Ask students to form a large circle and let them know that, for the next 6-7 minutes, they will be playing a game to get to know each other a bit better. For this game, you will read a list of statements and ask students to step into the circle if the statement is true for them.
For example, you might ask students to step into the circle if they have a sibling. You can use the upcoming list to direct this activity or, if you want to get students more involved, then go around the circle, letting each student come up with one statement on their own. The latter option ensures that every student will be able to step into the circle at least once.
If students want to facilitate the activity themselves, occasionally add your own statement to guide students towards topics that may be more personal or sensitive, and always end the activity with the last five statements from the list below.
Game Instructions available in downloads section.
If students are being honest and if they have the courage to make themselves vulnerable, then most students will step into the circle for the last couple of questions pertaining to judgement, bullying, and the desire to belong. For these questions, slow down the activity and let the power of collective experiences and human connection sink in.
After the last question, quietly ask students to find their seats and lead a 10-minute group discussion reflecting on the activity. Alternatively, you can cultivate connection by staying in the circle and simply asking students to sit down.
Use the following prompts to guide a discussion about similarities, differences, fitting in and belonging:
- These statements helped us recognize our similarities and differences. Do you think that it’s possible to be different from the people around you and still feel like you belong?
- If the feeling of belonging is not necessarily based on similarities, then what does the sense of belonging stem from?
- Do you think that there is a difference between fitting in and belonging? If so, what is it?
- How might trying to fit in be a barrier to belonging?
- Brené Brown says that “because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance”. Do you agree with this statement? How might a lack of self-acceptance get in the way of true belonging?
Next, ask students to observe that (hopefully) everyone stepped into the circle for the last question, indicating that they wanted to be a part of a school where they feel safe, valued, accepted and respected by others. In other words, they want to feel like they belong at school. Use this point to teach the four elements of true belonging, which were introduced in the READY section.
Following this brief instructional period, engage in another 10-minute discussion to identify examples of specific behaviours, actions and words that cultivate students’ own and others’ sense of belonging at school.
- Was there a difference in the feeling of safety in the room before and after the activity?
- What are some things that we can do to help people feel safe and accepted in this classroom?
- What are some words that we can use or phrases that we can say to communicate this safety and acceptance?
- What are examples of behaviours, actions or words that hinder our sense of belonging? How can we work on addressing and changing those things?
Finally, assign students a creative writing activity to reflect on their learning. Give students the “Book of Belonging” worksheet and the last 15 minutes to brainstorm a storyline for their assignment. Over the next week, consider giving students some class time to work on writing their story. Alternatively, ask students to write the story for homework and set a due date for the following week.
Book of Belonging Worksheet available in downloads section.
What if I don’t feel like I belong anywhere?
In order to have a sense of belonging, you have to feel like you are in a safe space where you are seen, accepted, and respected for being your authentic self. Even if you are in a safe space, you need to have the courage to be vulnerable and let your authentic self be seen. It’s possible that you don’t feel like you belong because you don’t feel comfortable or courageous enough to be authentic. When you try hiding who you are, you are also changing who we are, which directly interferes with belonging. Belonging depends on your ability to be who you are. Now that you know this, your next step is to identify whether or not you are part of safe spaces where other people will respect and accept you without judgment. If you are a part of these safe spaces, then you need to focus on creating an action plan to cultivate your courage. If you do not feel like you are a part of safe spaces, then you can start by focusing on finding ways to make the space safer or trying to find a new space to be a part of.
Why does belonging depend on my level of self-acceptance?
Belonging is about being yourself and about feeling loved, respected and accepted for who you are. If you do not accept yourself, then you will likely be actively engaging with thoughts or behaviours that directly or indirectly change who you are. As a result, you will not be able to show-up authentically. In essence, you are not giving people the opportunity to love, respect and accept you. Instead, they will love, respect and accept the mask you are hiding behind, which might seem like proof that you can’t be your authentic self. Therefore, other people will only be able to accept you as much as you accept yourself.