Student Experience Research Network Blog

In March, Student Experience Research Network (SERN) released a research synthesis that investigates what it means to create learning environments to which students want to belong and in which practices, policies, and norms work together to support their belonging.

The synthesis draws on research from diverse academic disciplines and methods about both K-12 and postsecondary educational contexts. Importantly, it documents our understanding of belonging as structural, in that practices, policies, and norms in learning environments can systematically support or undermine students’ belonging, often along the lines of race and ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, language, class, indigeneity, or ability.

Compiling insights across individual studies – in other words, considering the implications of a body of research holistically – is one important way in which SERN supports the application of academic research in the education system. We also create opportunities for education influencer and intermediary organizations to make meaning of research for their specific context and to surface new questions and insights.

To that end, the synthesis Structures for Belonging is informing the work of SERN’s Belonging Collective, comprised of leaders at Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity, Center for Educational Leadership, City Year, EL Education, Equal Opportunity Schools, Leading Educators, Teach for America, TNTP, and Zearn. These organizations, which span K-12 school and district support, educator preparation and professional learning, and curriculum, are working together to share knowledge and co-construct resources that operationalize the synthesized research.

At a kick-off event, members of the Belonging Collective established three work streams to pursue this summer:

  • Developing an accessible and engaging presentation that can be adapted for use in a range of professional learning contexts. The presentation will summarize the research on belonging-supportive learning environments, provide examples of what belonging-supportive learning environments look like in practice, and compile links to existing resources for applying belonging research.
  • Compiling a set of publicly available tools for measuring belonging and the structures and cues that shape belonging. The landscape review will catalogue the extent to which each tool is useful for different purposes or contexts and will identify relevant gaps in currently available tools.
  • Creating a forum in which participating organizations give and receive feedback on their internal research agendas and processes. Through a series of meetings, the organizations will grow their understanding of each other’s internal learnings related to studying belonging and student experience and will have opportunities to collaborate and problem-solve.

These projects will build capacity within the participating organizations to support educators, teacher educators, coaches, and administrators in creating belonging-supportive spaces and better understanding students’ experiences related to belonging.

Additionally, as we build skills and develop knowledge together, the collective will be positioned to disseminate and reinforce key messages and insights about belonging-supportive environments throughout the field, including insights that can spark future research. SERN looks forward to continuing to learn from and with these valued partners.

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