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Rebuilding Communities of Learning- The Real Catch-Up Part II

Part two of a blog by Nina Jackson on how to build belonging, connection and relationships. Click here for part one.

Strategy #5 – ‘How may I help you?’

We all have different behaviours and ways of communicating. Many (not all – calm down!) challenging behaviours are not a sign of disrespect but a coded message to try and tell you that something is not quite right in their world.

When learners want their needs met, some will have more challenging ways of getting your attention, and it may not always be the ways that you expect, want, or warrant in a learning environment.

Be patient. Try and find out ways that you can help them.

In my experience, so many attention-seeking behaviours are linked to communication, connection and belonging, even though they might seem the opposite!

Others may not demonstrate outward behaviours, but become withdrawn, perhaps simply putting their head down to show they may be tired or uncomfortable.

When a learner’s ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response is triggered, they may choose to disconnect from everything.

And, of course, it is fear that triggers this primitive response. That’s why asking, ‘How can I help you?’ can be a powerful response to behaviour issues.

Strategy #6 – Peer-to-peer relationships

As well as developing teacher relationships with pupils, it’s important to create harmony and a sense of respect and connectivity through effective peer relationships.

Children and young people will fluctuate between being kind and compassionate towards each other to being mean and unhelpful at times. Often, they are unaware of their actions and just follow their moods or feelings (like children do) and this can sometimes cause relationships to be strained in class.

Work on the value of individual respect and creating an environment which fosters positive friendships and relationships, starting with a ‘getting to know you’ phase.

Mix groups and partners so they get to learn each other’s learning preferences as well as methods of working. Remember, not all pupils will want to chat enthusiastically to each other or share personal information about themselves. Character building is needed. Explain and model what types of behaviours both you as a teacher and the pupils expect from each other. There will be times when you will need to lead by example through repetitive modelling, explaining why you are using these techniques so that the children and young people are aware what kindness, morality, ethical considerations, and a sense of belonging looks and feels like. 

Look at the character-building framework created by The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham. Embedding this as a whole school framework to enhance a sense of belonging is the ideal, but you can certainly work on many of the elements in your classroom. These include:

  • Leadership
  • Respect
  • Self-control
  • Resilience
  • Motivation
  • Self-Confidence
  • Social and Emotional Skills
  • Creativity
  • Initiative
  • Communication
  • Attitude

Not only does character education support academic attainment and achievement it also helps the learner understand their needs from an emotional and cognitive aspect.

One other thing - when developing great peer-to-peer relationships ensure there is a zero-tolerance approach to any form of discrimination. Build a ‘class family’ or ‘school family’ ethos to enhance the sense of belonging and respect and never make a pupil feel uncomfortable in front of the rest of the class, even if you need to respond to unpleasant behaviour. Talk to them privately, away from the other.

Remember, lead and model by example, always.

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Strategy #7 – Belonging through inclusion

We are all different and yet we are all the same. Through an inclusive learning experience every pupil should have access to a wide, diverse, and accessible range of tasks and experiences (remember the ‘Learning Buffet’ idea from part one of this blog).

Differentiation really is your magic bullet.

Whether it’s differentiation through language, visualisation, task, marking and feedback, activities, or application of emotional responses to the differing needs of every learner, make sure the choices and methods you offer are suitable for the needs of those in your classroom.  Not everyone will want, like or choose the same experience or opportunity you present them, therefore, thinking of differentiation and inclusion like that famous Learning Buffet will give them a sense of variety, curiosity as they try new things and the chance to stick to what they know and like (did someone say vol au vents?).

In doing so you are saying to each learner in your class, ‘I have thought about you and your preferences and needs.’

Dr. Jamaal Matthews, Associate Professor of Education Psychology at Monclair State University suggests we can create a sense of belonging by using what he calls the 4Hs:

HOME – Consider linking lessons to activities and interests they can engage in at home

HOBBIES – Choose and share examples of personal activities some of the learners may enjoy that are linked to various hobbies

HOPE – Focus on goals, interests, and aspirations.

HERITAGE – Connect lessons and learning to the learner’s traditions and heritage, giving them a sense of pride and ownership of their legacy as well as a sense of belonging.

Strategy #8 – Celebration in the classroom

Celebration comes in many forms and doesn’t have to be a trophy, an award, a formal celebration assembly or even a sticker.

A simple nod, thumbs up, or other simple acknowledgement can be a form of celebration for some. It shows that you recognise and respect them for what they have achieved or accomplished.

Do not underestimate the power of simple celebration techniques that can enhance a pupil’s sense of belonging in your classroom.

Words are powerful here too. They cost nothing except a little thought.

A note with a personal message is a celebration. A post card sent home to parents and carers is a celebration. Picking up the phone and speaking to someone at home just to let them know how great their child is – that’s such a powerful way of celebrating that child.

To rebuild our learning communities once again, catching up on belonging is the biggest challenge but the one that brings with it the biggest win.

I hope these strategies help you to move forward and make everyone feel safe, supported, valued and, yes, celebrated.

About the author

Nina Jackson

Nina Jackson

Nina is a teacher, writer and speaker very much in demand for her work in teaching and learning, SEND, creativity, learning technologies and, increasingly, well-being and emotional health for children and their teachers. She is the author of Of Teaching, Learning and Sherbet Lemons.

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