Creating a sense of belonging in your classroom (Teaching Tip)

Can you think of a recent time when you felt like you truly belonged? That your presence was necessary and that you felt seen, valued, and appreciated? A sense of belonging is a universal characteristic and a basic human need (Maslow, 1962). In his terrific book College student’s sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students, author Terrell Strayhorn tells the story of sharing an elevator with a young man gasping, out of breath. When asked, “where are you rushing off to,” the student replied:

“I’m off to class…and we can’t be late for THIS class…..THIS professor told us at the beginning of the term that we can’t be late…he really needs us there every day. He said he can’t teach without us. And if you’re not there, he contacts you by phone or email to find out what happened. He called me once when I was out and told me he missed me, that class really wasn’t the same without my perspective. He always says that he has a lot to teach us, but it won’t matter much if we’re not in class. He does a lot of discussion, debate, and stuff…and you can’t really do that without students (laughing). If I’m late or not there, I’ll feel like I’m letting him down, you know.”

What if every student felt like they truly belong at Iowa State University? That being in class mattered to themselves, to their fellow students, and to the instructor. While you may not be able to learn every student’s name in your class, (particularly if you have a very large number of students), there are strategies that you can employ that help students feel like they belong.
Ensure class materials are available and ready to interact with on the first day of the semester.
Arrive to class a few minutes early, engage students in conversation and greet students as they enter the classroom.
Set clear expectations within your face-to-face and online portions of your class. Tell students what they can expect and how they can interact within those expectations to thrive in your classroom.
Let your students know how to contact you and when. For example, communicate or provide student hours (also called office hours), availability for email, and expectations of when you will reply (within 48 hours, not after 8pm etc). If you are traveling during the semester, explain the dates that you will not be available.
Describe how course grades are accumulated. Do you have grading policies and/or rubrics or criteria for grading? Ensure your grades are up to date and not a mystery to students.
Smile. Just the simple act of smiling can lead you to feel actual happiness, joy, and amusement and help others feel welcome in the classroom.
We have a fantastic opportunity to help create conditions that foster belongingness among all students. If you, yourself, are looking for a place to belong, come check out all of the CELT Programming for the spring semester.

With a joy for teaching,

Sara Marcketti, Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Reference: Strayhorn, T. L. (2019). College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students (2nd ed.). NY, NY: Routledge.

Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Creating a sense of belonging in your classroom (January 9, 2020 – Constant Contact) website.

Prefer a Print version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the CELT Teaching Tip for January 9, 2020 (PDF)