Belonging is a fundamental human need, yet one in four students around the world do not feel a sense of belonging to their school, and numbers are steadily rising, according to Monash Educational and Developmental Psychologist Dr Kelly-Ann Allen.
A strong sense of belonging at school shapes students’ lives well into adulthood. For students who don’t feel a sense of belonging to their school, “The impact of this can be huge – not just on a student’s academic achievements, but on their overall wellbeing,” Dr Allen writes in TeachSpace, an online hub for teachers produced by Monash Education.
The importance of belonging
According to research, feeling belonging at school is linked to higher levels of emotional and physical wellbeing and better academic performance and achievement.
“It supports students through a particularly vulnerable time when they are forming their identity, developing psychosocial skills and being influenced by their peers,” says Dr Allen.
The effects of a lack of belonging
Students who feel they do not belong to their school are more likely to miss school, behave in ways that are not congruent with successful academic outcomes, leave school early, and are at greater risk of school-based violence.
“A low sense of attachment to school can increase the academic achievement gap, particularly for the most vulnerable students,” Dr Allen adds.
Helping students belong
Dr Allen acknowledges that there is no one strategy or intervention that fosters school belonging, and that there are limited opportunities for schools to access focused interventions.
“Schools should tackle belonging using a whole-school approach that incorporates a range of measures that help to build collaborative and inclusive communities for learning and belonging.”
These include encouraging positive relationships with teachers and school staff, creating a positive peer culture of belonging, valuing learning and involving parents.
Dr Allen encourages schools to invest in professional development for staff that equips them with the skills to be preventative and responsive when it comes to mental health.
“Proactive and preventative steps can be put in place before bigger problems emerge.”