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A feeling that we belong in a place has a profound impact on our desire and ability to contribute to that community. This is especially true for a learning environment in an individual classroom, as well as within a major, discipline, and career path. Research at Purdue and beyond shows the need to create learning environments where students feel that they belong. Belonging also poses a challenge for many instructors, because it emphasizes the feeling and perspective of students over the individual actions we may engage in as teachers. Students’ sense of belonging comes from their past experiences, their individual goals and expectations, as well as both the specific actions that we take as instructors and the classroom environment that we help foster.

Because this is a complex topic, it may be helpful to think about what belonging looks like and means. At Purdue, belonging has been defined as: “the extent to which students agree that they are a member/part of and are valued/supported by the campus community, and that they are respected and can be themselves at Purdue University” (IDA+A). These same basic concepts apply to the classroom. When thinking about belonging in our teaching, we can ask whether students:

  • Feel like they are an important part of the classroom environment
  • Feel supported to succeed in the classroom environment
  • Are able to be themselves in the classroom environment and be respected for who they are

These concepts are all quite broad and underline the basis for much of the material that follows, but with that caveat, we can still share some practices that support each of these elements.

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