Sense of Belonging at School

Research has consistently found students’ sense of belonging at school to be linked with academic outcomes, psychological adjustment, well-being, identity formation, and mental and physical health. Perceptual data of this nature (e.g., student wellbeing, sense of belonging, and experience at school) has typically been collected from both students and parents through anonymous School Climate Surveys conducted every two years, results of which have informed various programs and activities to improve the learning environment within OCDSB schools. 

By examining what contributes to a students’ sense of belonging at school and how these influences may vary across identity groups, strategies can be targeted towards creating a more inclusive, safe and caring environment for all students. 

Key highlights from the analysis of data from the 2019-2020 Valuing Voices - Identity Matters! Student Survey revealed that:

  • sense of belonging at school tends to decline in adolescence; 
  • a sense of belonging at school may be experienced differently by students based on personal characteristics (i.e., how they identify, demographic characteristics). In the OCDSB, students who self-identified as First Nation, Metis, and/or Inuit reported a lower sense of school belonging , as 1 did students who identified their race as Indigenous, Latino, and Southeast Asian (7-12 only), those with a disability, and those from the gender diverse community; 
  • sense of school belonging is affected by a complex set of factors (e.g., personal characteristics, support from family, peers and teachers, the social and organizational culture at schools, and broader policies, norms and cultural values); 
  • respondents identified the following as being important for promoting a sense of belonging for them (or their child) at school: 
    • support from educators, parents/family, and peers (e.g., opportunities to talk to educators to get support and encouragement for their learning and well-being, support from other students in the school); 
    • social interactions/interpersonal experiences allow for greater recognition, acceptance, respect, collaboration, tolerance, and equity; 
    • learning experience (e.g., instructional practices in classrooms such as teaching methodology, content, learning material, and evaluation; parents of children in JK to grade 6 also identified “time in school” as an important element in transition and adjusting to the school environment);
    • relationships to promote a feeling of connection or similarity with someone (i.e., friends, peers, educators, or admin staff) at school based on a particular interest, background, or other trait; 
    • school staff (educators and support staff) are instrumental in creating an environment that promotes a positive sense of school belonging through communication, engagement, providing care, and creating a welcoming and inclusive learning environment in classrooms; and 
    • diversity and representation (i.e., presence of identity-based differences and uniqueness such as: ethnicity, religion, culture, tradition, race, gender, sexual orientation), including acknowledgement/recognition of, and respect for, various dimensions of one’s own identity (i.e., race, religion, gender identity, language etc.). 
    • Explore what respondents identified as being important to their (or their child's) sense of belonging through this interactive dashboard.

Read the full report to learn more about what we heard from students and parents, and next steps the OCDSB is taking to foster a more positive sense of belonging for students by:

  • building healthy student-teacher relationships;
  • creating opportunities for students to participate in group activities;
  • ·nurturing social and emotional competencies in students;
  • addressing inequities in systems, structures, policies and practices; and
  • celebrating and ensuring diversity and representation.
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