A recent report by the Australian Council for Educational Research highlights what many educators have observed themselves: certain students lack a sense of belonging, and it impacts their success in school.
According to ACER:
While the majority of Australian students feel a sense of belonging at school, there is a solid core of students who do not feel this way – roughly one in five, or five students in the average classroom.
Researchers examined the response of 15-year-olds to questions regarding their sense of belonging in school administered through the Programme for International Student Assessment, which collected data on a total of 36 countries, including the United States.
The education site The Conversation points to research that shows students’ sense of belonging at school can have a profound impact on their success in academics and life. Those that feel less like they belong are more likely to misbehave, use drugs or alcohol, act violently, or drop out of school, while those who feel a strong sense of belonging are typically more motivated, engaged, and eager to participate in school and their communities.
“Teachers play an important role in nurturing students’ sense of belonging. If a student considers their teacher to be caring and accepting, they’re more likely to adopt the academic and social values of their teacher,” The Conversation reports. “This can influence how students feel about school work and how much (or how little) they value it.”
The site offers a video from the Australian Psychological Society that explains “Mental health benefits when kids feel they belong at school,” and a list of teaching practices that are key to fostering a sense of belonging in the classroom.
The recommendations include developing high-quality teacher-student relationships, creating a supporting and caring learning environment, offering emotional support, sensitivity to student emotions and needs, offering respect and fair treatment and positive classroom management practices.
“Other significant approaches include giving students a voice, working with community partners to meet students’ needs, student participation in extra-curricular activities, and developing a culture of high standards and behaviours across the whole school,” The Conversation reports.
Education researcher Richard Fournier highlighted how a sense of belonging can strengthen the moral culture of a school in “The Content of Their Character,” a publication of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture summarizing character development in a variety of schools.
“One common goal among the schools’ administrators, often acknowledged by teachers, was to create a sense of belonging among students and staff,” Fournier observed. “This sense of belonging built trust, which in turn gave teachers and administrators more clout when pointing students in the right directions.”
Educators can develop a better understanding of how the world’s 15-year-olds view themselves and their place in school from data collected by the Students’ Well-Being survey, PISA 2015.
The survey “explores a comprehensive set of well-being indicators for adolescents that covers both negative outcomes (e.g. anxiety, low performance) and the positive impulses that promote healthy development (e.g. interest, engagement, motivation to achieve).”