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How creating a culture of belonging can support students’ well-being and performance

Nicola Pearce

It is essential that educators recognise the importance of establishing a culture of belonging in educational settings, and the impact they can have on students’ overall well-being and success. A sense of belonging can lead to lower stress levels, and reduced anxiety and loneliness amongst students, ultimately fostering a motivational environment.

Not only does an established culture foster a sense of inclusivity, acceptance and respect amongst students and educators, it also creates a supportive and welcoming learning environment. When students’ individualities and capabilities are prioritised academic achievement and personal growth can be achieved.

It is crucial that educators focus on both inclusivity and fostering an accepting environment where students can thrive socially, emotionally, and academically, as this ultimately leads to greater overall success and fulfilment in their educational journey and beyond.

To do so requires intentional efforts and specific strategies. Firstly, creating an inclusive and welcoming educational institution culture through clear policies, values, and practices is essential. Secondly, there needs to be a focus on promoting opportunities for students to share their unique backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. This can be achieved through student-led clubs that can enhance understanding and appreciation of others’ backgrounds. For those students who face unique challenges or barriers, technology-enhanced strategies such as online learning, peer mentoring programs, and online support can help.

Technology can facilitate a culture of belonging in the classroom in several ways, including fostering collaboration, easily sharing materials with peers, and accessing a number of Apps that can offer new ways to access content from across the world easily, including learning a new language, virtual learning experiences and interactive quiz apps.

Providing access to a culturally relevant curriculum that reflects the diversity of students’ backgrounds and experiences helps validate their identities and experiences, fostering a sense of belonging.

Why is it important to establish a culture of belonging in educational settings?

A recent study found that nearly all (92%) students stated that they felt lonely at least once during the last academic year. Additionally, nearly half (43%) worry that they would be judged if they admitted to feeling lonely. Several factors contribute to this feeling of lack of belonging, creating barriers for students, including, not feeling that their identities are being recognised, or overwhelming pressure from their surroundings.

Finding solutions to break down these barriers is crucial. Establishing a culture of belonging fosters a sense of inclusivity and acceptance, as well as encourages respect amongst students, educators, and staff.

A sense of belonging helps create a better supporting and learning environment where students feel seen, valued, accepted, and comfortable. Students who feel like they belong either to a social group or to the school community, are more likely to perform better as a result of feeling empowered, supported, and accepted. Encouraging social interactions and supporting students to engage, can lead to reduced feelings of isolation, loneliness, and discrimination. All factors in turn promote social interactions and enhance student engagement.

Encouraging diversity amongst students

Teachers and educators must understand their role in supporting and motivating their students, which is essential in creating a sense of belonging. By encouraging students to actively participate with each other and the learning environment within classrooms and in learning settings, teachers can help bridge the gap between their students’ social lives and education.

Students can more easily engage with each other through digital tools such as interactive displays, and whiteboards, connecting students across classrooms, cities, and countries. These digital tools also offer a solution to students with different needs and challenges, whilst also appreciating their individuality.

Many students often feel like they do not belong due to their diverse backgrounds. To create awareness and educate students about diversity, teachers should incorporate Personal, Social, Health, and Economic (PSHE) education in their regular curriculum. This approach can help students understand and appreciate the differences they may encounter, and minimize prejudice, discrimination, and judgment.

One major factor to consider is promoting social interaction among students during lunch and breakfast periods to prevent social isolation. By incorporating social groups, lunch groups, and breakfast groups, teachers can contribute to breaking down the social barrier between students.

Supporting students with technology

Various factors can significantly impact students’ learning processes, such as emotional factors, economic factors, cultural barriers, and personal challenges. One potential solution to address these challenges and provide students with support and guidance is through peer mentoring. This initiative allows students to receive assistance and advice from fellow students who are willing to share their knowledge and support.

In the past, programs and services for education were only offered in schools or other educational institutions, making it difficult to access for remote learners. However, technology has provided a solution by enabling online learning communities and forums, which allow students to ask and answer questions from anywhere, regardless of their situation.

Digital storytelling and multimedia packs are innovative tools that demonstrate how technology can assist students who are dealing with distinctive challenges or obstacles. By sharing their personal narratives and experiences through these resources, students can offer guidance and support to their peers who may be facing similar hurdles or require counselling. Technology enables students to access high-quality support and mentoring, even if they are unable to attend classes physically or are struggling with personal challenges that make it difficult to interact with their classmates.

How can teachers support their students?

Teachers and staff must receive adequate training to improve their abilities and enhance their skills to support students. To effectively support students, continuous personal development, ongoing training, and support are vital for educators to stay up to date with the best practices.

Educators need to be supported and provided with learning opportunities to enhance their abilities in fields such as cultural competency, trauma, and mental health awareness. By offering online classes and digital courses, schools can help support their staff to develop their skills further, providing accessible solutions tailored to the teachers’ needs.

As schools, workplaces, and society become more diverse and respectful of people’s differences and individuality, teachers need to be aware and knowledgeable about cultural and personal needs and differences to support their students.

To foster a culture of belonging, it is important to have the right policies and administrative decisions in place. These policies will enable teachers and educators to make informed decisions quickly, prioritise diversity, equality and inclusion, and work towards creating an inclusive learning environment.

External support from friends and family can play a crucial role in encouraging student engagement and collaboration, by fostering an environment that encourages open communication and cooperation. Creating stronger networks and promoting a sense of community, friends, family and the larger community can help to support students’ social engagement and well-being. This can easily be achieved through network building, easily made accessible through online, digital platforms.

There is no doubt that experiencing a sense of belonging has a significant impact on students’ overall well-being and academic performance. It is essential that teachers and educators support their students and acknowledge the various obstacles and challenges they may encounter. Recognising technology’s potential to provide support and guidance to both students and teachers, enables educators to overcome these barriers by connecting with students regardless of their challenges, providing support and guidance which is accessible to all.

By Nicola Pearce, Head of Education at BenQ

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