Natasha Bathgate

Student Belonging is Strongly Correlated with Academic Success

Repeatedly, you will hear teachers and administrators at WIC emphasize how proud we are of the strong relationships we have with our students. Here’s why: positive relationships are strongly correlated with student belonging and academic success. David Tranter (2018), author of The Third Path: A Relationship-Based Approach to Student Well-Being and Achievement, tells us that “students who experience a sense of belonging at school, are more eager to attend school and more willing to learn alongside their peers… A sense of belonging supports student effort, concentration, memory, and many other cognitive tasks”. 

What helps a student to feel they belong?

  1. Positive relationships with peers and teachers 

  1. A sense of purpose; school activities that interest them and connect them with others 

  1. Feeling safe and comfortable throughout their day at school 

There are many reasons a student may not feel a strong sense of belonging at school. One reason, according to Tranter, is that “they may be among a number of groups that experience social marginalization based on their language, ethnicity, culture, or sexual identity.”  

Images from 'Race Issues", reproduced with permission from Action Dignity and Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation 2019

Through our work with Carissa Gravelle from Calgary based, Shades of Humanity Consulting, students and teachers learn about statements or actions regarded as subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. Through discussion of these examples, we are expanding our understanding of racism, discrimination, and prejudice. This learning is an essential component of our ongoing efforts to foster a safe and caring school environment for everyone at WIC.

How do we foster a sense of belonging at WIC? 

How do students know that what is important to them is valued and respected by others in the school?  Through clubs, activities, and committees, students can feel part of something that matters to them. By working together on a common goal such as a band concert, theatre performance, or a school team, students find a place to connect in a meaningful way. We also seek to support and promote student voice through our “CIV Talks.” Please click below to watch our CIV Talks.

LGBTQ+ CIV Talk      Mental Health CIV Talk

“Belonging is in the details, in the relationships that occur through all the small moments throughout the day” (Tranter, 2018)

Teachers at WIC are incredibly thoughtful and empathetic when working with students, not just on a day to day basis, but also when they are learning about issues that may be difficult for someone. For example, humanities teachers often need to discuss with students about events, characters, or literary texts that could cause discomfort or distress to someone. In a recent conversation with our humanities teachers, one teacher explained that he thinks about who might find the topic distressing, speaks to them the day before the class, and together, they figure out how to proceed in a way that the student feels safe.

This anecdote illustrates how students feel strongly connected to their teachers at WIC:

“She encourages inclusivity for students of all races, sexual orientations, religious beliefs and gender identifications. Never have I felt safer and more accepted in a school setting. My classmates and I feel like she is our ‘school mother’ in that she has rules and expectations, but she relays this in a kind and caring way that makes us want to work hard for her and for ourselves! She openly encourages the expression of different opinions, and students can engage in friendly debates about any topic.”

At WIC, we continually strive to foster an inclusive environment, where everyone feels a strong sense of belonging. To do this, we must hold up a mirror to ourselves and search carefully for the blind spots. What do we do that may exclude some students? What do we always see from one perspective and not consider from another? Whose voices do we always listen to? Whose voices are harder to be heard?

Consider Simon Sinek’s thoughts on Lessons for 2021 “Whether we like it or not – we need to learn to have uncomfortable conversations – be they about race inequality or any other subject that causes a person or a group of people to feel left out, forgotten or mistreated.”

I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to the WIC Alumnae whom I am honoured to have begun having important conversations with to explore ways to strengthen WIC as an inclusive and diverse community.

Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Ready; our WIC tagline is our mantra that guides us when faced with complexity. Arguably, we are currently in a period of great complexity.

About the Author

Natasha Bathgate 

Director of Learning and Innovation

  • Academic Success
  • Belonging
  • Diversity
  • Equity
  • Inclusion