How to foster a sense of belonging among diverse and marginalized students?

How to foster a sense of belonging among diverse and marginalized students?

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Diversity in the Classroom

A simple greeting can make a significant difference. Teachers who take the time to smile and say “hello” to each student as they enter the classroom send a powerful message: “I care about you. I respect you. I value you.”

Understanding student’s sense of belonging

A student’s sense of belonging encompasses feelings of understanding, respect, closeness, membership, and significance. The classroom and school culture, as well as the actions of individuals within the school, influence students’ sense of belonging. In turn, students who feel like they belong in the classroom achieve better results and willingly embrace and excel in more challenging courses.

  • When students have a strong sense of belonging, they are more likely to engage in school organizations, pursue research opportunities, and establish meaningful relationships with peers, teachers, and staff. 
  • The contrary is also true—when students feel disconnected and lack a sense of belonging, they may become distracted and disengaged.

How to foster a sense of belonging among diverse and marginalized students?

Cultivating a sense of belonging and connection in the classroom is crucial for the success and well-being of both diverse and marginalized students.

Embracing Diversity

Diverse students bring a wide range of factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, ability, age, religious conviction, or political ideology. These differences contribute to unique experiences, strengths, and ideas within our classrooms. Embracing diversity means recognizing and incorporating these differences to enrich the learning environment.

Benefits of Diversity in the Classroom

A school community that values diversity and promotes the inclusion of diverse students fosters a safe, supportive, and purposeful environment for both students and staff. This enables students to thrive academically and socially. Connecting with peers, colleagues, and neighbours from various backgrounds and abilities is essential in today’s fragmented society. Diversity cultivates empathy, enhances critical thinking, improves academic outcomes, encourages unique perspectives, and creates a sense of belonging.

Also read: Best Science Gifts for Inquisitive Kids

What can teachers do to foster a sense of belonging among diverse students?

1. Utilize diverse learning and teaching materials: 

Expose students to a wide range of content that encompasses various perspectives, cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, languages, skills, socioeconomic backgrounds, and current events.

2. Encourage students to express different views:

Recognize that there are multiple viewpoints on how to approach a subject. Encourage students to explore different solutions, fostering an environment where everyone’s voice is heard and respected. This promotes participation and teaches students the value of collaboration even when opinions differ.

3. Get to know your students: 

Truly getting to know your students goes beyond learning their names. It involves understanding their backgrounds, cultures, and significant issues, as well as their socioeconomic situations and cultural practices. Building a personal connection with diverse students requires effort, but it positions you to support their diversity better.

4. Engage with the community and parents: 

Schools should reflect, celebrate, and honor the diversity within the community. Start by actively listening to parents’ questions and concerns, and respond accordingly. Invite local leaders from diverse backgrounds into the classroom, inspiring students with a range of role models for their future aspirations.

5. Recognise diversity and let diverse students celebrate inclusivity: 

Allow students to share their diverse experiences with their classmates, fostering respect, appreciation, and learning from one another’s differences. By creating opportunities for diverse students to participate in celebrations, you encourage a sense of belonging and strengthen the cultural fabric of the school

Also read: One Advocate Is Committed To Bringing Education To Marginalized Students In Khopoli

6. Understanding marginalized students and their needs

According to the Charter for Compassion, marginalized students are those who feel underserved, disregarded, ostracized, harassed, persecuted, or sidelined in their community. These students may identify as LGBTQA+, have disabilities, come from low-income backgrounds, or belong to racial or ethnic minority groups.

What Can Teachers Do to Foster a Sense of Belonging Among Marginalized Students?

Being kind is not enough. Teachers need to actively respect students’ identities in the classroom, providing an environment that meets their needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs highlights the importance of students feeling physically and psychologically safe before they can fully engage in learning and reach their potential.

1. Display inclusive visuals in the classroom

One simple yet powerful strategy is to fill the classroom with images and language that support the diverse identities of your students, particularly those who are marginalized. Visuals such as artwork, historical images, subject matter, and messages of support can personally resonate with students, fostering a sense of belonging.

2. Use supportive language

Words hold immense power. Your choice of language plays a significant role in cultivating students’ sense of belonging. Educate yourself about the various subgroups your students represent. Learn how to recognize and appropriately respond to stereotypes or prejudice imagery in student work. Familiarize yourself with their language and culture to communicate effectively.

3. Provide a culturally relevant curriculum

Leverage your curriculum to help students identify with the subjects they study by incorporating diverse personalities and works. Offer choices and varied prompts to boost student engagement and allow all students to make connections with the content. Avoid assuming that every student has a strong connection to a single idea, as it risks overlooking potential triggers.

4. Remove existing barriers

Instead of solely focusing on the students present in your classroom, consider those who are absent and identify any barriers that may hinder their access. Examine rules or procedures that unintentionally restrict students from certain opportunities. For example, the cost of materials or lab fees may pose a burden to some students. After recognizing potential barriers, devise an action plan supported by evidence and administration to effect change.

5. Creating a fully accessible classroom

Proactively ensuring that your classroom is accessible and inclusive for students with special needs sends a positive message to all students. Every student should feel comfortable and welcome. Your classroom can become a safe space by providing support and celebrating who they are.

Starting conversations about diversity and inclusion can be challenging, as diversity and marginalization manifest in various ways. However, schools are home to diverse students and staff, making it crucial to tap into those backgrounds to begin the process. Listen to the perspectives of those around you, seek feedback, and continuously strive to improve the sense of belonging among diverse and marginalized students. Change takes time, but the first step is to take action.

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