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New Book Seeks to Inspire Teachers to Innovate in the Classroom

Belonging is the perception of being accepted, valued, and included. Belonging can help learning by increasing effort and decreasing negative distracting thoughts.

A student has recently begun to opt out of class, sinking down in his chair at the back of the room. One explanation is that he finds the class boring, or perhaps he is feigning disinterest to mask a lack of effort. While these certainly could be true, a very common problem is that the student feels like he does not belong. He may believe that he cannot participate or that “his kind” does not belong there. Amy Cuddy, a prominent professor of social psychology at Harvard, recounts the story of a student who never participated in her class and was in danger of failing (Cuddy, 2012). From the outside, it could appear that this student did not prepare for class or was simply unmotivated. Calling the student to her office to discuss the situation, the student said, “I’m not supposed to be here.”

Cuddy, who herself almost quit graduate school because she felt like an imposter, recognized that the student lacked a feeling of belonging, and this was why she did not participate. This insight led to a productive way forward for the student. In this case, the challenge for the teacher was recognizing that belonging was the issue.