Building Belonging

Building Belonging

Students feel a sense of belonging when their contributions matter

As the semester draws to a close, encourage communal reflection, appreciation, and gratitude through a variety of activities. Consider setting up Appreciation Stations in designated areas within the classroom or on online forums, where students can post notes of gratitude for their peers' contributions. For large classes, use online polling tools to create word clouds or virtual whiteboards for collective capturing of students' key takeaways. Create a choice board with multimodal options for students to reflect on their learning. Organize the class into smaller reflection circles to facilitate more intimate discussions about learning experiences, appreciation, and gratitude. For smaller classes, consider implementing silent shared writing activities, such as "chalk talks" on the board or index card chain notes. 

Students appreciate online course materials

Posting course materials online supports student learning and fosters belonging. By providing pre-posted presentation slides or "skeleton" lecture notes, instructors can help students focus on active listening during class, rather than frantically trying to keep up with note-taking. Recordings of class sessions, either through Echo or Zoom, provide a valuable resource for students to review content at their own pace and clarify unfamiliar terms or concepts, which can prevent them from falling behind. This reduces stress and anxiety, supports executive functions, and benefits all students including those with learning differences or English as an additional language. By making course materials easily accessible, instructors show commitment to equitable learning opportunities for all students. 

Deepen students’ sense of belonging

Regularly take the pulse of your classroom climate through brief check-ins, such as asking students to express how they are doing with emojis or hand gestures. Incorporate icebreaker activities that relate to course content and facilitate student interaction throughout the semester. Foster student involvement in knowledge creation: Have students individually respond to prompts, questions, or problems, either in class or as homework. Pair students to share and discuss their responses, then encourage volunteers to present their partner's insights to the entire class. See Wisdom of Another activity. 

Teach students about expanding their comfort zones for learning

Encountering new experiences, perspectives, and ideas can lead to emotional and/or cognitive dissonance. This may cause students to feel confused, anxious, defensive, angry, or simply uncomfortable and exhibit resistance. Help your students understand these reactions as a part of their learning and growth, for example, by introducing them to the model of expanding comfort zones. Margaret Wheatley’s brief essay Willing to Be Disturbed can be a good starting point to discuss with students how they can keep an open mind despite feeling discomfort. The College Transition Collaborative provides great resources for Ensuring Classroom Identity Safety and Addressing an Identity Threatening Incident.  

Mid-Semester Stress?

Mid-semester can be a stressful time for many students. Offer feedback and suggestions for improvement after quizzes, exams, longer writing assignments, or projects, either in-class or in the form of targeted group emails. Encourage students to come meet with you. Now is a good time to show students you value their well-being. Post a link to UMass wellbeing resources on your Moodle/Blackboard page or in an encouraging class email. If you are concerned about an individual student who is struggling, review the resources and referral request available through the Dean of Students Office.

You’re more than your office

Use office hours as a way to connect with your students. Students sometimes don’t know why they should go to office hours or what office hours really are for. Help them by reframing office hours in student-friendly language, such as “Meet-With-Me" or “Chat-with-Prof” hours. Offer a purpose for office hours – Welcome Sessions, Project Help, Chat about Careers, What’s next in your major. Promote office hours as times you can meet with individuals or small groups. And yes, offer office hours both in person and by Zoom. 

Using students’ names matters

Create a VoiceThread assignment on your Moodle/Blackboard site, asking students to introduce themselves with their preferred first name, last name, chosen pronouns (optional), and one thing they’d like to share with you and their classmates. Model this by posting your own 30-second video. Check SPIRE for preferred names and pronouns and review the Stonewall Center’s resources for students and faculty on the use of pronouns. On the first day of class, ask students to create name tents that they will use throughout the semester.

Inclusive Teaching Techniques

Below you will find brief teaching tips that faculty can easily adopt to support Diversity Equity and Inclusion in their classroom.