Belonging is King

It is the start of a new academic year and, across the world, teachers will be doing their best to establish rules and routines with their new classes. But, amidst the rush to establish new norms with students, there is one thing teachers should not forget. It is something so important, it should be at the forefront of every teacher’s mind and that is fostering a sense of belonging.

What is belonging?

A sense of belonging is a feeling where you can be confident that you will fit in, and feel safe in your identity. As writer Dan Coyle explains in his book ‘The Culture Code’, a sense of belonging is felt in teams, groups and organisations when people feel safe, connected to the people around them and that they share a future together.

Why belonging matters

In schools, experiencing a sense of belonging is crucial for learning and wellbeing. Recent research by Professor Kathryn Riley at UCL’s Institute of Education found that increasing a sense of belonging in school was associated with improved:

· Attainment

· Wellbeing

· Motivation

· Attendance

· Staff motivation and wellbeing

How to foster a sense of belonging

It really is a case of ‘the small things matter’ when it comes to belonging. Coyle says that belonging needs to be continually refreshed and reinforced. This might be through ‘belonging cues’ – small verbal and non-verbal cues that signal to students and staff that they are safe, they are part of a team and that they share a future together. Things that can work might be:

· Greeting students at the door with a warm smile and open body language

· Getting to know students early on – finding out about their interests and what motivates them

· Using humour as a way to engage classes and to defuse any tension

· Using physical touch such as a fist bump for a job well done or an arm around a shoulder if someone is upset (always ensure the recipient is comfortable with touch and it is appropriate)

· Creating a team flag where students write the values that are important to them (see first chapter of Adrian Bethune’s ‘Wellbeing In The Primary Classroom 2nd Edition’ for more on this!)

· Set your class team goals and challenges to work towards completing together

Never forget what matters

When psychologist Chris Peterson was once asked what factor makes the biggest difference to our wellbeing, he simply replied, ‘Other people matter’. This is also true of belonging and learning. So, this year, as well as planning great lessons, as well as brushing up on your own subject knowledge, make sure you foster a sense of belonging in your class. Help children fit in, feel part of a team and supported by their classmates. You’ll find your students learn better and that you’ll enjoy your year in teaching far more too.

Adrian Bethune is a part-time teacher at a primary school in Aylesbury, associate lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, deputy chair of the Well Schools strategic board and the founder of Teachappy. His new book, Wellbeing In The Primary Classroom 2nd Edition, is out now!

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