As educators, we are all aware of the importance of student belonging — that it improves academic performance, student motivation, and resilience– but we often overlook the importance of adult belonging on campus.
As with students, when adults feel like they belong, they are more likely to feel positive about their experiences at work and are more likely to be engaged in and motivated by their work. Belonging improves overall productivity, which is great, but that isn’t the main reason why we should focus on deepening adult belonging on campus.
Belonging For Adults
Maslow places belonging in the foundational level of his hierarchy of needs. It must come well before an individual can achieve self-actualization because belongingness is a basic human need. This need hearkens back to our ancient ancestors– where a lack of belonging meant a lack of survival. We had to rely on one another to survive.
Today, not belonging often makes it difficult for people to achieve their full potential in life and work. A lack of belonging in adults looks like frequent absences, lack of engagement with colleagues and peers, physical ailments, and increased stress levels.
Fostering Adult Belonging on Campus
Creating a climate of adult belonging doesn’t require lengthy team-building exercises. It can be created by beginning with brief, but conscious, actions that focus on three main areas: recognition, purpose, and camaraderie.
Administrators can weave positive recognition into staff meetings and emails. When a teacher or staff member does something well, give them a shout-out out in a staff meeting or all-staff email. Allow opportunities for staff to thank and appreciate one another in meetings. This fosters a climate of gratitude and appreciation among the adults on campus.
It is important to remember that not everyone wants to be recognized in the same way. One teacher may appreciate an on-the-spot recognition during an all-staff meeting, another may prefer to be recognized in a personal email. One way to learn this information is by having staff fill out a recognition survey, like this one from Gallup, to let you know how they prefer to be recognized.
People feel more connected with their work and with each other when they have a sense of purpose both individually and collectively. Encouraging the adults on campus to find their purpose– their “why”– creates a sense of belonging. When we know the why behind our actions, we feel more connected to what we are doing.
There are many activities, such as heartbreak mapping or Ikigai, which help individuals identify their “why.” It is important to develop the personal “why” of the adults on campus but to also create a campus-wide sense of why. Why are we all here? What is our common goal? Developing an annual campus “why” and using that as the lens for making and implementing decisions helps to create a universal sense of purpose and belonging for staff.
It is important to build camaraderie among the adults on campus. Because the school year is so busy, building in time to connect on an interpersonal level is often relegated to icebreaker activities before the start of the school year. While these pre-year icebreakers are good, it is important to incorporate ways for staff to connect on regular basis.
Administrators, consider adding quick community-building activities to regular staff or department meetings. Activities, such as fast friends or a low-risk question of the day, can spark laughter and connection. Implement check-ins with staff at meetings. Try sentence starters like: “one success I had this week was___” or “Something new or promising for me is___.” If you are interested in exploring this further, we have resources for belonging and check-ins available to you on our website for free.
Among colleagues, take proactive steps to get to know the other people on staff with you. Consider implementing “Lunch Roulette”– where you randomly draw a colleague’s name from a hat and ask them to join you for lunch one day during the week. Also consider utilizing the 2×10 relationship-building strategy [link] that you may already be using with your students, but instead, use it to get to know your colleagues better.
Connected Adults = Healthier Schools
When we build belonging for adults at work, they collaborate better, find more solutions for problems, have a greater sense of well-being, and have higher overall performance in their roles. When the adults at a school feel content and as though they belong, they then create a greater sense of belonging for the students at school as well.
You can find many of the strategies mentioned in this post on our Free Resources Page.