Teachers’ Cues Shape Students’ Sense of Belonging

Teachers’ Cues Shape Students’ Sense of Belonging

Education Week | June 20, 2017

By Evie Blad

If students don't feel like they belong in their school environment, they can feel like impostors, said Dena Simmons, the director of education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a former middle school teacher.

That feeling can create fear and anxiety that hijack students' learning experiences or lead them to believe they are not capable of success, she said.

Simmons' views are not just informed by her professional and academic work; they are also shaped by her experiences as a child of an immigrant mother who transferred from a public school in the Bronx to a mostly white boarding school in Connecticut.

In a TED Talk, Simmons discusses the time a teacher at her new school loudly confronted her in front of her peers about the way she pronounced "asking." The moment, she said, made her feel like she didn't belong.

Simmons says students in all kinds of schools pick up on cues like she did. Disproportionate discipline rates for children of color, a lack of literature featuring characters who look or live like them, or a sense that their "identity isn't present" or reflected in their teachers or peers can create hurdles to belonging.

Read the full interview here.