It’s been a few months since children have returned to school, but an estimated 30-50% of students still feel a lack of connection between them and the school after two years of remote learning.
In her latest research, Kelly-Ann Allen, an educational and developmental psychologist at Monash University, asked students what teachers should do to create a sense of belonging and identified six action points.
“The last two years of COVID-19 restrictions – where children had a mix of school and home-based learning – has impacted their sense of belonging,” Allen said. “But in the face of ongoing uncertainty, what do students suggest to help them feel a part of school?”
Having that sense of belonging is crucial for children as it motivates better academic performance and prevents the opposite scenario from developing into a mental health problem.
Of the students surveyed, 87% of them said teachers could be more approachable and understanding by taking a genuine interest in their wellbeing; 36% said teachers could offer progress checks and constructive feedback to help them reach their full potential; 25% said teachers could promote respect, equity and diversity in the classroom to cultivate a safe space; and 19% said teachers could provide encouragement and opportunities to recognise their academic growth.
Students also expect teachers to help them connect with peers through facilitated interactions to overcome the “awkward stage” after a long period of not seeing each other in person. Doing so allows the teacher to prevent social exclusion within her control.
Lastly, students said teachers could encourage them to participate in extra-curricular activities to socialise and bond with more peers. This sense of belonging is likely to extend beyond the classroom and spill over to the entire school.
Aside from these small but significant steps, Allen noted the importance of looking at the broader picture when it comes to ensuring a comfortable environment for all.
“While the six steps above can be implemented daily, more long-term strategies can be constructed to ensure students’ sense of belonging continues long into the future,” Allen said. “A school-wide vision and a mission statement that prioritises school belonging can be established. The school can create policies and procedures to ensure a positive, safe, nurturing, and inclusive environment. It can empower students to make choices and ensure their voices are heard.”