Belonging in school...Belonging in the World

Good schools aren’t just places of learning; they should also be places where meaning and human connections are formed. Without question, schools must ensure that students are learning academic knowledge that will enable them to better understand and engage with the world around them. But schools must also empower students to live enriched, fulfilling lives, where they feel secure and able to flourish. Becoming emotionally aware and resilient isn’t just something that happens incidentally to being at school; schools themselves, nurture these capacities.

And the science proves it. According to research by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students who feel connected to their schools, on average, grow up with better mental health and with healthier behaviours. The study shows that students who feel connected to their schools grow up to be adults who are less than half as likely to abuse drugs, be diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases, or be victims of domestic violence. They are also far less likely to experience emotional distress or suicidal thoughts.

As a teacher, I feel instinctively the difference in energy between a class full of students who feel a sense of belonging to where they are at, versus a class of students with a loose connection to their surroundings. Students who have a sense of belonging, in my experience, are more enthusiastic about learning; see more value in improving themselves in the context of their schooling; feel happier and build stronger connections whilst at school. In essence, they have a better sense of themselves and how they fit into the world around them. Research published by Ryan and Deci in ​Contemporary Educational Psychology also suggests that students are more likely to develop motivation for their schooling if they feel a sense of belonging. It seems abundantly clear to me that schools must focus on developing a sense within students that they are connected to their school community.

This is part of why Global Village School’s pedagogical model seems so desirable for me. Our vision is to create a school that emphasises students not just as atomised individuals, a set of fees and a score on a bell curve in year 12, but as members of a local and global. Young people who learn together, reflect together, and grow together. The term ‘school community’ is nothing more than a cliché unless the school sees it as something to be actively built, through prolonged exposure to stable and genuine relationships and positive associations with place. Our model sees students working with one class and one main teacher per year rather than learning alongside hundreds of peers and multiples teachers a day. Regular outdoor education experiences is another key strategy for building the sense of ‘we’re in this together’. Finally, families and carers will also enrol in our school, attending portfolio presentations of their children each term and providing feedback and mentoring in partnership with teachers.

Obviously, other factors must be accounted for in what makes a successful school. For us, however, this sense of a school being a village is absolutely essential.

This is what a group of adolescents getting to know each other at Global Village School looks like...