Academic journal article European Journal of Social & Behavioural Sciences, The

The Importance of Belonging for Adolescents in Secondary School Settings

Academic journal article European Journal of Social & Behavioural Sciences, The

The Importance of Belonging for Adolescents in Secondary School Settings

Article excerpt

1. Introduction There is a growing acceptance that belonging to groups, such as s chools, families, or communities, contributes to general health and wellbeing (Haslam, Jetten, Postmes, & Haslam, 2009; Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010; Jetten, Haslam, Haslam, & Branscombe, 2009). Additionally, not belonging has been shown to be a health risk equal to poor diet and lack of exercise (Holt -Lunstad, Smith, & Layton). It has been linked to psychological distress, mental illness, and even suicide (McMahon, Singh, Garner, & Benhorin, 2004; Shochet, Dadds, Ham, & Montague, 2006; Resnik et al., 1997). It has previously been argued that schools are important for building social networks and offer unique opportunities for belonging (O'Brien & Bowles, 2012). Health promotion and prevention have received some interest in schools (Hagerty, Lynch-Sauer, Patusky, Bouwsema, & Collier, 1992; West, Sweeting, & Leyland, 2004), but interventions concerned with fostering belonging have received far less, particularly when compared to the attention shown towards rudimentary measures of academic success. According to res earch (Centers for Dis eas e Control and Prevention, 2009; Wings pread, 2004), s chools could better s erve s tudents with interventions designed to foster belonging.

1.1 First, a Definition

The concept of belonging has been des cribed using a variety of terms: bonding, climate, territory, school attachment, school connectedness, and orientation towards school (Libbey, 2004). Libbey noted great variance in the way school belonging is described in the literature, but despite this, suggested consistent themes emerged, like "teacher supportiveness and caring, good friends, engagement in academic work, fair and effective discipline, and participation in extracurricular activities" (p. 274-283). The Wingspread Declaration of 2004 defines belonging in school as the students' belief that adults in their school care about their learning, have high expectations of them, and are interested in them as individuals. Positive relationships with teachers and feeling safe at school are also included. Finn (1993) des cribes s tudent engagement and Tajfel (1972) des cribes s ocial identity, while Ryan and Patrick (2001) des cribe the phys ical pres ence of teacher s upport, concepts that are not included in the Wings pread definition, or representative of belonging being a feeling, that is, a students' affective experiences of school (Libbey, 2007). Libbey's (2007) definition of school connectedness, "feeling close to, a part of, and happy at school; feeling that teachers care about students and treat them fairly; and feeling safe at school," is consistent with other theorists' description of a sense of belonging as an affect (Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Hagerty, Sauer, Patusky, Bouwesma & Collier, 1992), and will be used for our purposes. This definition is consistent with John Hattie's (2009) research, highlighting that s tudent-teacher relationships can create positive changes in students' lives. Alternative terminology, s uch as school connectedness will only be us ed in this paper if cons is tent with Libbey's (2007) definition.

1.2 Theoretical Underpinnings

According to Epstein (1992), Lee, (1973), Bowlby (1969), Cohen (1982), Putman and Robert (2000), and Fis ke (2004), belonging is one of our strongest motivations. Interactions of children and their parents form the foundation of the nature and quality of future relationships (Sroufe, Egeland, & Kreutzer, 2005). Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Model (1986) defines family as the first unit to which a child belongs, followed by layers of other groups that affect his or her psychological and social development (Bronfenbrenner 1979). He went on (1986; 1989) to define the multiple layers as microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. In school, Saab (2009) eloquently suggests that the microsystem contains informal social networks, friends, teachers, and peers, while the mesosystem is characterised by school resources and processes at an organisational level. …

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