Building Belonging in Youth-Serving Spaces
As we face the daily ups and downs of our lives, we all desire a place where we can be ourselves—where we can be named, known, noticed, and heard. We all need spaces where we can test our limits, celebrate our successes, and persevere through our challenges. As a youth-serving professional, you have the power to create these spaces for the young people in your care.
When young people feel a sense of belonging, they are empowered to grow and reach their full potential. Focusing on connection is the first step in creating spaces where young people feel belonging and membership. In this month’s blog, we offer three of our favorite tips—gathered from educators around the world—for cultivating connection and making belonging a priority in your classroom this year!
1. Create a unique identity for your class each year. With input from your students, select a group name that represents the unique talents, strengths, energy, and spirit of the class. Once you choose a name, consider recruiting the artists in your group to design a logo that you can display in the room and beyond. Provide students with a copy of the logo for their desks, lockers, or backpacks as a symbol of belonging. Educators with musicians or cheerleaders in the group might also develop a class cheer or song to add a celebratory tune, showcase unity, and signify belonging.
2. Use a simple language swap. When a student is absent from your class, instead of asking, “Where were you yesterday?” try, “We missed you yesterday!” A simple change in wording reminds students that they belong, that they are known, noticed, and missed when they are not around. Modeling this language sends a message of membership to all students in the class.
3. Greet with a name and a game. Naming and knowing starts with an effort to say every student’s name within the first five minutes of gathering. In addition to using every student’s name, consider a creative greeting game to spark an immediate connection with students as they enter the classroom. We spoke to one educator who launched a year-long Rock Paper Scissors competition with each student. This educator greets students at the door every morning and plays one round of Rock Paper Scissors with each student as they enter. Students keep track of who won and tally the scores each day before the start
of class. Greeting students by name and playing a quick game takes only a few minutes and welcomes students as members of that space.
How do you create a sense of belonging and membership in your work with young people? We’d love to hear from you! Email us your best tips and tricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.