This article discusses factors contributing to the belonging vulnerability of Black adolescents as well as educational policy considerations for providing Black adolescents with opportunities to belong at school. Scholarship at the intersection of educational psychology and teacher education provides cultural interpretations for why and how Black adolescents are vulnerable to issues of belonging when educators are not in their corner, and when curricula do not reflect their cultures. Policy recommendations include (a) strategic investments in principal preparation, (b) information and human resources to develop culturally relevant learning opportunities, and (c) substantive roles for students as school and community leaders who can help address structural causes of belonging vulnerability among this population.
With the aim of bridging research in educational psychology and teacher education, we designed a research-practice partnership to unpack the concept of relevance from a race-reimaged perspective. Specifically, we employed a mixed-methods sequential explanatory research design to examine associations between the communal learning opportunities afforded to Black and Latinx students, and their engagement patterns during STEM activities. Within a nine-week instructional unit we provided students six opportunities to rate their scholastic activities. High levels of behavioral engagement were sustained over the course of the instructional unit. On weeks when students rated the activities as higher in communal affordances, they also reported more behavioral engagement. Classroom observations facilitated our efforts to create state space grids that show when and how teachers used emancipatory pedagogies to support students’ learning. We used these state space grids, along with teacher interviews and student focus groups, to develop contextualized illustrations of two teachers of color as they successfully provided communal forms of motivational support over the span of six observations per teacher. These strategies differed based on three key factors: where the lesson was placed within the larger instructional unit, the way teachers interpreted and responded to their students’ engagement patterns, and how the demands of the larger school environment impacted classroom dynamics.
This article is guided by two goals: (a) to consider how race-based perspectives can serve as theoretical tools for investigating Black adolescents’ opportunities to belong at school, and (b) to describe cultural and political aspects of schooling that can support a sense of belongingness among Black adolescents. We discuss support for the belonging of Black adolescents in terms of interpersonal, instructional, and institutional opportunity structures. We provide a set of guiding questions for scholars seeking to advance educational psychology research at the intersection of race, belonging, and motivation. We end by describing specific research directions for an inclusive examination of school belonging, along with strategies to accomplish this goal.