Dear Faculty Relations: As the semester begins, how should I approach creating a great classroom experience for my class and fostering a sense of belonging? I hear that a sense of belonging is positively associated with academic success and motivation. - Caring Faculty

Dear Caring Faculty: Encouraging a sense of belonging is one of the best High Impact Practices to foster student success. Here are four ideas based on College Student Development Theories that create a sense of comfort, calm, and belonging in your classroom and can lead to every student feeling they are a valued member of your class.


It’s contagious.

Connect with your Students

  • Send a welcome email the day before your first class.
  • Take a class photo on the first day. I like to say it’s a seating chart for the larger classes.
  • Talk about yourself.
  • Facilitate an ice breaker on the first day of class and participate.
  • Share your favorite music; play it in class.
  • Learn students’ names, for real.
  • Review the photo rosters; go to Canvas to see their photos/avatars and ask about them.
  • Encourage students to talk in class and when they do, have them share their names each time.
  • Create activities that require student conversations.
  • Think, Pair, Share activities. Turn to a neighbor and talk about your next assignment, the reading from last night, or other class-related topics.

Build Community

  • At the beginning of each class, restate the top learning objective.
  • Ask students always to show their learning.
  • Give credit to students who actively participate in a co-curricular activity in your department that you also attend. Additional points if they go as a group and share what they learned with the class. Other examples: national conferences, departmental talks the Conference on World Affairs.
  • Lead/Teach by example. Share something you are researching outside the class topic yet related to the class.

Recenter & Reflect

  • Check with them as to how their day is going. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, ask “how has your day been going?” Validate it and empathize, then start the class.
  • Invite an Academic Advisor to guest talk at the beginning of one of your classes during the 7th or 8th week of the semester; they’ll highlight the importance of connecting with faculty and advisors. (Shameless self-promotion.)
  • Always leave time for questions at the end of each class and invite the class to visit you during your office hours, early and often.
  • And remember to Smile!

Here’s a GREAT article explaining the importance of that sense of belonging:

Lauren A. J. Kirby & Christopher L. Thomas (2022) High-impact teaching practices foster a greater sense of belonging in the college classroom, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 46:3, 368-381, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2021.1950659

Written by Scarlett Pontón de Dutton, Director of Campus Advising Initiative & Strategy, Office of Undergraduate Education, August 2022.