Student Well-Being

Students’ Sense of Belonging: What the Research Says

By Evie Blad — June 20, 2017 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Students pick up signals from their schools and peers about whether or not they belong, perceptions that can affect their success both inside and outside the classroom, a growing body of research finds. Here’s a sample of research findings.

How does a sense of belonging change student discipline?

When students sense that their teachers respect them, they trust them more and, consequently, misbehave less, Stanford researchers found.

In a 2016 study, the researchers found that students whose teachers participated in training about the importance of empathy in the classroom were half as likely to be suspended by the end of the school year than students whose teachers had not participated.

The experiment had stronger effects for students—largely black and Latino boys—who had been suspended in the previous year.

What happens when students see unfairness at school?

Students who perceive inconsistent treatment for their racial or ethnic group may respond with defiance and misbehavior, researchers found in a study published in February.

Researchers from the University of Texas, Yale University, and Stanford University surveyed middle school students about trust and fairness at school. They found black and white students had similar responses on the trust survey at the start of 6th grade, but a “trust gap” developed by the spring of 7th grade, when black students’ average score dropped to its lowest point in middle school.

A lack of trust in school correlated with higher subsequent discipline rates and a lower likelihood of later enrollment in a four-year university.

How does belonging affect academic engagement?

Students who are underrepresented in a school setting or who are part of a group that is subject to negative stereotypes may respond differently to failure or criticism from a teacher, psychologists say.

Those students may see such experiences as confirmation that they are less capable than their peers. Schools can counteract those effects by discussing how to learn from failure and by encouraging teachers to be “warm demanders” who set high expectations for students and encourage their potential, psychologists say.

Researchers from Stanford University have found that students whose teachers attached a note to the first draft of their essays that said, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them,” were more likely to revise that essay than students in a control group who received a note that said, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” And the effects were stronger for black students.

How does a “cultural mismatch” affect students?

Students who come from cultural backgrounds that emphasize interdependence and community may struggle in environments that view success as an individual endeavor, studies have concluded.

In a 2012 study, researchers from universities including Northwestern University, the University of Washington, and Stanford found that first-generation college students from largely working-class backgrounds performed better academically after participating in an exercise that emphasized the value of community at their college or university.


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.
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
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.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion ‘The Timing Is Critical’: How Schools Can Help Refugee Students
Two clinical psychologists suggest several low-cost and effective interventions to help welcome refugee and immigrant families.
Jeffrey P. Winer & Luna A. Mulder
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of a garden growing from adversity
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Student Well-Being Half of School Nurses Report Being Harassed, Threatened
The past few years have been tough for school nurses for a few different reasons.
2 min read
Missy Gendron RN, Lewiston High School nurse, unpacks pooled COVID-19 testing materials on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, at Lewiston High School in Lewiston, Maine. Gendron is going to be doing a walk through with staff next week. Classroom pooled testing is planned for the week following. Consent for COVID-19 pooled testing is being collected from parents now.
Missy Gendron, a nurse at Lewiston High School in Maine, unpacks COVID-19 testing materials in September 2021.
Andree Kehn/Sun Journal via AP
Student Well-Being School Sports Participation Drops, Raising Concern About 'Physical Learning Loss'
But interest in e-sports and inclusive teams is rising.
5 min read
The Michigan City High School Girls Varsity Basketball team hosted a Future Wolves basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls on Saturday, March 5, 2022 at the high school.
The varsity girls basketball team at Michigan City High School in Michigan City, Ind., hosted a basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls last spring.
Kelley Smith/The News Dispatch via AP
Student Well-Being Biden's National Strategy on Hunger: What It Means for Schools
The administration seeks more access to free school meals and nutritious foods. But a universal free meals bill is stalled in Congress.
4 min read
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, at the Ronald Reagan Building, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in Washington on Sept. 28.
Evan Vucci/AP