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What Schools Need to Know About Fostering School Belonging

What Schools Need to Know About Fostering School Belonging

Article Citation: Allen, K., Kern, M. L., Vella-Brodrick, D., Hattie, J., & Waters, L. (2016). What schools need to know about fostering school belonging: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 1-34. doi: 10.1007/s10648-016-9389-8

What is the study about?

The researchers hope to clarify inconsistencies in previous research about the individual and social factors that influence feelings of school belonging for students.


The extend to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment (Goodenow & Grady, 1993, p. 80).

Previous research has identified several factors related to school belonging, and these factors can be clustered into 3 system-levels: Individual, Microsystem, & Mesosystem.

Individual Level

Microsystem Level

Mesosystem Level

  • Academic motivation (beliefs & behaviors)
  • Personal characteristics (abilities, temperament & coping skills)
  • Race/ethnicity (social & cultural identity)
  • Gender
  • Parent support
  • Peer support
  • Teacher support
  • Availability of and involvement in extracurricular activities
  • Environmental/school safety variables

What Did They Find?

These Individual Variables were related to school belonging: Future aspirations and goals, academic self-regulation, self-academic rating, education goals, motivation and valuing academics.

These Microsystem Variables were related to school belonging: Parent, peer & teacher support were all strongly tied to school belonging. Teacher support was most important, followed by parent support. Peer support was the least important.

These Mesosystem Variables were related to school belonging: Extracurricular activities were related to school belonging but there might be an optimal number and type for each student. Perceived safety was slightly related to school belonging.

Why is it Important?

Students may benefit from teachers targeting the learning process instead of performance when providing praise and/or recognition.

Interventions must: account for the influence of significant others in students’ lives; work toward strengthening relationships with adults (especially teachers); & engage parents as part of a whole-school approach.

Not enough high quality studies have been conducted to examine factors at this level. More research is necessary but the authors suggest that intervention at the individual & microsystem levels may be more important.

What can School Social Workers Do?

  • Encourage a growth-mindset in schools that focuses on students’ growth rather than a specific benchmark.
  • Stress the importance of teachers’ roles in fostering school belonging and coach teachers on building rapport.
  • Prompt school administrators, policy makers & community change agents to take a wider perspective on school improvement efforts and focus intervention on broader level factors for which they have more control over like student-teacher relationships (compared to individual factors like peer and parent relationships).

How Was The Study Done?

A meta-analysis of individual and social factors that influence school belonging was conducted. The literature search covered quantitative research studies from September 2012 through March 2013 that: (1) included students between the ages of 12 and 18; (2) defined “school belonging” in the same manner as Goodenow & Grady 1993; (3) used “school belonging” as a dependent variable; (4) provided an effect size or the information to calculate one; and (5) included at least one of the 10 variables of interest (listed above under Individual/Microsystem/Mesosystem level factors). Fifty-one studies were included in the analysis covering three countries (USA, Australia, & New Zealand), 4 school location types (rural, suburban, urban & mixed); 3 types of schools (public, private religious, & private non-religious) and 3 types of sampling (random, convenience, and biased).

About The Author

Michele Patak-Pietrafesa

Michele Patak-Pietrafesa, LISW-S is a PhD candidate in the College of Social Work at the Ohio State University. Her dissertation research explores teacher perceptions and how these relate to various outcomes for students of color. She teaches both in-person and online courses in research and statistics in the BSW program at OSU and conducts trainings and guest lectures on topics related to evaluating social work practice, school social work, and anti-racist practice.

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