We Belong in School  Interventions to Promote Social Belonging
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We Belong in School Interventions to Promote Social Belonging

Shannon Davidson: Good afternoon, everyone, thank you very much for joining us today. We’re going to go ahead and get started. This webinar is brought to you by REL Northwest, the Regional Educational Laboratory at Education Northwest and is titled We Belong in School: Interventions to Promote Social Belonging for Educational Equity and Student Success. Before we get started I like to show you a couple of tips for navigating our WebEx interface. On the right hand side of your screen you’ll see a drop down menu with both a chat window and a Q&A window. We invite you to use these features throughout the presentation. If you’d like to make a comments please do so in the chat window and you can decide who you would like to see your comment by using the drop-down menu in the send to field. If you have a question that you would like to submit for our Q&A section at the end, please do so in the Q&A window. First, I’d like to tell you just a little bit about REL Northwest. We are one of ten regional educational laboratories funded by the US Department of Education. We are based at Education Northwest, a private non-profit educational research organization, in Portland, Oregon. We work with five states to support schools, districts, and state policymakers with the needs they are facing. As you can see from our map, our five states Alaska,Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. My name is Shannon Davidson and I’m a researcher here at Education Northwest with a special focus on topics related to social and emotional learning. I’ll be collecting your questions through the online chat platform throughout the webinar and I’ll facilitate the question and answer section after our two speakers have concluded. Our first speaker is my colleague Dr. Karyn Lewis, who is a researcher at Education Northwest and a fellow at The Strategic Data Project at The Center for Education Policy and Research at Harvard University, Dr. Lewis’ scholarship in particular focuses on the importance of belonging for women in STEM fields. Dr. Lewis is going to begin by giving us a broad overview of the research on belonging and illustrate some of the links between belonging and a range of academic outcomes. Then we will be pleased to introduce Dr. Dave Paunesku, who is the cofounder and executive director of the Stanford University Project for Education Research that Scales. Stanford PERTS is an applied research center that partners with schools, colleges, and other organizations to develop practices to improve student motivation and achievement on a large scale. PERTS’ team of research collaborators includes many of the leading scholars in the area of mindset and belonging, including Dr. Paunesku, Carol Dweck, Greg Walton, Dave Yeager, Jo Boaler, and Geoff Cohen. Today Dr. Paunesku is going more in depth on some of the empirically supported interventions that promote belonging and discuss how educators counselors and mentors can practically apply the principles behind these interventions in their own setting. Here is our agenda for the day and again I encourage you to participate by submitting your questions and comments in the chat and the Q&A windows throughout our presentation. Our objectives for the day are to define social belonging, to introduce some of the research linking social belonging to academic outcomes, to discuss some of empirically supported interventions that promote belonging, and to suggest for you some resources and information to use in your own educational setting. I know we have broad range of participants joining us today from teachers, to state departments of education and were really looking forward to a lively discussion with you. Without further ado I’m going to hand this over to our first speaker Dr. Karyn Lewis. Karyn Lewis: Thank you Shannon. Hi everybody, we’re really excited to be with you today and getting to talk about one of my favorite topics and that is social belonging and how it relates to academic outcomes. This is a topic that might seem a little bit funny to define for people because we are all so intimately aware of our own belonging status. You probably have a really good sense of what this means already, but for the purposes of clarity I will put forth a definition that we can work with today and that is belonging is feeling like an accepted and valued and legitimate group member. The really important point of this definition that I want to stress is the feeling like part. Belonging gets at people’s subjective perceptions about their connections with other people and these perceptions can and sometimes do diverge from what seems like objective reality. What I mean by that is that you might think someone who is very connected in clubs and friend groups at school might feel a really strong sense of belonging, but that person might still be experiencing exclusion or loneliness and we really know it’s that their subjective perceptions about whether or not they belong that are really more important and have more punch than those objective indicators. Belonging matters because we are inheritantly social creatures and we have really strong need to form and maintain positive connections with other people. Psychologists even theorize that we have evolved this need given our connection to groups has been so critical in our survival as a species. So, in other words, I really think that we are hardwired for seeking out connections with other people. Research has shown that we’re very finely attuned, near constantly and whether that is consciously or not, to our belonging status. So, we are constantly picking up on and reacting to cues when our belonging might be at risk. These cues don’t necessarily need to be as outright as someone giving you the silent treatment, they can even be very subtle. For instance, research has shown that we are sensitive to things like a lack of eye contact or brief interruptions in the role and the flow of conversation and even these very small cues can make people feel less of a sense of belonging. Belonging also matters because feeling as though one doesn’t belong, feeling excluded, or rejected is a really painful experience and there’s been extensive research on this topic that has established a real laundry-list of the psychological and physical consequences people experience when their belonging needs are not met. So, for instance in terms of their psychological consequences we know that feeling a sense of exclusion is linked to things that might not surprise you such as sadness, and anger, decreased self-esteem, but we also know that exclusion has other psychological consequences such as the imperatibility to self-regulate and poor cognitive functioning. Exclusion and lack of belonging has also been linked to a range of physical consequences. For instance, we know that loneliness or having fewer social connections than one desires poses the same level of health risks as things like smoking and drinking and even obesity; it is really a high risk factor for mortality. The study of belonging and research in this area originally came from the context of understanding close interpersonal relationships, but we know that the importance of belonging really cuts across all aspects of daily life. Because education, of course, is rich with many different ways of complex interactions and relationships with other people, we think that this is a really important context to think about how people’s belonging might impact their outcomes. We think a belonging framework can be a really useful tool for better understanding young people’s experiences and outcomes in academia. As we’ll see asking questions about what it’s like to be a student in this class, in this school, in this program with sense of belonging in mind can help us reach a better understanding of many of the educational inequities that persist in our society. Now just as some of the research I mention before on kind of a general sense of belonging is linked to better wellbeing, we know that if we hone in and get a little bit more specific and consider young people’s sense of belonging within their school, we often see that this is linked to important outcomes. For instance, the national longitudinal study on adolescent health has shown that sense of school belonging is linked to positive health outcomes such as a decreased risk of substance use and early sexual initiation, even violence within schools and decreased risk for suicidal ideation and disordered eating. We also know that school belonging is linked to a host of positive academic outcomes that we all hope for with the young people we work with. These are things such as increased self-efficacy and higher motivation, we also know that greater school belonging is linked ot better attendance and more persistence and even better objective achievement. So, this really paints a picture of how having a strong sense of belong in schools is really linked to the best possible outcomes for young people. Now because belonging is a fundamental need, we know it matters all across the lifespan however there are some particularly key moments that are relevant to our discussion today that I want to highlight when belonging matters particularly and importantly. So, first of all adolescence is a time when belonging seems to be important, this is a key transition in young people’s lives when they are becoming increasingly independent from their parents and negotiating new peer groups and relationships and belonging is more salient. Another key consideration is when people are in times of transition, we tend to be particularly fragile and vulnerable at these times and what I mean by times of transition is when people start a new school, transition to a new grade, go off to college. These are times when new social ties must be formed, old social ties might be fading away, and uncertainly about whether or not we belong is introduced. So, really these are the times when we are particularly likely to pose this question of “do I belong here?” This question of “do I belong here?” when people feel uncertainty about that question it can potentially trigger a really pernicious recursive process that I want to describe and what I mean by this is when people ask themselves do I belong here and the answer is “well, I’m not sure” we know that people in this case become more vigilant, they are more aware in their environment of cues that signal whether or not they belong in an effort to answer that question “do I belong here”. And people become more vigilant and they are picking up on cues that they might necessarily not notice in other circumstances. So things like a classmate who doesn’t say hi in the hallway, a teacher who cancelled a meeting unexpectedly, getting a poor grade on a quiz, these are events that everyone encounters from time to time, but when you are uncertain of your belonging these normal events can be interpreted in the worst possible light. So, that classmate that didn’t say hi in the hallway it’s because she hates me and I don’t belong here. What’s more this feeds back in to this process that when these cues are interpreted in the worst possible way, people just get more unsure in their belonging and this kind of recursive process can just keep going on until people feel such a lack of belonging they become less motivated and engaged. In contrast when people feel more positive about their belonging they are less vigilant, they’re picking up on fewer cues and the cues that they might be picking up on are given the benefit of the doubt. So, those normal circumstances that people encounter are no longer indicative of sense of belonging, the friend in the hallway that failed to say hi well it’s just because she was busy and in turn we see that this recursive process happens again, but now that’s further bolstering people’s sense of belonging. Based on the research we’ve already reviewed, we know that students who are feeling a stronger sense of belonging are more motivated and more engaged and are even performing better. So really when people feel a strong sense of belonging, we’re seeing the best possible outcomes and that’s why we have chosen to focus on belonging today because we feel it’s really a critical place for educators and people working with young people to be aware of. Shannon Davidson: Thank you, Karyn, before we move on to our second presenter, I wanted to take a quick opportunity to field a question that came in from one of our participants. This participant would like to know if social belonging has any special importance for certain groups of students, particularly students of color, students living in poverty, or English language learner students? Karyn Lewis: I think that’s great question and is really relevant to this discussion about belonging because we know that dominant cultures can be more inclusive of some students than others. So, students from the groups you just mentioned: English language learners, also first generation college students, stigmatized minorities, they are going to be more likely to question their belonging because they often have less evidence that people like them actually do belong. So, if we imagine what it’s like for instance for an African American student in a predominately White school to ask themselves “do I belong here” when he is looking around to see peers, teachers, administrators that are all mostly White then I doubt the answer to that question is going to be a resounding yes, this is the place where I belong. I think it’s instead more likely to experience uncertainty about belonging which feeds into that cycle I just talked about. What’s more I think that that question of “do I belong here?” can become even more global and it become do people like me belong here, which I think can trigger stereotypes and processes like stereotype threat that we know have really harmful consequences for students. I think that question is spot on in terms of why we want to focus in on belonging as a really important variable to understand about students. Shannon Davidson: Okay, thanks and I think that Dr. Paunesku is going to deeper into some of these questions as well. I’d like to remind participants that they may submit questions at any time using the Q&A window on the righthand side of your screen. With that I would like to introduce our second speaker Dr. Dave Paunesku from Stanford PERTS and I’m going to toss the presentation over to him. (pause) Dave Paunesku: Okay great. Thank you so much, so again I’m Dave Paunesku and today I’ll be talking about what educators can do to promote student sense of belonging in school and how by doing so they can enhance educational equity. I’d like to start by thanking Karyn for providing an excellent introduction to belonging and to the Northwest IES Regional Education Laboratory for inviting me to speak today on such an important topic. My talk today follows a rather simple outline: first I’ll try to explain why it’s so important for educators to focus on belonging if they care about educational equity and then I’ll describe three distinct research based strategies for improving student’s sense of belonging. Why talk about social belonging if you want to improve educational equity or promote student success more generally. There are at least three important reasons: first as Karyn eloquently described in her presentation, a sense of belong is one of the most fundamental human needs. Feelings of isolation are one of the strongest predictors of poor health and well being and if students are denied a sense of belonging in school, they will be miserable and distracted there. School won’t be a place where they want to spend their time or invest their effort. To the contrary, they’ll want to avoid school and anything that reminds them of school. The second reason it’s important for educators to attend to students belonging is because it is within our power to improve it. Research shows that the decisions we make as educators about how we structure student’s experience in school and our relationships with them can have a profound affect on student’s sense of belonging. If we want students to succeed in school and to be happy there we should pay attention to how our actions or our inactions are likely to make them feel about that context and their belonging there. Finally, last but no means least, it’s especially important to focus on belonging if we want to fix inequality. A large body of research shows the gaps in student’s sense of belonging contribute to gaps in achievement; such as the gaps in grades and test scores between White and Black students across the United States or the gap between men and women and the rate at which they pursue careers in science, math, and technology fields. Fortunately research also shows, we can substantially improve outcomes for students from historically underrepresented groups by helping them to develop a stronger sense of belonging in school. As I’ll describe today, interventions that improve student’s sense of belonging in school decrease racial achievement gaps in colleges by close to 30%. They halve suspension rates in middle schools and they substantially improve the grades and attendance rates of at risk high school students. You may be wondering how could interventions to improve belonging lessen achievement gaps? When people talk about achievement gaps usually they rarely talk about the gap in belonging, instead we more commonly talk about structural inequality and about discrimination. To give just a few examples, students from historically under-represented groups generally have less access to expensive learning resources and to educated parents who can provide invaluable at home tutoring and model how to navigate the school system. They also have less access to social networks that can help them with prestigious internships, through letters of recommendation, or even just by showing them what kind of career paths are possible for them and what role school might play in those paths. On top of all of that, students of different races, social classes, and genders must also contend with biased expectations and unequal treatment from teachers, from administrators, from classmates, and even from parents. That is to say the deck of opportunity is stacked pretty heavily against students from certain groups. So, that means that if we care about educational equity then clearly we should do what we can to address the discrimination and the socio-economic inequality that are at the root of achievement gaps. However, it will be a terrible mistake to think that we can only address educational inequality by tackling these factors directly. Indeed given how hard it is to change structural inequality and discrimination directly focusing solely on these factors would virtually ensure that progress is slow and that little is done in time to help the students who are in school today. So, what can educators do to promote educational equity in their schools today? One thing we can do as educators is look for other drivers of educational inequality that might be easier for us to influence directly and one of those drivers is the gap on belonging. In fact, one of the most pernicious legacies of discrimination and structural inequality is the fact that they can lead students from historically under-represented groups to question their belonging in academic context. Experiences with discrimination and inequality and widespread stereotypes about intellectual inferiority can lead students to worrying that important others in school don’t accept them and won’t accept them. They can lead students to worry that no matter what they do they will always be rejected by or seen as lesser than by others in academic context. These concerns are captured in the following quote from an accomplished Black student in reflecting on her time at Princeton University. She writes, “my experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my “Blackness” than ever before. No matter how liberal and open-minded some of my White professors and classmates tried to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus as if I really don’t belong. It often seems as if to them I will always be Black first and a student second.” These words were written by Michelle Robinson who many of you may know better by her married name, Michelle Obama. From personal accounts like hers it’s easy to see how isolating it can feel to be different in an academic context; even for the very best students surrounded by people who are trying to be supportive. Of course, the feelings of isolation that she describes are troubling in and of themselves because of their implications for health and for well-being, but research shows that these types of feeling can also act as a psychological barrier. It makes it harder for students to develop good relationships with classmates and with instructors or to perform at their best academically. For example Professor Rudy Mendoza-Denton and his colleagues have studied student’s worries that others might reject them because of their race. They found that the more worried students are that others would reject them because of their race the less likely they are to reach out to others and form the types of positive relationships with peers and with instructors that are so crucial to developing a secure sense of belonging and to doing well in school. So, why might students be worried about discrimination? Well, I think the answer to that is pretty obvious, it’s perfectly reasonable for minority students to be anxious they might be discriminated against because without a doubt they do get discriminated against on a regular basis. In fact, sometimes the discrimination is disturbingly violent and blatant. However, it’s often ambiguous why something bad happens. Maybe a person is being cold towards you because they are biased against you or maybe they are just having a bad day. It can be really hard to be sure and given the prevalence and the visibility of prejudice it’s not hard to imagine why a student of color would be inclined to assume the worst or to be anxious about the possibility. Yet, research shows this anxiety can in and of itself lead to problems. There are a lot of ambiguous interactions at school and constant social anxiety can make it really hard to develop good relationships and become comfortable in a setting. In this way a high degree of anxiety about discrimination makes students distracted and unapproachable hurting both their studies and their relationships. In one study by Rudy Mendoza-Denton and colleagues Black college students who were extremely anxious about being discriminated against in day-to-day situations were also less likely to have positive interactions with their professors and with their peers. These students who were highly anxious also earned worst grades over the course of their college careers. In this way they are completely understandable anxieties led them to act in ways that ultimately hurt their own prospects. In a different study David Yeager and his colleagues surveyed the Black graduates of high performing urban charter network. All of these students had been accepted to college and they were asked to what degree they sometimes worried that they might not belong in college. It turned out that the more students agreed with that statement the less likely they were to actually enroll in college full time the following fall. Importantly this difference held even when controlling for high school GPA, for SAT score, for gender, and for a number of personality differences. And I think these findings really underscore just how important it is for educators to provide all students with a secure sense of belonging because when our sense of belonging is insecure our own anxieties about not belonging can act as an additional psychological barrier. It makes it harder to succeed and to connect with important others. So, what can educators do to reduce student’s belonging concerns? Today, I’ll talk about three research based strategies. As I talk about each, I’ll describe some of the research supporting the effectiveness of the strategy and then at the end I’ll point you to additional related resources and approaches that might prove useful to educators who want to improve their students’ sense of belonging. So, the first strategy I’ll talk about today is all about the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of what happens. It relates to the kind of belonging uncertainty and the scanning and the vigilance that Karyn talked about in her presentation. Many events have ambiguous meanings, when you get a bad grade, when you don’t get invited to a party, when you get critical feedback on an essay, you need to make sense of that in some way and the way you make sense of it can have a big impact on what you think you should do next. For example, if you think you got a bad grade because you’re stupid and you won’t ever succeed in school then you might be tempted to dropout or work less hard in the future. After all, what’s the point of working hard if you’re sure you’ll never succeed. You may recognize this as a classic fixed mind set interpretation for a set-back. On the other hand if you think you got a bad grade because you haven’t learned the right study strategies yet then you probably think you should ask someone for help learning a better way to study for this topic. You may recognize this as a classic growth mind set interpretation for a setback. Or let’s take a different example, a social example, if you think you weren’t invited to a party because the host hates you or is biased against you then you may be tempted to ignore her or to be mean to her in the future. On the other hand if you think you weren’t invited because the host was too shy to ask you, you might decide to strike up a conversation and get to know her better. Of course, all students experience setbacks and all students can benefit from a more adaptive interpretation for the ambiguous setbacks they encounter. However, students from underrepresented groups face true additional burdens when set backs are concerned. First, the unequal footing they are starting from because of discrimination and because of economic inequality means they’re more likely to experience setbacks frequently; certainly more frequently than their advantaged peers. Second, widespread inequality and discrimination provide a plausible and highly salient and negative interpretation for ambiguous events. For example, lets imagine a rich white student receiving criticism from her instructor. She might worry that her instructor thinks she’s personally a bad writer because of the bad essay she wrote, but many Black and Latino students might additionally worry that their instructor is biased against them because of widely held stereotypes against their groups. So, this is really important because it can feed a harmful feedback cycle. These kind of cycles can build over time. If students interpret a setback as sign that they don’t belong and won’t be accepted it can make them less likely to try to form trusting relationships with others and with instructors. This in turn can make them less likely to try their best or ask for help when they need it and this reduced effort and increased isolation can in turn make additional negative experiences more likely. Those additional negative experiences may further confirm their fears that they don’t belong. In this way the cycle can perpetuate itself. Guided by an understanding that the narratives students use to explain their setbacks are so important, Greg Walton and Geoff Cohen developed an intervention designed to change the way new college students interpret setbacks. Now all college students, in fact, all students encounter setbacks during the transition to college and it can be easier for everyone to feel alone and interpret those setbacks as a sign that you don’t belong. But it can be especially easy if there are lots of other cues to suggest that maybe you don’t belong; such as the fact that you’re the only person who looks like you. The goal of the intervention that Greg and Geoff designed was to arm students with an alternative positive narrative for the setbacks they would encounter. The intervention they developed uses testimonials from upper year college students to convey the idea that almost everyone worries at first about whether or not they belong and that these worries pass with time. In other words the intervention aims to arm students with an adaptive interpretation for setbacks, so that when something bad does happen they don’t feel alone or unfit and they can more easily shake it off as a temporary situation that will pass; one that doesn’t mean that they don’t belong. Here is an example of testimonials from the intervention from an upper year student: When I first got to my school, to my college I was worried that I was different from other students. Everyone else seems so certain they were right for this college and I wasn’t sure I fit in. Sometime after my first year I came to realize that many people come to this college uncertain whether or not they fit in. Now it seems ironic, everybody feels they’re different freshman year from everybody else, when really in at least some ways they are all pretty similar. Again the goal of this intervention and these testimonials was to provide students with a new interpretation for setbacks so that they avoid the harmful feedback cycle that may otherwise form. In their study Walton/Cohen found that Black college students who had been exposed to these more positive narratives did indeed seem less likely to fall into this negative feedback cycle. These students each reported believing that they had more potential to succeed in college over time and they also reported improved study behaviors. For example, they reported more visits to instructors office hours, high attendance in review sessions, and more hours spent studying. They also reported better overall health, suggesting they were suffering fewer of the negative health effects associated with the feeling of isolation that were common among control group students. Finally, they also found that the Black students who had been randomly assigned to the belonging intervention earned higher grades over the course of their entire college career. This suggests that this target intervention was able to change student’s narratives for setbacks and prevent the harmful feedback cycle that may have otherwise formed. Now, importantly, the positive affects of these interventions on achievement have been replicated at a number of universities, including Stanford University, The University of Texas at Austin, and The University of Illinois in Chicago. In these studies, almost all the students in the entire incoming class were randomized to an intervention condition during the college on boarding process, relative to the control condition the social belonging intervention improved important outcomes for students from multiple underrepresented groups including Black students, Latino students, and White first generation college students. At Stanford they improved GPA, reducing the achievement gap by around 26% and at The University of Texas they increased the rate at which students from underrepresented groups enrolled in college full time; reducing the gap in full time enrollment by 37%. These promising findings have spawned the creation of an entirely new collaborative of over two dozen colleges and universities working together to test out where, how, and for whom these types of interventions can improve outcomes. I’m hopeful that we’ll learn a great deal over the next few years about how to bolster students’ sense of belonging through this type of intervention. However, you don’t have to wait, you can already take steps as an educator to provide students with a more positive narrative for the setback they’re likely to encounter at your school. Of course, there are many different kinds of setbacks and many different kinds of narratives to explain them. Here are a few of the key messages to keep in mind: one is that difficulty is normal and that it passes with time and it’s not a sign that you don’t belong. This is an especially important message at times of transition when students are less secure in their belonging and more likely to interpret negative experiences as a sign that maybe they don’t belong. A second key message is that mistakes are perfectly normal and an important part of learning, students will inevitably make mistakes and they will be much more likely to learn from them and to see those mistakes as OK rather than as a sign that they don’t belong. If you set a clear norm in your classroom or you school mistakes are something really useful, something that we all make, and something that we can all learn from. Some of you may recognize this as a practice that promotes a growth mindset and it’s worth noting that school cultures and practices that promote growth mindset also tend to promote belonging because they explicitly challenge the idea that only certain kinds of people can be successful. A third related message is one that is especially important to provide the students in combination with critical feedback. Of course, critical feedback is an absolutely crucial way to help students improve, but it can also provide an ambiguous signal to students about belonging. It could be a sign that their instructor is biased against them or thinks them incapable. So, as an educator try to remove that ambiguity, explain that your standards are high, and that you are giving them this feedback not to make them feel bad, but because you believe that they can reach those higher standards. In other words, make it easy for your students to trust that your feedback is coming from good intentions and that you are there to help them grow as a scholar. That’s why you are putting in the time to give them feedback. Disambiguating your motives for critical feedback in this way for what they should take way from it will make your students more likely to learn from your critiques and less likely to worry that your criticisms imply you don’t like them or they don’t belong. I have a really important caveat about these messages, these messages should not be retold to students verbatim. They shouldn’t be expressed robotically, students will be far more likely to accept these messages through an authentic respectful dialog; one that enabled them to connect to these messages in a personal way. The specific way you do that will of course depend on your student’s age, on their context, and on your personal relationship with them. Maybe you can initiate a class discussion about belonging or maybe if you feel like you really understand your student’s perspective and have a good relationship with them, you can share a personal story that you think will resonate. Whatever you do try to make it obvious to students that you respect their feelings and their perspectives. And that leads us into our second general strategy for foster belonging and that is to foster and develop respectful trusting relationships between students and instructors and between students and each other. Of course, respectful trusting relationships matter to all students, but students from under-represented groups have more reason than most to worry that their instructors might not trust or respect them. This is something that my colleague, Jason Okonofua has studied extensively in the context of disciplinary practices. His research has spotlighted how zero tolerance policies leading many educators to adopt a punitive approach towards student misbehavior and how that punitive approach combines with educators implicit biases to feed a deeply troubling cycle of mistrust, misbehavior, and far too often incarceration. In one line of studies Jason Okonofua, Greg Walton and I focused on the role of respect in teacher/student relationships. Having been teenagers ourselves, we knew that respect is something that all teenagers crave as they start to assert their independence. Unfortunately, we were also keenly aware that many school practices are anything but respectful. To the contrary, there often coercive and punitive, they constrict student’s independence severely and treat them like hardened criminals if they choose to assert their independence by defying rules. We reasoned that this punitive approach toward discipline is probably self-defeating because harsh uncaring punishments further alienates students and disrespects their sense of autonomy which is exactly why many students misbehave in the first place. In one of our studies we sought to test our prediction that being disciplined in a harsh uncaring manner would lead students to report diminished respect for school authorities and an increased desire to misbehave in the future. We asked students to imagine that they are in middle school and that they disrupted class by repeatedly walking around to throw away trash. In one condition students were asked to imagine that their teacher, Mrs. Smith, gives them a detention and sends them to the principal’s office. This is a rather punitive approach for such a small infraction. In the other condition, we called this the empathic discipline condition, we asked students to imagine that Mrs. Smith instead asked them what was wrong and that she moved the trash can closer to them, presumably to accommodate their needs to throw away lots of trash. Well, what we found was consistent with our expectations. When students imagine that their teacher had treated them with respect and caring even when they misbehaved, they respected her more and were more motivated to behave well in the future. Of course, this is just a study in which students were imagining these scenarios, so we wanted to test whether this would have an impact on real student behavior. To do so, we developed what we called an empathic discipline intervention. This intervention tried to convey several key ideas to middle school teachers. First it reminded teachers that adolescence is a really tough time and that students aren’t terrible people just because they misbehave. For example, we made the point that the social and biological changes of adolescence can make middle school students really insecure, that their worries about being treated in an unfair way can cause them to experience lots of stress, to over react, and to disengage from school. We also reminded teachers just how important respect is to teenagers. How much it can mean to teenagers or to anyone for that matter when an adult treats them with respect, especially in their darkest hours. We tried to remind teachers that it is within their power to help students develop into more secure young adults who feel valued and respect in the school context. For example, we asked teachers to read student testimonials and one of these testimonials read, “One day I got detention and instead of just sitting there, my teacher talked with me about what happened, he really listened to me. It felt good to know that I had someone I could trust in school.” In this study 31 middle school math teachers were either randomized to this empathic discipline intervention or to a control condition with focus on how to use technology in class. We collected data from 1580 students who these 31 teachers collectively supervised. What we found surprised even us. We found that the students of teachers who had been exposed to this empathic disciplinary intervention became half as likely to get suspended as the students of control group teachers. The overall suspension rate dropped from 9% to 4% and importantly the percent reduction in suspension rates was biggest for the groups of students who had the highest rates of disciplinary problems. For boys, the rate went from 15% to 8%, for African American and Latino students from 12% to 6%, for previously suspended students, it dropped from 51% to 29% a drop of over 20%. It’s also important to note that this effect is not driven by the treated teachers becoming pushovers. Student suspensions are initiated by math teachers so infrequently there’s literally no way that the effect could have been driven by their math teachers simply becoming ” too nice” to refer students for suspension. Rather it would appear that the better relationships that troubled students formed with their math teachers provided a lifeline of respect and understanding that these students desperately needed. By feeling heard and respected even by one teacher these students became less likely to misbehave in school more generally and they became much less likely to get suspended. Again trusting respectful relationships are a key to belonging and the way to develop these relationships is to listen to students and to show them authentic respect. Keep in mind it doesn’t matter whether you think you’re respecting students it matters whether they think you’re respecting them. Teenagers don’t always make sense to us adults, so ask them how they are feeling and help them see you as a person that will really listen to them and their perspectives. The last strategy I’ll discuss today for increasing belonging is to help students relate to school. Maybe it’s a bit of no-brainer that students will feel like they belong in school more if they can relate to what they’re learning at school, but I don’t think it’s always obvious how to help students relate to school or just how important doing so can be for them. Curricular choices send a powerful message about who belongs in school and whose stories matter. Do students get to read stories about people who look like them or about events and experiences they can relate to? I’d like to read some powerful words from Isaac Nieblas, a son of Mexican immigrants who was interviewed recently by San Jose Inside. In the quote, he describes the experience of taking an Ethnic Studies class for the first time. He said, “Learning about the Chicano revolution in the 1960s made me feel as though my concerns, my issues, my humanity were legitimate. I felt more enthused and I was having more conversations because I knew that my people were just as smart as anyone else. Having that understanding revamped my perception of who I was as a person and as an intellectual being.” Notably, Mr. Nieblas grew up in Arizona where Ethnic Studies classes were banned from the high school curriculum while he was a sophomore. And to paraphrase him the fact that his prior schooling had not exposed him to his own heritage in a academic context had deprived him of a sense of legitimacy from his concerns, his issues, and even for his intellectual abilities. Now a recent paper by Tom Dee and Emily Penner of Stanford University assessed the impact an Ethnic Studies course empirically. They found at risk students who had been assigned to take this course across multiple different San Francisco schools earned GPAs that were 1.4 GPA points higher and their attendance improved by 21%. These recent quantitative findings reinforce the conclusions of a large qualitative literature which attests to the transformative impact of a curricula that enables students from under represented groups to see themselves and their experiences celebrated and examined in the school context. Of course, even if you cannot institute or teach a full Ethnic Studies curriculum you can find other ways to incorporate rigorous content that students can relate to. For example, you can check out the resources developed by Teaching Tolerance and Facing History and Ourselves. More generally if you want to share content with students that they find personally relevant, it’s really good idea to ask them what they want to learn about. They’ll be more engaged by content they are interested in and your interest in their opinion will signal your respect for them more generally. Finally, I’d like to thank you for your attention and leave you with two final thoughts. First, when students feel like they belong they’re happier, healthier, and more academically successful. Second, it’s within your power to help more students feel this way. I hope you’ll use this power wisely and I hope I’ve provided you with some useful insights about how to get started. If you would like to learn more you can check out the PERTS Mindset Kit and the URL on the screen. So thanks again for your attention. (pause) Shannon Davidson: Thank you Dave. Thank you to both Dave and Karyn. We have a couple of minutes left to go over a few of the questions that have come in from our participants. Someone was curious about the issue of tackling cultural mismatch in the classroom. For instance, perhaps a teacher is a different culture or member of a different race ethnicity than the students how might belonging come into play in an interaction like that. Karyn Lewis: I think that’s great question. I think as we talked about earlier, students are more likely to be uncertain when they don’t feel that similarity to their peers and their teachers, but I think it’s often one really simple way to combat that is to focus on our similarities. I think it’s of course important to celebrate differences, but we also know from some recent research from Hunter Gehlbach, there’s paper coming out in The Journal Ed Psych they did a really interesting manipulation where they provided students and their teachers with real feedback on similarities that they had. So these we personality traits, shared interests, simple stuff, but they found that getting that information about the ways they were similar seemed to boost their relationships and really the teacher’s perceived stronger relationships with their students and they even had higher achievement at the end of the term. So, I think that one way for teachers to be aware of that mismatch and to seek out ways to emphasize the similarities they have with their students would be one way to combat that belonging uncertainty and make people feel more comfortable in their classrooms when they don’t necessarily have the same cultural background. Shannon Davidson: Dave did you have anything to add? Dave Paunesku: Yeah, again that is a really great question. I mean I think Karyn’s answer was great. I would just add just how important it is for students to feel respected and heard and to listen to their concerns to try to have conversations with them to ask them about their lives and to try to understand what it is that they’re interested in. Really show them genuine interest and respect. I think that all students appreciate that, but I think it’s especially powerful in situations like that. Shannon Davidson: Ok, great. Another question was about consistency and how educators can work to ensure consistency of practices of interventions. Or is consistency always desirable? Dave Paunesku: Yes, I think that we want to be consistent in the messages that students take away from interventions. We want students to walk away feeling like they belong, having the right kind of understanding for what’s going on for why they are experiencing setbacks. We want them to walk away feeling respected and valued, so that part we want to be consistent. What students take away we want to be consistent, but the way to get that consistency is, of course, going to be different for different groups of students. The way you communicate respect and valuing to a seven year old is probably really different from the way yo do it to a 20 year old. I think it’s important to be really thoughtful about how to reliably help students feel like they belong, but I think that the actual mechanics of how that’s done just functionally can’t be consistent for different kinds of students because there’s such variability. Karyn Lewis: Yes that makes sense Dave because I mean for that message to be impactful I think it has to be truly authentic to students’ experience and what it is about the context they’re in that’s making them feel like they don’t belong. So, because every context is different there’s not going to be a one size fits all message that people should be using. Shannon Davidson: That gets to the content of a couple of other questions that have come in about different age groups. We tend to talk a lot about high school students transitioning into college. Can either of you comment on the state of the research when it comes to adult learners perhaps who are going back to community college or early childhood kindergarten or K-5 age groups? Karyn Lewis: I was thinking of one study in particular from Greg Walton showing that it takes very minimal kind of conditions to make people feel a sense of belonging and this was some work he did with younger students. Correct me if I’m wrong here Dave, I think it was even elementary students, but they were put into these groups and the groups had very little actual structure. They were just setting up a group and having students identify with that group, but even those kind of connections helped them feel a stronger sense of belonging very early on and with even the most subtle kinds cues to groupiness. Dave Paunesku: Yes, that’s absolutely right. There’s also I think one technique that was popularized by Elliot Aronson in I think the 1970s actually; it’s called the Jigsaw Classroom. I think that’s a technique that is really easy for people to look up, but it involves forming groups of students and having them do group work together, but the group work is structured in such a way that students really had to help each other and it had really marvelous effects on both majority group members and minority group members improving grades, improving empathy and understanding for each other, improving belonging and that was done with grade school students. Absolutely, I think these things are really important for students of various different ages. I do think there are different kinds of approaches that make more sense because they have different kinds of concerns in those contexts. Shannon Davidson: Ok, great. I’m going to go ahead a read this last question which I think may be the last one we’ll have time for. I’ll read it verbatim. The question reads, this does seem like it’s built for the dominant culture isn’t there research around the importance of having diversity into the school structure? Dave Paunesku: Sorry what was the last part of that question? Diversity through the school structure? Shannon Davidson: Throughout the school structure? Dave Paunesku: I’m not sure if I understand that question. Karyn Lewis: I think what you might be asking is some of this research is trying to come up with strategies for students that are in the minority in their schools. So, maybe an African American in a predominantly White school, so I think what you’re asking about is what about schools where there is a lot more diversity where it might not have such stark minority status for an individual and I don’t know of any research that specifically addresses that, but that would be fascinating if people feel a stronger sense of belonging when there is more multicultural presence in their schools and settings. Do you know of anything Dave? Dave Paunesku: I’m not familiar with anything on students of color specifically there. I have read some work on all female schools and STEM and I think often in context where it’s all girls it’s easier for girls to not fall prey to stereotype threat or to feel like they shouldn’t be in STEM classes. So, I think that at least in some studies those kind of schools that were structured in a way that made stereotypes less relevant could in fact be protective. But again, I think that is certainly one strategy, but I think that even in more traditional schools there are things we can do to improve outcomes. I think that is one approach, but I don’t think it has to be done that way. I don’t think something that drastic is necessary because that would be very hard to implement. Shannon Davidson: Just one more comment that I will read, someone is asking about suggestions for non-profits who work with students outside of school, so an out of school setting and this is something that Karyn and I have worked with youth development workers in our Oregon region and there are certainly ways interventions can be adapted for out of school settings. Karyn do you have anything to add? Karyn Lewis: That’s a hard one because you’re talking about how to help students in one setting transfer their belonging to a different one. This is a really broad answer to your question, but I think that one thing out of school time programs can often be good at is helping students develop this kind of mindset of themselves as a learner and the more we can foster that I think the more comfortable and connected students will feel within an achievement context. I hope that’s the case. Dave Paunesku: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. Also, I think as far as this kind of belonging transfer process is concerned, I think that’s one area where the strategy of providing positive narratives can really be helpful. In one of the studies that I didn’t have time to present today, the graduates of a charter school network were assigned to do one of these interventions before they arrived at college and even though they hadn’t arrived there yet just kind of being able to forecast for them what that experience would be like and to kind of help them understand that yes there would be challenges, but no those challenges wouldn’t mean that they don’t belong seemed to really help them a great deal and substantially increased the percent of students who actually persisted in college. And again, I think a lot of these findings come out of work with older students, but I think they may apply just as well to younger students just different kinds of outcomes and slightly different approaches that you might need to use, and slightly different messages. Shannon Davidson: And lastly someone was wondering about measuring social belonging and this is a very big question and it’s a very emergent part of the research which we unfortunately won’t have time to go very deeply into today, but we realize that that is a growing concern for educators and youth development workers in our region. Particularly given the new focus on nonacademic or non-cognitive factors for accountability with our new education act. Karyn, do you want to add anything briefly? Karyn Lewis: Yes, I would add that when they think about measuring belonging there are two ways to do this. You can measure people’s absolute levels of belonging so that’s items like I feel like I fit in here, I feel like I belong here, but we know from research is that what’s more impactful for outcomes and people’s uncertainty about their belonging. Those questions kind of take a slightly different form and you ask people things like how often do you feel uncertain whether you belong here? It seems like a small distinction, but that can often give you more information if you are assessing people’s uncertainty rather than their absolute levels of belonging. And perhaps we can post some links to different scales along with the slides that we’ll post. Because there are lots of options out there that people can sort through. I would also add that it’s important to keep in mind the target of belonging whether you’re concerned with people belonging within their school, or their belonging within a specific class. Those aren’t necessarily one to one couplings so we have to be very specific with the target of interest there. Shannon Davidson: And I certainly hope that’s a topic we can all come together again in the future to discuss. But in the interest your time I would like to thank you all for joining us this afternoon and ask you to please take just a few moments to fill out our feedback survey. The US Department of Education and we all value your feedback very much. And we will make these slides available on our website and we thank you very much for joining us. Have a wonderful afternoon.

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