Boosting a sense of belonging within school organisations

Margaret L. Kern, Kelly Allen

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


Background: Schools represent organisations with multiple levels of influence, where students, teaching and non-teaching staff, leadership, and parents interact and impact upon one another, in ways that can be supportive or detrimental to wellbeing. A sense of belonging is a fundamental need. Belonging predicts academic and occupational success, good psycho¬logical and physical health, and positive social relationships. Despite a large literature on belonging, it is unclear which factors are most crucial for supporting a sense of belonging in students.
Aim: This systematic review aimed to identify the main factors that influence a sense of school belonging in secondary school settings, and to identify strategies that teachers and school leaders can take to foster a sense of care within the organisation.
Method: First, we systematically reviewed the literature to identify factors that correlate with school belonging. Themes could be clustered in demographic variables (e.g., gender, school type, school location, age, and race/ethnicity), individual factors (academic motivation, personal characteristics, emotional instability and mental health), social factors (peer support, teacher support, parent support), and environmental variables (e.g., perceptions of fairness, sense of safety). Second, we meta-analytically synthesised 51 studies, which included 67,378 students, comparing average effects for 10 themes. Finally, we considered empirically-supported strategies for boosting school belonging within each theme.
Results: Of the identified factors, teacher support and positive personal characteristics (e.g., conscientiousness, optimism, positive self-esteem) had the strongest impact on belonging. Positive characteristics had a greater impact on boosting belonging than the risk created by emotional distress. Proximal factors (i.e., individual and factors) had a greater impact on belonging than distal factors (i.e., environmental factors). Demographic factors (gender, race/ ethnicity) were only weakly related. A variety of strategies for supporting student be¬longing were identified.
Conclusions: This study identifies which factors are most relevant, as well as strategies that teachers and school leaders can utilise to foster a sense of belonging in students. Sup¬port by teachers or other caring adults in the organization is particularly important. Notably, belonging is relational in nature – strategies that cultivate better relationships between students and their teachers not only may boost the students’ sense of belonging but also help the teacher feel more connected to the organization and to their work. Findings may help facilitate the use of evidence-based practices to enhance a sense of belonging for all members of the educational organization.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes
EventEuropean Conference on Positive Psychology 2018: Positive Psychology for a Flourishing Europe in Times of Transitions - Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 27 Jun 201830 Jun 2018
Conference number: 9th


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Positive Psychology 2018
Abbreviated titleECPP 2018

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