Develop a Sense of Belonging

How can you develop a sense of belonging this year? As you prepare for students, families, faculty, and staff to return to campus, there is much to think about: maintaining health and safety, preparing facilities, gathering supplies, and so much more. When you welcome your community back to campus, remember an important part of your preparation: How will you develop a sense of belonging? 

Belonging, One of Our Basic Needs:

According to psychiatrist William Glasser, Belonging is one of our basic needs. He defines love and belonging as one of our essential psychological needs for seeking relationships, making connections, giving and receiving affection and feeling part of a group. Sebene Selassie, mindfulness expert and author of You Belong, describes belonging as coming from within a person and states that difference does not mean ‘not belonging.’ Selassie writes, “Difference” does not equal “not belonging,” but as many of us live farther away from our families and as we connect to multiple communities and cultures, our sense of belonging feels tenuous.” Belonging is internal work for individuals and as leaders, there is external work that we can do in communities to support that internal work. As you plan opening meetings, student and family welcome events, and new faculty/staff events, it is important to prioritize belonging as an intentional outcome as a way to invite difference into a community. 

Design for Belonging:

Here are some ways to intentionally design for Belonging:

  • Health and wellness of your stakeholders is valued: access to health care, healthful food options, opportunities for movement, mental health support
  • Names are important: learn correct pronunciations and the stories behind a name
  • Mentor programs that match new faculty/staff with returning members of the community
  • Buddy families for new families and students
  • Time within opening meetings for small group and pairs to interact on a collegial and social level
  • Make sure important information is easily accessible to all community members and no assumptions are made
  • Tours of the campus for new faculty/staff, students, and families
  • Systems to ensure everyone has what they need to access the school year on the same level: technology, transportation, lunch food programs, professional development, special programs(ex: after care for kids)
  • New faculty/staff check ins at regular intervals throughout the year with supervisor
  • Social events for new faculty/staff cohort throughout the year
  • Affinity group meetings to connect on similarities
  • Opportunities for gratitude, appreciation, connection, fun

Questions to Help Assess Your Design:

  • Are there opportunities for relationship building?
  • Are people making connections with each other?
  • Do people feel a part of a group?
  • Is there space for difference?

Prioritize Belonging:

The beginning of the new school year can bring on many feelings for the community: excitement, anxiety, curiosity, wonder, and more. When belonging is not prioritized, folks can feel overwhelmed, lost, unwelcomed, and even marginalized. When stakeholders enter or re-enter the community and there is an intentional design to create a sense of belonging, the experience can be very positive for the entire school. Selassie writes: “You are not separate, You never were. You never will be.” How will you prioritize belonging?