Activities to Increase the Sense of Belonging in Middle School

Peer mentoring programs help students build relationships with one another and their school.
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According to Mitchell Beck and James Malley in "A Pedagogy of Belonging," feeling connected to a school environment is critical to academic and social success for middle school children. When students feel at home in a school and have strong relationships with peers and teachers, they feel more confident and positive about their own individual success. Activities that build community and academic engagement help students thrive and feel excited about going to school. These initiatives should include cooperative learning strategies in the classroom and out-of-class experiences that encourage social and interpersonal interaction.

1 Building Peer Identity

A middle school environment may seem daunting to students. Creating small identity groups is one way to cultivate togetherness. Forming small groups of students that engage in friendly competition can create school spirit, excitement for going to school and the opportunity to meet others. These groups can function as teams with their own unique identity. Student driven but teacher led, small groups can go to school events together, play games outside and have a peer group that knows them. They can even pick a color or logo that represents them. Adapted from a street gang concept but controlled by the school, small social groups entice middle school students to feel connected and valued in their school.

2 Learning Together

The classroom is a powerful tool for building excitement about school. It also serves as a potential deterrent to students who feel unsuccessful. Providing opportunities for students to work together with peers supports a feeling of school connectivity. Student study groups, peer tutoring and collaborative class projects are activities that foster school engagement. These activities can happen in and out of the classroom. For example, students who are encouraged to work together on a science project could continue their interaction in an after school study group to prepare for an exam.

3 Building Respect

Student-driven class rules are an important step in establishing structure and an understanding of mutual expectations. Creating these rules is a great activity that students can work together on in the classroom or in after-school activities. Middle school students play a critical role in their own feeling of belonging in school. Bullying and negative behavior can create a hostile learning environment. Anti-bullying campaigns are a positive way to build an inviting civil environment for students and make school seem safe and inclusive. Planning a school assembly to teach about bullying and to honor students who have been instrumental in serving as leaders sets the tone for behavioral expectations.

4 Cultivating Relationships

Building relationships between students and teachers adds to a sense of belonging to the school environment. After-school events allow students, parents and teachers to interact, and they provide opportunities to build deeper interpersonal connections. For example, an open house or school potluck encourages the school community to build relationships and to become connected in an informal way. Similarly, students who get involved in extracurricular activities are able to interact with teachers in a nonacademic setting.

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.