Belonging is a vital ingredient for learning and well-being. In every learning environment, students pick up on cues and signals that they use to assess whether and to what extent they belong. When these messages support students’ belonging, they can bring their full selves to school and devote their full attention and energy to learning. When these messages render the environment physically or emotionally unsafe, or cause students to question their belonging, their cognitive resources are diverted away from learning and towards monitoring or responding to threats in the environment.

In many cases, experiences of belonging or lack thereof are related to broader, underlying systems in our society that position certain groups, behaviors, and ways of being as superior or as the default along the lines of race and ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, language, class, indigeneity, or ability.

Structures for Belonging: A Research Synthesis

What do we know about creating and sustaining environments that support belonging for each student? To answer this question, Student Experience Research Network developed Structures for Belonging, a research synthesis that illuminates structures – or practices, policies, and norms – related to belonging in four overlapping categories: access to learning environments; relationships with educators, peers, and families; instructional resources and pedagogy; and system-level policies and practices. The synthesis discusses both K-12 and postsecondary educational contexts, and includes research from diverse academic disciplines including social psychology, cultural psychology, sociology, adolescent development, neuroscience, economics, and education.

Belonging Collective: Making Meaning of the Research Across Nine Education Organizations

Structures for Belonging is informing the work of Student Experience Research Network’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.