5 Ways to Develop a Sense of Belonging in the Classroom

All children and young people need to feel as though they belong – whether that’s in a physical place, a community or with in the home. A sense of belonging is a human need which enables people to feel safe and accepted and through this open to new experiences, able to develop positive relationships and be curious and open to learning. 

Fostering a sense of belonging within the classroom needs to be a priority for all teachers. By doing so, learning and positive relationships can thrive. When our classroom community is open and collaborative, children feel safe to share ideas, confident to have a go and take a risk with their learning because failure is accepted as a part of that process and is supported. They can be curious and explore ask for help and know help will be given.

When children feel that the adults around them know them, what they like, if they have pets or support a specific football team then they feel seen and thought about. This sense of being understood fosters a relationship where they feel accepted which in turn leads to a greater sense of belonging.

Research has highlighted how a sense of belonging has been found to help protect children against mental health problems and improve their learning. Children who feel that they belong are happier; more relaxed, and have fewer behavioural problems. They are also more motivated and more successful learners. (Children’s views on well-being and what makes a happy life, UK: 2020 Office of National Statistics).

How Can Teachers Help Children Feel That They Belong?

There are many things that teachers and professionals working with children and young people we can do to create a sense of belonging.

1) Call Children By Their Preferred Names. Calling children by their preferred names is so important. Not only their name but also how they like to be known – are they a William or a Will a Kathleen or a Katie? By greeting pupils by their name instantly enables a child to settle and feel seen.

2) Get to Know Children's Interests. Getting to know a child’s interest and figuring out what they enjoy playing or doing outside of school as well as which ways they find learning things easiest. Lessons and activities can be structured around specific preferences and children will be keen to engage more effectively. Many dyslexics prefer watching things rather than reading, other children prefer to move and listen. By understanding, how children take in information then this can be accommodated and talked about in class. Let the children know what and how you like to learn, help them be curious about themselves as a learner. 

3) Routine. So many of our children and young people love to have a set routine and to know roughly what will be happening when. From coming into school and hanging their bag in a set place, to having break with their friends, knowing which teachers are away or lessons that have been changed – all of this creates a safe and secure feel to a young person’s day.

4) Adult Interaction. staff and parents can be excellent role models for children to learn from so it’s really helpful to think about how you respond to the children and young people around you. Adults can help to model social skills, which children will observe and grow to understand.

5) Sensitivity. Knowing children and understanding their characters allows adults to interact with them sensitively and ensure that they always feel safe and secure. Needs and emotions vary hugely between children so it’s useful to be as sensitive as possible with each individual. Know what to do when a child is overwhelmed – do they need to sit quietly with a book take a walk and get a drink, find a trusted member of staff? All of this shows that they are accepted but that not all behaviour is accepted but that you will help them manage.

Parents, staff and children are all integral parts of any school setting and a sense of community and so all have their part to play.

Positive relationships that are warm, caring and consistent help children feel safe and secure in their learning environment. By using these tips you will help build relationships with children in your class support their mental health and wellbeing. For those children who have experienced poor relationships this offers the opportunity to give them a difference experience a ‘disconfirming experience’ one that supports them believe in themselves and grow supporting and improving their learning journey.

Circles for Learning is a unique project that focuses on developing the five essential areas that lay positive foundations for mental health and wellbeing including emotional literacy, building positive relationships, how our brain effects our learning and behaviour, skills for learning and how our sense of self develops. 

Circles for Learning is backed by 10 years of development by leading Educational Psychotherapist and writer of the Teachers Mental Health and Wellbeing Toolkit, Alison Waterhouse. 

For further reading and insight from our guest blogger Alison Waterhouse, read 3 ways to teach social and emotional skills at school to support your students manage their mental health.

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