February is a quirky month. Unlike the other months in the year, it doesn’t have 30 or 31 days. It doesn’t fit the pattern the other months share of alternating between those two numbers. Nope, not February. It’s the shortest month of the year with 28 days, except in Leap years when it has 29. You’d think it didn’t really belong there in the calendar but surprisingly, it fits right in and proclaims itself the month of love. It embraces its uniqueness with celebration and teaches us that you don’t have to be exactly the same as others to belong.
And why is that important?
Because, belonging is a double-edged sword. We all want to fit in — to belong — and to do that we need to find others who accept us as we are. Yet at the same time, we need to accept ourselves first or we can never truly feel that others do. Belonging starts within us. What we believe about ourselves is reflected back to us like a mirror.
According to Dr. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist and professor best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging is a fundamental human need leading to self-actualization, or the fulfillment of one’s potential. More simply, belonging is a sense of place within a community — whether that’s our family and friends, our coworkers and classmates, or our state and country. It’s feeling as though our insights and contributions to the group are heard and valued, that what we do is appreciated, that we matter. It’s what allows us to be our true, authentic selves.
Belonging influences behavior. If we feel connection and inclusion, we’re more likely to be engaged and motivated, which leads to success and happiness. By creating a supportive environment where others can feel this sense of belonging, we can improve performance and increase retention. We can foster better relationships, collaboration, and problem solving. We can also prevent feelings of isolation, which is especially important in today’s digital climate.
By cultivating a sense of belonging in our schools and workplaces, we can empower students and staff to be agents of change. We can create a place where students and staff want to be and where they encourage others to join them.
Creating a Sense of Belonging
The biggest component to belonging is acceptance, both of ourselves and of others. Here are some tips to creating acceptance and belonging:
Be aware of word choices: Words are powerful. Make sure the ones you use are full of positives and let the negative words fall out of use. For example, instead of saying “I don’t belong,” say “I belong as much as anyone else.” Say “I can” or “I will in time” instead of “I can’t.”
Cultivate self-acceptance: Learn to like who you are and what your strengths are. Teach others to do the same. Find the good in your biggest rival, regardless of how small it seems — a bright smile, a snappy outfit, a brilliant idea, a quick wit. These seemingly insignificant things add up and influence our perspective toward positivity.
Create connections: Bring people together and find common ground, whether it starts as something trivial like favorite colors and activities or something bigger like social and political causes. Think about how your teams are structured and what each person can bring to the table. Create open dialogue to focus and build on those connections.
Recognize efforts, skills, and achievements: Acknowledging accomplishments helps others feel valued and respected. Highlighting strengths motivates people to bring those skills to the work at hand because they know they are appreciated.
Request feedback: Inviting others to share their opinions gives them a voice. It asks for their perspective and requires you to listen. Use grace when giving and receiving feedback. Be open to other points of view, share ideas, and collaborate on problems so that students and staff feel confident in expressing themselves freely.
By implementing a sense of belonging, you create growth and opportunity. Individuals can see how the work they do impacts their job and community, which encourages engagement and further contribution leading to the success of the organization.
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