How do you create a sense of belonging in your classroom?

If your campus is anything like mine, students are struggling. Many students, especially those from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, face ongoing achievement gaps and report a less than favorable campus climate. What if there were a cost-effective, easily implemented, and valid way that we, as individual instructors, could increase students’ achievement and reduce educational inequalities? Would you implement it?

The good news is that such a solution exists. Social psychologist Aneeta Rattan and her colleagues have drawn from robust educational research and made policy recommendations to do just that. They suggest that when students have a growth mindset and a belonging mindset educational outcomes improve, achievement gaps narrow, and more students report a sense of belonging.

Growth mindsets: For decades, Carol Dweck has championed the well-documented benefits of nurturing growth mindsets in students. In this case, a growth mindset refers to a belief that intelligence can be developed with effort and strategy, as opposed to a fixed mindset – believing that intelligence is innate and doesn’t change much. Because students with a growth mindset believe that their intelligence can grow, they engage in behaviors that promote learning and achievement. I’ve written about how to encourage growth mindsets in an earlier post: https://bestpracticeslegaled.albanylawblogs.org/2017/06/07/intelligence-is-it-stagnant-or-malleable-exploring-formative-assessment/

Belonging mindsets: When students feel they belong in an educational environment, they perform better and are less likely to drop out of a program. This is particularly true for underrepresented students who, by virtue of being different, often feel they don’t belong.

When negative stereotypes exist, members of the stereotyped group worry about whether they fit in, whether they will succeed in law school, and whether the legal profession is for them. These worries can deplete students’ cognitive resources, zapping them of their motivation and their ability to bounce back from setbacks. Because learning depends on motivation, students without a sense of belonging fall behind.

That’s why educators must be in tune with the kind of environment they create. Do you work to encourage belonging mindsets? If so, what do you do? I’d love to hear your ideas and learn from your methods. If you haven’t spent much time yet thinking about how to foster belonging in your classroom, check out this short web course developed by researchers from Stanford University: https://www.mindsetkit.org/belonging

I also recommend reading: Leveraging Mindsets to Promote Academic Achievement: Policy Recommendations in Perspectives on Psychological Science (Aneeta Rattan, Krishna Savani, Dolly Chugh, and Carol S. Dweck 2015).

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