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Header foto BMS 2

A safe learning environment starts with sense of belonging

Social safety is at the top of Radboud University's agenda. Recently, the Executive Board presented the plan of approach to social safety prevent - care - cure, which pays much attention to our educational culture and the creation of mutual trust. Explicit attention to a sense of belonging in education has a positive effect on a safe learning climate and on student well-being. University lecturer at the Radboud Teachers Academy Tamara van Woezik research sense of belonging together with colleagues Petrie van der Zanden and Paulien Meijer. She explains how we can be more aware of a sense of belonging in our teaching.

More than sense of belonging

'When we talk about sense of belonging, it is about a sense of connection with your surroundings. We often think of social connectedness and interpersonal contact, but it is also about other aspects such as being able to identify with a group, understanding the academic context and making the subject matter your own. 

Especially in the early stages of group formation, a teacher plays an important role in creating a sense of belonging. Norms and values are not yet made explicit and students are still exploring what a new course series (or programme) with new fellow students and new lecturers will bring them. In some cases, the campus and academic environment are completely new and students are also seeking in this. As a lecturer, you can create moments at this very stage when students feel at home. In doing so, you take an important step towards a learning climate in which students feel seen and understood and start to feel connected to you as a lecturer and the course. 

Research is increasingly focusing on the effect a sense of belonging has on study motivation and success. Being able to identify with the academic context and course content contributes to a sense of competence, motivation and study enjoyment.'

Contributing to a sense of belonging

Some tips to contribute positively to a sense of belonging

  • When getting acquainted, think about topics that are not only about social aspects, but also about interest in the field. For example, ask what students aim to study, what they are most interested in so far, or what themes of your field they find most interesting. 
  • See if you can tailor cases and examples to the student population in your course. For example, check whether you have (also) international students in your group, students who grew up in villages or cities, or students who want to develop in a way other than as academics. This way, students can identify with the subject matter and you create a connection from the subject matter. 
  • Guide students in becoming familiar with Brightspace and the campus. During coffee breaks, give tips on where to find the best coffee, or what is a good study spot to continue working after your lecture. A familiar learning environment makes students feel at home. 
  • By evaluating how studying is going and asking for feedback, you can make adjustments and adapt your teaching to what students need at that moment.

Special Interest Group on safe learning and development

Together with Ida Oosterheert, Sabine Oertelt-Prigione and others, Tamara van Woezik shapes the Special Interest Group (SIG) safe learning and development. Within this SIG, students, teachers and researchers exchange experiences on safe learning and development and build expertise together. In this way, the SIG works to raise awareness about a safe learning climate. Would you like to know more or participate? Then check out the SIG's webpage.

Read more:

Want to read more about sense of belonging and its effects? Educational and developmental psychologist Kelly-Ann Allen et al published a comprehensive review study on this in 2021. 

Belonging: a review of conceptual issues, an integrative framework, and directions for future research

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