Key takeaways

  • Explore the layers contributing to the sense of belonging.
  • What shall we consider to unlock belonging's potential for every student?
  • What is your role in nurturing belonging and empowering students to shape inclusive spaces?

Where do students find their sense of belonging within the complex school reality?

We want to explore where students find their sense of belonging within the school environment. Our aim is to investigate the various layers that shape the experience of school belonging, including the spaces we create, the connections we cultivate, and the internal sentiments we harbor. This exploration seeks to reflect on how students actively contribute to shaping their sense of belonging as they navigate the micro realities embedded within classes, grades, clubs, and teams.

Belonging is an ongoing process that connects individual and social identities. At its core, we want to explore the aspects of the sense of belonging that we need to focus on to nurture it in our daily school life and our school communities.

We need to bridge the gap between the personal and the communal and move from the singular "me" to the collective "we." This requires acknowledging that belonging is not just a desire but a fundamental need that unlocks academic, social, and personal flourishing for every student.

Children having fun after school A multi ethnic group of elementary aged  students grade school stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Bricks, Bonds, and Beliefs: The Three Dimensions of Belonging

Think beyond desks and lockers – a school is more than just a physical space. It's a community made of social connections and individual experiences. So, where do students find their sense of belonging within this complex reality?

Perceived space, social space, and mental space collectively mold the school experience, illustrating that students are not passive inhabitants but contributors to the very creation of their educational milieu.

Belonging is a three-layered experience:

  1. The Space: While buildings and classrooms frame the school environment, students actively shape it; they breathe life into it. The resonance of their laughter in the hallway, the lively discussions in communal areas, and the displays of their artwork on the walls transform the school into a dynamic ecosystem. They don't just inhabit a space; they create it through their interactions and experiences.

  2. Connections with Others: Belonging isn't found in isolation. It thrives in the fertile ground of relationships. Whether it's the supportive bond with a teacher, the camaraderie of a soccer team, or the shared laughter with friends in a club, these connections translate into the starting point of a student's sense of belonging. It goes beyond mere group presence; it involves experiencing visibility, appreciation, and a sense of inclusion.

  3. The Feeling Within: This is the subjective layer where individual identities intersect with social groups. A student might belong deeply to their drama club (micro-reality) while still navigating their place within the wider school community (macro-reality). This complex interplay shapes their unique sense of belonging.

As students journey through the microrealities of their classes, grade years, clubs, and teams, they actively shape their sense of belonging. Belonging becomes an evolving process, a journey from individual microrealities to the broader macrorealities of the school community. This interplay between individual identity and social identity underscores the importance of relationships in defining and experiencing belonging. It's not merely about belonging to a school or community; it's about establishing and fostering connections with others, bridging the gap between the personal and the communal aspects of the personal and collective educational journey. 

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We were born to belong, and we have the right to

The human quest for belonging is innate and woven into the nature of our species. It goes beyond a desire; it is a fundamental need to be physically and emotionally secure, mentally stable, and authentically ourselves. In the school setting, belonging serves as a prerequisite for thriving academically, socially, and personally.

The intricate interplay of our brain, emotions, and thoughts is influenced by our sense of safety and connection. Feeling unsafe, marked by tension, fear of the other, lack of trust, and disconnection can lead to a cascade of negative consequences – from violence and depression to an overwhelming sense of danger. Conversely, a profound sense of belonging activates generative and creative energy, aligning our brains with our groups and imbuing our actions with purpose.

Not belonging leaves individuals vulnerable to violence, fear, a lack of respect and care, and a disconnection from a shared being and vision. To counteract this vulnerability, schools must prioritize cultivating a sense of belonging through shared aims, mutual responsibilities, critical thinking, perspective-taking, inclusion, empathy, respect, kindness, social engagement, and social responsibility. All skills that can be taught, learned, practised and mastered. 

Without belonging, individuals may feel like they are in an unknown place, lacking protection and care. Belonging forms the safety net guarding against the negative consequences of exclusion. In schools, belonging is the key to resolving behavioral issues, promoting academic success, and fostering a harmonious school community.

Drawing on the insights from a TED talk on the human need for belonging, child welfare veteran Amelia Franck Meyer emphasizes the profound impact of human connection. Disconnection from our tribe and feeling compelled to navigate life alone can have lasting and detrimental effects. 

Belonging is not just a luxury; it is a right. The notion of belonging as a right aligns with cultural citizenship, emphasizing active and effective participation in a group or nation while upholding one's cultural practices. It is the right to be different and to belong in a participatory democratic sense. 

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Belonging, a three-layered experience, emanates from the spaces students create, the connections they forge, and the internal sentiments they cultivate. As they journey through microrealities, shaping their unique sense of belonging, we are reminded that this process is not static; it is an evolving journey from individual microrealities to the broader macrorealities of the school community.

John Bowlby's assertion, "We were born to belong. Belonging is why we are here," highlights the innate and fundamental nature of belonging. It underscores that belonging is not just a desire but a fundamental need—an essential element that opens doors to academic, social, personal and shared growth

Call to Action

Educators, how will you address each layer to foster belonging in your school? What steps will you take to shape inclusive spaces, nurture meaningful connections, and intentionally participate in and include others in the feeling of belonging? As you embark on this journey, remember you are not merely fostering belonging but nurturing a sense of identity, purpose, and community. Let Bowlby's words resonate in your actions, for the right to belong is a powerful catalyst for transformative and harmonious educational communities.


Franck Meyer, A. (2023). The Human Need for Belonging | TEDxMinneapolis.


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Author: Paola Mileo

Posted: 09 Apr 2024

Estimated time to read: 9 mins

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