CLASSROOM BELONGING / INTRODUCTION
Introduction to Classroom Belonging
An introduction to the learning condition Classroom Belonging

Description

Learning is a social and emotional experience. The science of learning and development tells us that students do not passively receive knowledge; they actively construct it--and their learning environment plays a large role in the process (1).

One of the primary determinants of a meaningful learning environment is classroom belonging. Classroom belonging is, simply, the sense that one is a valued member of a learning community. The word sense is important here: a teacher cannot tell students they belong and expect them to feel that way. Instead, belonging is an inference students generate on their own, picking up on subtle cues and experiences in the classroom environment (2). They want to know if the classroom is a place where they are respected and empowered. If it is, they are more likely to invest themselves in the learning process (3). Indeed, feelings of relatedness and belonging have clear psychological and academic benefits(4).

Put another way, classroom belonging is the result of an ongoing relationship between young people and their learning environment. This relationship consists of students’ attempts to match what they know about themselves with what they understand about their classroom (5). To foster a sense of belonging, then, students must feel their classroom is a place where they are safe to share their thoughts, opinions, and full selves; where they will be seen and affirmed for who they are and who they aspire to be.

If students are unsure about whether or not they belong, they waste valuable energy worrying about their social fit in the classroom instead of deeply engaging with learning. Instead of thinking about the subject matter, students ponder weighty social questions: Are there people here I can connect to? Are people like me valued in this environment? Can I be more than a stereotype here (6)? These questions may be especially salient for students with identities that have been historically marginalized both inside and outside of schools (7).

The good news is that there are small actions that teachers can take to encourage a sense of belonging in all students. These strategies can be thought of as signals that students can pick up on when they are scanning the environment for clues about whether they belong. Even better, when students receive these messages, belonging becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As students, buoyed by an initial feeling of belonging, engage more fully in the social processes present in the classroom, they are rewarded with an even more substantial sense of belonging (8).

Feelings of belonging can come from a variety of sources: opportunities to connect meaningfully with other students, thoughtful feedback from a teacher, or a lesson that directly relates to students’ valued identities. This book outlines the following specific strategies:

  • Facilitating connections between students
  • Learning about and affirming students as individuals
  • Establishing an identity-safe classroom.

 

References

1. Darling-Hammond, L., Flook, L., Cook-Harvey, C., Barron, B., & Osher, D. (2019). Implications for educational practice of the science of learning and development. Applied Developmental Science, 1-44.

2. Walton, G. M., & Brady, S. T. (2017). The many questions of belonging. Handbook of competence and motivation: Theory and application, 272-293.

3. Romero, C. (2015). What we know about belonging from scientific research. Mindset Scholars Network. http://mindsetscholarsnetwork. org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/What-We-Know-About-Belonging. pdf.

4. Farrington, C.A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T.S., Johnson, D.W., & Beechum, N.O. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

5. Walton, G. M., & Brady, S. T. (2017). The many questions of belonging. Handbook of competence and motivation: Theory and application, 272-293.

6. Walton, G. M., & Brady, S. T. (2017). The many questions of belonging. Handbook of competence and motivation: Theory and application, 272-293.

7. Gray, D. L., Hope, E. C., & Matthews, J. S. (2018). Black and belonging at school: A case for interpersonal, instructional, and institutional opportunity structures. Educational Psychologist, 53(2), 97-113.

8. Farrington, C.A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T.S., Johnson, D.W., & Beechum, N.O. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Associated Measures

To help teachers track their progress at promoting a sense of belonging in the classroom, Elevate uses several survey questions:

  • This week in class, I had the opportunity to get to know my classmates better.
  • I feel like my teacher accepts me for who I am as a person.
  • This week in class, I felt comfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions in class.

The results of the surveys can help you learn how connected your students feel to their peers and the class—and how their perceptions are influenced by any new practices you try.