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  • Writer's picturejashodharasen

Notes on Teaching, Love, and Belonging

Teaching and the concept of belonging are closely intertwined. Creating a sense of belonging is essential for students’ academic and personal growth in an educational setting. When students feel like they belong, they are more likely to engage in learning, develop positive relationships with peers and teachers, and experience academic success. Belonging in a non-academic sense refers to feeling accepted, valued, and connected within a social or community setting. It relates to an individual’s sense of fitting in, being understood, and having a place where they feel they are an integral part of a group or community. While thinking about belonging, we must consider that belonging is associated with having social connections and meaningful relationships. It involves feeling accepted and included among friends, family, colleagues, or any social group where one feels a sense of camaraderie and shared identity.

My discipline, theatre, and performance have long been associated with exploring and expressing shared identity. Theatre provides a platform for individuals to come together and collectively experience stories and emotions. With that, people can explore their own identities and connect with and understand the uniqueness of others. Therefore, theatre serves as a catalyst for dialogue and discussion about identity-related issues. As a student and teacher of theatre, I feel a responsibility to encourage diverse experiences that go beyond the narratives of the privileged and provide a platform for those who have been silenced.

Moreover, belonging can arise from having a shared identity based on culture, ethnicity, religion, interests, or experiences. When students find a group that aligns with their values and experiences, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging. When individuals feel supported, encouraged, and surrounded by people who believe in their potential, they are more likely to experience a sense of belonging. In a classroom, which is a physical space, fostering a sense of belonging can involve dialogues that promote self-expression while being mindful of the community and shared and diverse experiences. Engaging in shared experiences and activities can deepen the sense of belonging. Participating in everyday rituals-- how mundane that might be--can create a sense of unity and belonging among students (and teachers) who share those experiences.

Graduate students in action (© don't use the image without permission)

Effective teaching fosters a sense of belonging:

Teachers play a crucial role in fostering a sense of belonging by establishing positive relationships with their students. Taking the time to know each student individually, showing genuine care and interest, and providing support can significantly contribute to a student’s sense of belonging. When students feel connected to their teacher, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging within the classroom community. Let me clarify that, being a good teacher is not about winning a popularity contest. As a teacher, not all my students may like me. Rather than striving to be the most favored teacher to a select few, my goal is to cultivate critical thinking abilities that will ultimately benefit the entire classroom community. Teaching is not a one-size-fits-all approach. As I continue to develop and improve as a teacher, my methods may change, and I will strive to reach and inspire my students even more effectively.

Effective teaching involves creating an inclusive classroom environment where all students feel valued, respected, and accepted. For example, encouraging collaborative learning experiences enhance students’ sense of belonging. This collaboration fosters a sense of belonging as students work together towards a common goal and recognize the value they bring to the group. Teachers can implement practices that support student well-being and foster a sense of belonging. This includes providing clear expectations, offering constructive feedback, and creating opportunities for student voice and choice. When students feel supported and empowered in their learning, they are more likely to develop a sense of ownership and belonging within the classroom.

Love nurtures belonging:

Defining love can be difficult because it’s a multifaceted and complex emotion and subjective nature. Love involves empathy and understanding the students’ experiences, feelings, and perspectives in a classroom setting. In my classroom, I show love through active listening, encouraging critical thinking, and understanding the students’ perspectives. When students feel loved and valued, a sense of belonging within their classroom community, they are more likely to engage in learning, take academic risks, and develop a sense of self-worth. That said, it can be challenging to find joy every day. In order to teach and be passionate about it, certain conditions must be met. Universities in America mandate anonymous surveys known as teaching evaluations to monitor teachers’ progress, which can break the teachers’ morale (race, ethnicity, gender, and discipline contribute to the results of the evaluation). Regardless of any challenges, my love for my students motivates me to prioritize their development and education.

Graduate students in action II (© don't use the image without permission)

To summarize, teaching and creating a sense of belonging are closely linked. We can foster this through teaching by establishing an inclusive atmosphere, building relationships, encouraging collaboration, utilizing an inclusive curriculum, and implementing supportive practices. By doing so, students will feel a sense of belonging which can lead to increased motivation, engagement, and academic and personal success.

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