Our Theory of Action: What Do We Really Mean by BELONGING?
If we foster learner centered environments and pedagogy, then learners will possess an increasing sense of belonging and be motivated to learn.
There are two levels to the work that we are engaging in around BELONGING:
- Belonging to the School: A strong sense of belonging to the learning environment is critical to ensure that all learners are “available to learn”- that school needs are being addressed. Much of this work is done at a Universal Level (good for all) which includes important school culture work; engaging in celebrations that include the whole family, programs that encourage and reinforce positive behaviour, ensuring that our students see their culture reflected in the school, and the overall tone of our schools (how we interact with the learners). This work is foundational to a positive school culture in which all feel a sense of belonging. We always need to remember that “When students believe that they are valued for their perspectives and respected, they begin to develop a sense of ownership and attachment to the organization in which they are involved” (Mitra 2009). This is belonging to the school and is represented by the Theory of Action focus area Foundational Principles to be Developed in the Environment which can be located at the center of our Theory of Action graphic below.
- This level of belonging is much more difficult to achieve. In a student-centered learning environment, students feel a strong sense of belonging in the learning as these environments allow for students to influence the content, activities and the pace of the learning. Learners see their place at the center of this environment; they “own” their learning as they are active participants who understand the relevance (the “why”) and have some control over this learning. By doing this, students feel increasingly engaged, and thus motivation and perseverance result. The culture of the academic setting ensures that “students’ sense of being accepted, valued, included, and encouraged by others (teacher and peers)… and of feeling oneself to be an important part of the life and activity of the class. More than simple perceived liking or warmth, it also involves support and respect for personal autonomy and for the student as an individual” (Goodenow, 1993 in “Sense of Belonging Background Literature”, online https://www.google.ca/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=the%20importance%20of%20transitions%20on%20a%20sense%20of%20belonging, pg 3). When students have a strong sense of belonging to the learning, their well-being increases. This “Belonging to the Learning” work is represented by the Foundational Principles to the Developed in the Learner, the Assessment for/as Learning, and Our Conditions for Learning on the Theory of Action graphic above…these are three three focus areas that together constitute Student Centered Learning and Pedagogy.
Creating a strong sense of belonging is a key goal for our school and board improvement work, leading us into 2018. To achieve this goal, we must have a common understanding of what successful attainment of our target looks like and sounds like, for students and for staff. Ask yourself, if we achieve this goal, what will our students and staff know and be doing differently as the result? Post your thinking to the following Google Doc, so that collectively, we can create our success criteria. https://goo.gl/TLwgsy
For more of my thinking on this topic, visit https://nmordencormier.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/our-urgent-need-belonging/ and post your thoughts!