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Blogs We are Reading – A Sense of Belonging and Improving American Education

By Dylan Maggio, Extended Day Program Manager

Strategies To Foster A Sense of Belonging In Your Classroom

In an article for Mindshift, Katrina Schwartz wrote about the importance of students feeling respected and a sense of belonging at school. She argues that students can only be truly successful at school when they first feel that they belong, and that the teacher has created an environment where everyone can contribute and be heard. Schwartz goes on to share good examples of teachers building this type of environment. The unifying factor between the examples, is that successful teachers set classroom norms and expectations early on, and stick to those norms. Classroom expectations are particularly powerful, she argues, if you allow the kids to help create them. Paramount amount classroom norms should be respect and consideration for all voices. Setting a positive classroom environment early on fosters, creativity and contribution for all students, whereas if children feel alienated, Schwartz argues, they will shrink into the shadows.

I particularly like this article, and completely agree with the author’s thesis. I have worked in classroom environments where specific students felt alienated due to the structure and limitations of the class/school structure, and they tended to be completely alienated. There are basic things that children need first before they can be successful students. A feeling of belonging and comfort in the classroom is towards the front of that list. I remember that if I felt like I was going to be laughed at or judged for asking a question in school, I simply would remain quiet. When students don’t feel comfortable or confident in the classroom, they simply won’t contribute, and if student don’t contribute, they could be silently struggling and may not find the confidence necessary without classroom norms. UCDS does an excellent job of having the students help create the rules and expectations, which gives them ownership over their environment, and makes the classroom a more community focused and comfortable space for them all.

What Students Are Saying About How to Improve American Education

This article from The New York Times takes a look at a survey from The Learning Network, where they asked students how to improve their education, and the American education system in general. Recent studies show that performance of American students in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, and that two-thirds of students are not proficient readers. Concerning as well, this study found that the achievement gap between high and low performers is widening. The article shares the most common responses from students across the country. The main responses that particularly resonated with me are that we should: prepare students for real life, make learning more engaging, eliminate standardized tests, and de-emphasize grades.

I chose this blog specifically because here at UCDS, we constantly try to work with the students to figure out ways to make education more effective for them. I thought that the responses from students to the prompt are very telling, and make perfect sense. The reality is, we should be listening to student feedback when we consider how to reform educational approaches. If the way that we are educating kids doesn’t work for them, then it shouldn’t be good enough for us as educators either. The statistics show that American education is generally failing to prepare students for their futures. No educational change or solution is simple, and many factors are tied together, but we should make an effort as an educational community to praise those doing excellent work, and give assistance to teachers and schools who don’t have enough resources. I am a strong believer that kids are smart enough to know what they need, and I think we should shape their education based around their feedback.