Tool Kit – Student Belonging

Fostering a sense of belonging for students within the collegiate community is essential to student success, retention, and academic performance (Allen, et al 2018; Quin, 2017 ). Although some may assume that colleagues working in marketing, student life, clubs, and athletics are responsible for cultivating student belonging, instructors play a critical role in fostering a sense of belongingness for all who are enrolled in their courses, regardless of the modality of the course. Indeed, faculty are often the first point of contact that students have within our University community as students typically spend more time engaged in their coursework than in extracurricular endeavors. Faculty and other members of the academic community are crucial sources for fostering student belonging and ensuring that students have a positive educational experience.

Belongingness in the classroom, as in life, can mean many things to different people. As we are all unique individuals, how we see ourselves and how we wish to be seen varies. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs illustrates the importance of belonging on the path to self-actualization. A sense of belonging is achieved when we can see ourselves as part of, not apart from, the whole. It is a human need, superseded only by that of safety and physiological needs (Maslow, 1943).

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts support the path to belonging, but implementing DEI initiatives is only one aspect of reaching the end goal of belongingness. Race, cultural affiliation, gender, sexuality, and disability are important components of how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. We utilize the word belonging because it encompasses multiple aspects of a learner’s identity as noted above, thus reinforcing the broader goals of current DEI movements. As Christianne Garofalo writes (quoted in Althof), “Diversity is a fact. Inclusion is a behavior. But belonging is the emotional outcome that people want in their organization” (Althof, 2020).

Ultimately, belongingness comes down to relationships and building connections. Students need to feel recognized, welcomed, supported, safe, valued, and motivated. By recognizing this and working to incorporate these considerations into your teaching practices, you can contribute to building a richer academic community for all students. The CETL has assembled this reference material to help you prepare your curriculum, course materials, interactions, and teaching practice. We are also available to consult individually to assist you with your questions or concerns. Please see the resources below for more information.

Toolkit Resources

Fostering a sense of belonging in the classroom (whether online or in person) begins with the syllabus and the behaviors of the instructor in the first course meetings. The continued welcoming behaviors by the educator, such as the provision of open and safe classroom spaces, the opportunities for student voices to be heard, and the promotion and exploration of community support programs can each serve to uncover and highlight the …
Part of creating a sense of student belonging is recognizing that all of us come from different backgrounds, filled with cultural mores, commonalities, expectations, and more. Instructors can establish norms for classroom behavior while honoring the individuality of each participant and their backgrounds. Listed below are some quick-start steps to set the stage for a successful semester that fosters a sense of student belonging in the classroom as well as …
First impressions matter. The syllabus is often a student’s first introduction to the instructor and their course. Students may be anxious or uncertain about what to expect, especially if they are part of an often marginalized group. Likewise, it is important that instructors use language that models respect and normalizes challenges and the use of University resources as parts of the learning process (ACUE, n.d.) Effective structure and organization of …


Allen, K., Kern, M. L., Vella-Brodrick, D., Hattie, J., & Waters, L. (2018). What Schools Need to Know About Fostering School Belonging: A Meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 30(1), 1–34.

Altof, H. (2020). Belonging is the Missing Piece for the FIght for Inclusion. SHRM.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.

Quin, D. (2017). Longitudinal and Contextual Associations Between Teacher-Student Relationships and Student Engagement: A Systematic Review. Review of Educational Research, 87(2), 345–387.