Our students have an innate need for connection and belonging. Developmental, educational and neuroscience research speaks to this basic human need (Jackson & Davis, 2000). Neuroscience reinforces the need for others to help us process and retain our learning. Students even learn better when they have relationships with those around them. Ultimately, learning – and student success – are amplified when there is an existing relationship between teachers and learners. Therefore, it’s no surprise that when teens are asked about what they want and need, belonging and being part of a group are highly ranked. Connection is key to student success.
4 Tips to Create a Culture of Belonging and Connection
Commit to knowing the strengths of each student.
Use asset-based teaching to build trust and belonging by focusing on student’s strengths. Often times schools focus on a deficit-based model, highlighting areas where students are not succeeding. Instead, try a teaching approach that encourages students by highlighting their talents and potential. In this way, teachers build relationships with students and learn what they need to be successful (Lopez, 2017). Asset-based teaching asks questions such as:
- What strengths does this student uniquely bring to our classroom?
- How can we use this strength to bridge learning?
- How can we connect learning to what students already know?
Build hope through agency.
Schools can help students develop confidence, set and examine goals and determine which pathway feels right for them. Agency refers to a student’s ability to recognize what will help bring them closer to their future goals. To build hope through agency, students need to be positively motivated to set goals, achieve goals and have the confidence to follow their strengths (Mulder, 2019).
Like asset-based teaching, the first step in building agency is to help students recognize their strengths. Hope is increased and students feel set up for success when they understand how to set goals, explore pathways and develop self-confidence. Based on Charles Ryder Snyder’s Hope Theory research, using the following questions can help students get started using agency thinking (Mulder, 2019):
- Which strengths can I use to achieve my goal?
- Which aspects of my current situation work to my advantage?
- When was I successful in similar situations in the past and why?
Encourage student thought partners.
Learning opportunities with partners help all students feel connectedness and belonging. It also leads to student success (Immordino-Yand & Knecht, 2020). Students who participate in what neuroscientists call “elaboration” build connections and create pathways for learning in the brain. For example, imagine if your brain is a constellation of stars – millions of points connecting to each other. When the brain experiences something new, the conversation around learning helps us connect old pathways to new ones – creating constellations. This is integral for content to become permanent in our long-term memory (Medina, 2011). The practice of exploring how new knowledge fits with old in partners or groups helps both students and adults remember what they learn.
Embed communication and social-emotional learning strategies into everyday learning.
To build trust and belonging, students must participate as reciprocal partners in any relationship. Often the older the student, the more educators can make assumptions about communication and socio-emotional skills. Students who demonstrate good communication practices, and who learn to regulate and navigate their emotions are more likely to develop healthy relationships in the classroom (Jagers, et al., 2019). Help students learn about social norms by establishing communication protocols and setting aside time for students to practice those in pairs.
Medina, J. (2011). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. United States: ReadHowYouWant.com, Limited.
National Middle School Association. (2003). This we believe: Successful schools for young adolescents. Westerville, OH.
Jackson, A., & Davis, G. (2000).Turning points 2000: Educating adolescents in the 21st century. New York: Carnegie Corporation.
Robert J. Jagers, Deborah Rivas-Drake & Brittney Williams (2019) Transformative Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Toward SEL in Service of Educational Equity and Excellence, Educational Psychologist, 54:3, 162-184, DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2019.1623032
Mulder, P. (2019). Snyder’s Hope theory. Retrieved [insert date] from toolshero: https://www.toolshero.com/personal-development/snyders-hope-theory/
Lopez, Francesca A. (March, 2017). Altering the Trajectory of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Asset-Based Pedagogy and Classroom Dynamics: Journal of Teacher Education: AACTE