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Belonging is the New Gold

"Other people matter”, is a phrase used by the late Chris Peterson to sum up Positive Psychology in three words. He is right. Other people do matter and feeling a sense of belonging with others is a basic psychological need for humans. Belonging is a feeling of unconditional acceptance where you feel like YOU are part of a larger group in which there is a shared interest or value. When you feel you belong you can show up as your vulnerable self. As teachers, you see every day how much a sense of belonging matters to kids, and to all of us. We act differently when we believe that we belong. We are more open and willing to make mistakes.

When we feel a sense of belonging we are broadened, and as Barbara Fredrickson discovered with her Broaden and Build Theory, broadened people are more likely to take risks and less afraid of making mistakes. A sense of belonging correlates with increased positive emotions, increased life satisfaction, and greater meaning in life. When you feel a connection to others, you feel validated, connected and a shared sense of interest and or values. “Oh, have you been there too? You read that book or watched that show too?” We may even find that all people have similar struggles. “You wiped down your groceries too? I’ve had that same struggle!” It reminds us that we are not alone. There is comfort in that knowledge. Some people struggle more with a sense of belonging than others, we all struggle with belonging more now because of the isolation the pandemic has brought.

It is difficult to find a school website that doesn't use the word community on the first page. The word community, so often used to describe what is important to schools, implies a sense of belonging for everyone. How often do we ask ourselves if we are achieving this in our schools? Our classrooms? If you are consciously working towards that sense of belonging in your community, how well are you communicating it? Creating a sense of belonging in the classroom (even virtual classrooms) can be done through rituals that you create with the students. Something as simple and starting and ending the class the same way each day reinforces a sense of belonging. Think about how to make ordinary moments special. In our virtual world, a sense of belonging starts with making sure everyone’s camera is on. If you can’t see others and you know they can’t see you, it is difficult to create any sense of community. Once the camera is on, go beyond that by infusing the class with one or two signature gestures.

To create a sense of belonging in your classroom try these things:

  1. Create Rituals: Create things that uniquely happen in your classroom. This helps students feel like they are a part of something bigger and that they belong in a group. You can also create a special bond with each individual student by having something you share uniquely with them. Watch this awesome handshake video that shows how one teacher created a sense of belonging.

  2. Writing Exercises: Ask students to write about the following prompts or come up with some of your own. For younger students, ask them to draw pictures and tell stories.

    1. What does it mean to you to belong? Write about a time when you had a strong sense of belonging.

    2. How can you help others feel that they belong?

    3. What are the things in this school/classroom that make you feel like you belong?

  3. Try a values mining activity with your class and create a shared values list for the class.

  4. Choose a class song and play it at the beginning and end of class--virtual or in person.

  5. Create a wall or a virtual space where classmates can post successes, acts of kindness, or specific gratitude for classmates.

  6. Read this article about a belonging intervention known as “attributional retraining.”

Scientific studies have proven that a sense of belonging increases the likelihood of staying in school, makes kids appreciate school more, and results in higher grades! A sense of belonging also correlates with increased positive emotions, increased life satisfaction, and greater meaning in life.

So take a moment to think about belonging. Do you think your students feel a sense of belonging at your school? Do you?

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