Experiencing a sense of belonging is critically important to human development and is a great influencer for student success in school.
Belonging is a fundamental human need, and the absence of it can have detrimental effects on one's mental, physical, and emotional well-being. According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a sense of belonging is a crucial component of self-actualization, and without it, individuals may struggle to reach their full potential.
This week I participated in the Be You Virtual Conference along with DP - Students, Nadine Kelly, Head of Boarding, Stacey McCarthy and over 1,000 fellow educators across Australia. The theme for this year’s conference is Building Capacity to Thrive to emphasise the importance a sense of belonging is in schools in order for students to thrive.
Be You is a national initiative, led by Beyond Blue, that supports educators to develop a positive, inclusive and resilient learning community in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people from birth to 18 years of age. Be You provides online professional learning, fact sheets, access to tools, resources and specialist Be You Consultants and is freely available to educators across Australia.
The conference’s opening address featured Beyond Blue’s Chair, The Hon Julia Gillard AC, who shared her personal insights into what "thriving" means to her. She emphasized the importance of holding firm to one's values and setting boundaries. She spoke of the importance discipline and resilience has on mindset and wellbeing, and that thriving isn’t about building individual resilience but creating a culture that embraces diversity. She also advocated for government and reform in the educational system to prioritise the mental health and well-being of staff and students. She highlighted the ongoing advocacy Be You is doing for educators, whether pre-service or experienced staff, to prioritise the well-being of themselves and students. Julia concluded her address by saying “when we have purpose and meaning in our lives, we have the ability to flourish.”
One particular keynote address that resonated strongly with me was by Dr Kelly-Ann Allen, an Associate Professor and educational and developmental psychologist at Monash University. Dr Allen combined her expertise as practitioner with her academic research interests in the area of belonging and social inclusion to talk about the critical importance of belonging in human development in schools. She stated that belonging is a fundamental human need and relationships are crucial to our happiness and well-being starting from the early stages of life.
When students feel a sense of belonging in schools, the benefits are substantial. They have fewer mental health concerns, are more socially competent, and actively engage in the community, leading to long-term outcomes in adulthood. They also visit the doctor less and have fewer long-term health issues. In terms of their school experience, they are more academically motivated, and this can predict ongoing education after completing school, as well as having lower dropout rates, improved behaviour, and fewer instances of poor attendance.
A meta-analysis on factors affecting feelings of belonging in school revealed that teacher support contributed the most to students experiencing a sense of belonging. This data supports what we firmly believe in here at Rockhampton Girls Grammar School and the importance of fostering a unique culture of personalised care and how this affects students’ feelings of belonging.
We achieve this through our school wide pastoral care program, houses and sisters meetings, camps, events and cocurricular activities where each individual is valued and relationships strengthened. Our safe and secure environment for students from Prep through to Year 12 is an essential component to building a strong sense of belonging, and we are especially proud of the strong student-teacher relationships developed at Girls Grammar.
Overall, the Be You Virtual Conference – Building Capacity to Thrive emphasized the critical importance of belonging in human development and in schools. By prioritising the mental health and well-being of students and creating a culture that embraces diversity and relationships like we have here at Girls Grammar, we are creating a supportive environment where all students can thrive. To find out more about Be You visit https://beyou.edu.au/.