The idea of belonging is not a new concept for me. I’ve always felt the need to belong to something larger than myself as it gave me a purpose but also a sense of safety and acceptance.
My background in psychology coupled with my time in the classroom solidified my resolve to share with fellow educators the need to focus on ways to instill a sense of belonging for students.
Having worked in two different Title I schools, I learned first-hand just how hard life was for my neediest of students. My heart hurt to hear that a student lived in a garage with their entire family, that they lived with their grandparents because both parents were in jail, that they slept on a couch because they don’t have a bed let alone a bedroom…I could go on and on.
And I learned real fast that there’s only so much that I had control over. I couldn’t control what happened outside of my classroom, but within the four walls of my classroom, I could made intentional decisions to cultivate a sense of belonging for my students.
The challenge of how to help students who are disconnected from school and academics can be addressed in 5 steps:
- Acknowledge that certain needs have to be met in order for learning to occur, you cannot control everything, but you can control some things
- Identify students who may need additional emotional support structures
- Hone your empathy skills and provide ways for your students to develop empathy for others as well
- Build a warm classroom environment where students feel welcome
- Cultivate opportunities for students to develop a sense of belonging in your classroom and with their peers with the hope that they can carry this feeling with them when they leave your classroom
I’m not saying that any of these steps are a silver bullet. But I can assure you that I’ve used each and every one of them in my classroom and it made a difference for my students. How do I know? They told me. Some of them mentioned it in passing, others wrote me letters, some emailed me a thank you, a few gave small tokens of their appreciation, while others came by for a quick hug before leaving for high school. All of these meant so much to me because I felt that all of my efforts were working. Maybe it didn’t work for every single student. But it worked for some. And that’s all that mattered.
In the words of Rita Pierson, I wanted to Be a Champion for my students. And I made that an intentional decision each and every day.
If you want to learn more, please check out a webinar that I recently hosted. The Importance of Belonging can be found on EdTechTeacher’s YouTube Channel. Please feel free to leave comments or reach out with your own stories and solutions. As I previously mentioned, I’ve always felt the need to belong to something larger than myself…and being part of the educational community is something that will always be near and dear to my heart.
Thanks for reading!