How to develop a sense of belonging in the classroom

Sentiment d'appartenance en classe

From the second children enter school at the age of five to the second they leave it at 18, the classroom is the most important and formative place. Although it is true that children and teenagers grow and build themselves up through a variety of experiences, the classroom environment is a key building block in their development. 

It is the role of teachers and educators to fully understand the effects that a classroom setting can have on a child beyond academic success. While academic performance cannot be ignored, neither can the opportunity to develop a student’s mindset and outlook on life. It is here that students learn about themselves and develop the skills that are going to stay with them throughout the rest of their lives.

For teachers who are able to look beyond educational success and want to foster and create well-rounded students who believe in themselves and feel as though they belong, we created this guide. We understand how overwhelming the role of an educator can be, which is why we want to help you cultivate an environment that improves student engagement and development through positive practices.

What is a sense of belonging?

Sense of belonging is a feeling a person experiences when he/she is comfortable in a situation or setting. All humans wish to feel like they belong. None of us wants to feel isolated or out of place which is why we seek environments in which we will feel accepted. 

The need for a sense of belonging manifests in every walk of life. Whether it is the cliques that form in school or the societies that first-year college students join, people want to feel like they belong from the moment they can walk and talk to the moment they die. It is important to note that belonging is not a one-way street. In order to belong, you need to both give and receive acceptance from your group. In other words, everyone needs to support and encourage each other. 

Why is it important to have a sense of belonging in school?

Developing a sense of belonging in school is an important part of the student experience as it helps individuals thrive. When you feel as though you do not belong in a situation, you may experience a variety of emotions that affect your classroom behavior. 

Also, a lack of a sense of belonging can be especially heightened in school settings because students are surrounded by individuals interacting within groups. This can generate images in their heads of them being on the outside of these groups and make them feel alone. 

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What are the effects of a lack of belonging?

Feeling like he/she doesn’t belong might intensify a student’s alienation and lead to additional problems in school such as a lack of motivation as well as the inability to concentrate or make friends. Over the long run, this can affect all aspects of a student’s life. Students who feel isolated and unappreciated might end up suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

The effects of a lack of a sense of belonging can vary from person to person, with factors such as age, gender and environment all working together to inform an individual’s response to feelings. For example, a six-year-old boy who has just started school might be more likely to lash out and misbehave in class due to his inability to process his emotions. On the other hand, if a first-year female college student’s sense of belonging is lacking, she might retreat and become more introverted, missing out on key college student experiences. 

Five ways to develop a sense of belonging in the class at the start of the school year

It is important to make students feel welcome the moment they set foot in school for the first time. After all, a person’s first-year experience will dictate how they feel about school. Below is a list of tips to help you create a thriving academic environment in which students feel welcome and at home.

1. Nurture positive student-teacher relationships 

Although they may not want you to know it, students highly value the relationships they have with teachers. This becomes evident when you observe how a child behaves in front of their favorite teacher in comparison with their behavior towards their least favorite teacher. 

The reason behind this difference is that teachers who have good relationships with students automatically provide them with a sense of belonging and make them feel comfortable and safe. Relationships with teachers can make or break an individual’s experience in school and affect their interactions and performance in the world beyond. 

2. Encourage peer groups 

In addition to developing positive relationships with their teachers, students also need to bond well with their peers. A student’s life is not spent solely in the classroom so they need to feel as though they belong in the wider school community. This can be achieved through peer groups. 

This is an effective way to provide opportunities for students to get to know each other better. Peer groups have been proven to help students make friends and thrive socially.

After all, a sense of belonging is often founded on social success, and creating peer groups at the beginning of the school year encourages students to get along outside the classroom. 

3. Incorporate team building exercises into the classroom

Bringing students together in groups so that they can rely on each other and work together is a key aspect of creating a sense of belonging. Collaboration goes a long way towards creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust among your students. Ultimately, team building activities promote self-esteem among students and nurture classroom harmony. 

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4. Create a safe space for individual identities

Identity is integral to belonging. In order to feel as though they belong, students must feel that their classroom is a space in which they can freely express and explore their identity. This can be achieved, for example, by creating societies that students can join to be around other people who identify as they do. For example, there could be societies for students with disabilities,international students, etc. In the end, it’s all about creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe to express their identity.

5. Understand academic anxieties

Although a sense of belonging in the classroom is not directly related to academics, and is more of a social and psychological issue that needs to be tackled, academics cannot be ignored. Students who are struggling academically are particularly vulnerable to poor self-image and feelings of isolation. 

Teachers can relieve some of the anxieties that students with poor academic performance might be experiencing by running academic programs that bring them together in study groups. Such initiatives can go a long way towards improving student motivation and student retention. 

Nurture belonging with Kronos Experience

Kronos Experience can help you create a classroom environment that is welcoming and inclusive. Our engaging youth experience programs merge virtual learning and team building into a harmonious combination aimed at fostering a sense of belonging in children.

We will help you run workshops over two to three weeks in the classroom which get students engaged and working together towards a common goal. We also run a live event in the form of a TV show bringing together footage from your workshops so that your students can get a sense of their personal growth. Looking back on what they have achieved as a team will allow your students to realize how close they are to each other and how much they rely on each other, thereby reinforcing their sense of belonging. 

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