonging is very important for children’s mental health and wellbeing. Children who feel that they belong at school are happier; more relaxed and have fewer behavioral problems than other students. They are also more motivated to learn and be more successful with their school work. Research into children’s mental health has found that a sense of belonging and connectedness at school helps to protect children against mental health difﬁculties and improves their learning.
As educators, we tend to believe our classroom is a neutral environment, but some settings are more inclusive and welcoming to certain types of students than we realize. It’s important to be mindful of how environments can feel “chilly” to some students and how other classrooms foster connections between the teacher and students, as well as between one student and another.
The Key Constraints that Inhibit Learning and a sense of Belonging Include:
Creating a culture of learning is about developing relationships based on trust and respect. Each child needs to have a sense of belonging in the classroom community and to feel that you and others in the class care about them before you jump right into academics.
Compliance. When learners feel uncomfortable or are not sure about something, they tend to go back to what they did before and resist new challenges and ideas.
Low Self-Esteem. Learners may feel insecure by being concerned about losing face, being uninformed or feeling not particularly smart. This could also impact how they relate to others.
Fear of Failure. Learners may be afraid to take any risks and tend to seek ways to avoid the embarrassment that they believe happens from failure.
Secrets. Learners come to school with issues at home, with family, or with peers. Some secrets are big and may be difficult to talk about. These secrets probably impact how they feel about themselves and others.
Ways Schools Can Help Develop Sense Of Belonging
Making friends and having positive relationships with teachers helps children develop a sense of belonging at school. Having older ‘buddies’ to turn to helps younger children feel that school is a place where they can get help if they need it. Looking after younger children encourages caring and helping in older children and helps to reduce conﬂicts and bullying. These are some of the ways that children’s sense of belonging at school can be supported.
Parents can make time to listen to your child tell you about what he or she is doing at school
Let your child’s teacher know if he/she is having difficulties and discuss what kinds of things you can do at home and school to help.
identifying ways of improving communication with families
focussing on child and family strengths
Making sure that school policies on safety, welfare and discipline are clearly communicated and support a sense of belonging for children and families.
Educators can help student normalize their concerns about transitions by personalizing the idea that we also experienced rough transitions and things improved over time. Another approach to helping students normalize their experiences is through a reflective reading and writing exercise.