Three Simple Cues that Promote Belonging
Cues that promote belonging signal value, recognition, and respect. Some research based cues that educators can incorporate into their classrooms include the following:
- Make eye contact with your students. Wirth et al. (2010) found that even just imagining an interaction with someone who didn’t make eye contact made participants feel ostracized, it lowered their self-esteem, and it made them want to act aggressively towards the imaginary offender.
- Use students’ names. Brummelman et al. (under review) found that sending home a personalized letter to middle school students on the first day of school reduced students' feelings of loneliness and increased peer acceptance for students who initially felt excluded, compared to students who were sent a standard letter.
- Correctly pronounce or use students’ names. Kohli and Solórzano (2012) found that mispronouncing students' names can negatively impact students' views themselves and their culture.
So what are some cues that promote belonging? Many studies have looked at the impact of seemingly simple cues or actions on feelings of belonging. While there are many different types of cues that can promote belonging, what they all have in common is that they signal recognition, value, and inclusion. Here are three of our favorite cues of belonging.
The first cue is to make eye contact with your students. Making eye contact with others is a very simple way to signal inclusion and recognition. You’re quite literally sending the message, “I see you.” On the other hand, not making eye contact can make students feel like they are invisible, or even ostracized. In one study, Wirth and his colleagues found that even just imagining an interaction with someone who didn’t make eye contact made participants feel ostracized, it lowered their self-esteem, and it made them want to act aggressively towards the imaginary offender. While it’s important to make eye contact, cultural norms should also be considered. Lesson 5 of this topic, titled: Downloadable Activities: Cues and Representations, provides more information on appropriate eye contact.
The second cue is to use students’ names. When you address students by their names, it can help students feel like they are a valued and visible part of the community. This strategy, while extremely simple, can have powerful effects on students’ feelings of belonging. In one study by Brummelman and his colleagues, middle school students received a letter from the principal on the first day of school that either addressed them by their first name, or that used a general greeting. The more personal letters using students’ first names reduced students' feelings of loneliness and increased peer acceptance for students who initially felt excluded, compared to students who were sent the standard letter. This small act of recognition delivered at a time when students were especially likely to be uncertain about their belonging --the beginning of a new school year-- helped students feel like school was a place where they could make relationships.
The third cue is to correctly pronounce students’ names. Many students go through their school years with teachers and classmates mispronouncing their names, being called a different name, or having teachers laugh when they try to pronounce their name. These experiences can make students feel like outsiders, or even invisible. However, correctly pronouncing a student’s name signals value and respect for the student as an individual, as well as for their culture. One woman says of a professor who took the time to correctly pronounce her name: "It did take him a bit of time to learn to pronounce my name, but he was always apologetic when he said it wrong, and always insisted on the importance of getting such things right. He was easily the most inspirational and challenging teacher I’ve had… he just insisted that every student feel important."
As these three studies suggest, small tweaks to what you’re already doing in the classroom can make a powerful difference for students who may be uncertain about if they belong.
Brummelman, E., Thomaes, S., Walton, G. M., Reijntjes, A., Orobio de Castro, B., & Sedikides, C. (Under review). Addressing people by name reduces their loneliness, even months later: Evidence from inside and outside the laboratory. Gonzalez, J. (2014, April 14). How We Pronounce Student Names, and Why it Matters. Cult of pedagogy. Retrieved from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/gift-of-pronunciation/ Kohli, R., & Solórzano, D. G. (2012). Teachers, please learn our names!: Racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(4), 441-462. Wirth, J. H., Sacco, D. F., Hugenberg, K., & Williams, K. D. (2010). Eye gaze as relational evaluation: Averted eye gaze leads to feelings of ostracism and relational devaluation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(7), 869-882.