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  • Writer's pictureHayley Yendell

Promoting a Sense of Belonging in Early Years

In the pursuit of cultivating a welcoming, inclusive environment, it is vital that we recognise and respect the diverse attributes that children, staff, and parents bring to our school communities. In a rapidly changing world, feeling a strong sense of belonging has become more critical than ever. As individuals we thrive when we feel connected, valued, and included. A sense of belonging not only enhances our well-being but it contributes to the overall success of individuals, groups and communities. In this blog post, we delve into the importance of promoting a sense of belonging and will explore the practical strategies we use to cultivate it in our schools.


The Importance of Belonging in Early Years

At its core, the need to belong is a fundamental human motivation. Research indicates that individuals who feel a strong sense of belonging experience greater happiness, reduced stress levels, and improved mental health. When people feel accepted and valued within a group, they are more likely to share ideas, contribute actively, and form meaningful relationships. When employees feel connected to their colleagues and the broader mission of the organisation, they are more motivated to collaborate, and work towards common goals. These are all attributes that form the keystone of any educational workforce.



Early Years Training
Early Years Training

Strategies to Promote a Sense of Belonging…


…amongst your Leaders

Clearly communicating the vision, values and expectations of your school will immediately clarify your core purpose and educational intent. By setting a positive and inclusive tone from the outset, you establish a framework for respectful interaction and collaboration which can develop into an inclusive, warm and accepting environment for staff teams. It is essential to acknowledge and respect differences and potential vulnerabilities. Schools have a key role to play in promoting diversity and equal opportunities in all areas; notably for leaders the areas of recruitment, training, and career progression. One simple activity for leaders is reviewing the wording in adverts. Consider this; when was the last time you asked a focus group to check your recruitment adverts for racial or gender bias?

…amongst your staff team

Raising awareness of diversity among staff members, promoting honest discussion and providing opportunities to celebrate difference ensures that staff are aware of what is important to their colleagues. Training, workshops, and regular staff meetings can be used to educate educators about differences, potential challenges faced by individuals, and best practices for creating an inclusive environment. This awareness not only promotes empathy and understanding but also helps in preventing unintentional discrimination. Brene Brown says ‘The opposite of belonging is fitting in.’ We want our staff to feel that they can be themselves and not need to ‘fit in.’. To support this, we introduced a staff ‘All About Me!’ document that they complete to share with their colleagues. This allows staff to share their passions and strengths, share what overwhelms them and how they like to be supported. This gives greater depth and insight into their uniqueness and creates a forum for empathy and understanding.

…amongst your parents and carers

Inclusive practice has to extend beyond the immediate school community to encompass parents and carers. Schools should actively engage with parents to ensure that they are informed, involved, and respected members of the school community. Reaching 100% engagement with families will only result from an unwavering commitment on behalf of the school; finding the best times, media and ways to contact each family-and ensuring approaches are bespoke. Providing information in different languages, accommodating parents with disabilities, and organising events can enhance parental involvement and engagement. Our staff regularly review representation on our website and through the displays and images around the school to ensure that staff, parents and children can see themselves.

…amongst your children

Children are highly impressionable and can be profoundly affected by the way they are treated in the educational setting. All staff must recognise the unique challenges faced by children especially those with greater vulnerabilities. For instance, children with disabilities need to see themselves and others like them in images used, books and resources. Some children will require specific adaptations to participate fully in planned sessions, and all children benefit from a carefully planned, inclusive curriculum that represents them and the world they are familiar with. Recently our staff teams have considered the representation in their rooms and responded in a variety of ways. They have provided a selection of glasses in the role play area, displayed and discussed posters showcasing Paralympians and invited a local group of learning disabled musicians to work with the children.

Conclusion

Promoting a sense of belonging is essential for building stronger communities, organisations, and societies. Incorporating a deep understanding of protected characteristics into the fabric of our schools is not just a legal requirement; it is a moral imperative. By fostering inclusivity, encouraging collaboration, celebrating diversity, and communicating values we can create an environment where every child, staff member, and parent feels valued, respected, and included. As we continue to navigate the complexities of our interconnected world, let us prioritise the well-being and success of all members by promoting a sense of belonging at every level.

 

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