Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion
Education Opinion

Students Talk About What Makes School ‘My Place’

By Contributing Blogger — April 05, 2016 2 min read

This post is by Kathleen Cushman. Her most recent book, with WKCD colleague Barbara Cervone, is Belonging and Becoming: The Power of Social and Emotional Learning in High Schools (Harvard Education Press).

A few years ago, I asked a group of students in a new and uncertain environment -- a New York City public middle school -- to tell me what might have led them to think of their school as “my place.”

I was after some firsthand insight on what engenders the sense of belonging in a learning community -- which many researchers consider the sine qua non for all kinds of desirable personal and academic behaviors.

First, the students told me their “not belonging” stories. Some were classic middle-school nightmares. A boy remembered a rainy day when “some ignorant 8th graders came over, hit me, [and] tried taking away my umbrella.” A girl spoke of her shame in gym class, when she confused the rules of the game.

Others were nightmares that can recur through graduate school. “In the beginning of the year I didn’t raise my hand or anything,” said one girl. “That voice always comes into my head: Will I be able to do the work? . . . What happens if I get something wrong? I’m scared if I get one question wrong that everyone’s gonna laugh at me and that for some reason he’s gonna lower my grade ‘cause I don’t understand.”

And then they told me what turned the emotional tide.

“The teachers [here] will not give you a zero and they will not fail you, because they want to see you succeed,” said a seventh grader. “They really make sure that you’re doing the work and understanding the work, so you do much better than you were in the past.”

Another student said she had never volunteered an opinion in class, “because that was never important at my old school.” When she first tried it, the teacher’s response shocked her: “I didn’t add enough of my opinion!” Realizing that “they care what I think,” she said, helped her learn “to be more open with my opinions and my thoughts of different things.”



Safety ‘with the knowledge of others’

“My teachers would trust me to be the captain” in group work, ventured a boy with a retiring manner. “I’d have to help my group figure out what to do . . . not push them too hard, like being pushy, but actually helping them as well. So that made me feel more responsible for what I had to do. Because that’s what leaders do--they help when other people can’t do what they have to do.”

The same girl who had at first been afraid to raise her hand in class recalled her favorite class assignment: “to type up an essay, like your own personal draft of what you think this school is like. And I did that. I felt, like, important in this school, not just another student. And that made me feel very happy.”

And the boy who survived the attack of the umbrella bandits waxed philosophical one year later.

“The teachers and the students, they really do make you feel like it’s home. Everyone has a voice in my school . . . if we wanted to open our mind and do something, we can. The more you know, the better it is. And that’s how you create safety. With the knowledge of others.”

He summed up the academic effects of that social and emotional groundwork: “It made me feel like I could do so much more now. And I belonged here. This is my place.”

In my next post--through the words of older adolescents--we’ll hear about other structures and practices that support that crucial sense of belonging in school.

The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Human Resources Manager
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Communications Officer
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Hamilton County Department of Education
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read