Student Belonging Project
A strong sense of belonging has a significant impact on both student success and well-being (College Belonging, Nunn, 2021) and our own institutional data tell us that a key reason that students consider leaving Kent State is that they lack a sense of belonging. The Student Belonging Project aims to provide instructors and academic units with strategies to support student belonging, while recognizing and celebrating the successes that our gifted faculty have already implemented. Many of the recommendations that will be shared can be found in Lisa Nunn’s books College Belonging and 33 Simple Strategies for Faculty: A Week by Week Resource for Teaching First-Year and First-Generation Students.
If you are interested in getting more involved with student belonging, check out these opportunities:
Beginning of Semester Strategies:
- Introduce yourself in class as a living, breathing human being rather than your professional self.
- Be available and perceived as available to your students. This may occur in student interactions in class, in the syllabus, and during office hours.
- Get to know your students through informal surveys, assignments, and activities.
- Require office hours (individual or group) early in the semester can help break the ice and decrease the barrier to attending in the future.
- Explain successful learning strategies for your course early and often in the first few weeks
- Acknowledge that your course is challenging.
- Communicate your confidence in students’ ability to succeed. Remind them that learning is a process and that they can succeed with practice and effort.
- Spend 5-15 minutes during class on student success.
- Collect mid-semester feedback on how the course is going for students.
- Choose a few students to engage with before/after class.
- Share a story of college woe. This may be a time you overslept your alarm, had problems with your roommate, or struggled to find money to eat something other than instant noodles.
- Help students remember what they are passionate about or what they are really good at doing.
- Do a fun activity in class—something that allows students to laugh or commiserate. Think about something other than a traditional written response such as a haiku, a limerick, or drawing.
- Practice a mindfulness or gratitude exercise with your students.
- Talk with students about wellness practices
End of Semester Strategies:
- Share a story of failure (e.g. exams, courses, job applications, manuscript rejections). This is especially important for first-year students since failure may be a new experience.
- Invite students to reflect on what they have learned, both successful and unsuccessful actions. Remind them that learning from mistakes helps prevent repeating them.
- Ask students to share words of wisdom for students taking your course in the future.
- Say farewell to students when the semester ends. Consider letting them know what you have gained from the semester and invite them to stay connected in future semesters.
- Reiterate the welcome that students will experience during office hours (or student hours as we prefer to call them). Consider using one of the student/office hours templates found here Student Belonging Resources to create a welcoming environment.
Belonging Project - Faculty Edition:
The Student Belonging Project has allowed your strategies to improve students' sense of belonging to help others at KSU. We thought it was important for faculty to know that their sense of belonging is important as well. Shown below are strategies that extend belonging to colleagues and that emphasize care for yourself as well.
- Reach out and make a personal connection with a new faculty member in your area. It’s important to remember that our new colleagues have started their positions during a pandemic, making their new start even more challenging.
- Extend grace to yourself and to your colleagues. We are all facing challenges, both personal and professional.
- Recognize that what you do truly matters. Celebrate your accomplishments, both big and small.
- Tell someone you appreciate them. Say “thank you”!
- Practice self-care in a way that brings you a greater sense of well-being: this could prioritizing your sleep, exercising, practicing meditation, eating well or participating in a Kent State Wellness program.
Melissa Owen (Geauga) Nursing
Each Tuesday, for 30 minutes (7:30-8:00) before class, I hold "Coffee Talk". I roll in my Keurig and tea pot or students can bring their own coffee. During the 30 minutes, I invite students to come early, we discuss clinical, questions they may have about class content, or talk about current events and share stories or gardening tips. The cohort is small, and therefore manageable. I typically get the same students from week to week, and it seems as though they enjoy this bit of relaxed time. Coffee Talk gives me a chance to meet the students and understand their needs and gives them the opportunity to see me as faculty and not in my dual coordinator role (which can be intimidating for some students).
Angela Douglass (East Liverpool) Nursing
For fall 2021, I decided to dedicate our Nursing Campus Lab door as our "Welcome" and "You Belong Here" entry point. All first level nursing students start their nursing education in the lab, being taught the basic skills they will use throughout their nursing career. To make everyone feel as though they 'belong' in the lab (and at KSU), I placed a colorful "You Belong Here" sign on the door. Students then placed their name on a colorful Autumn leaf in September and added smaller leaves in November with messages of thankfulness. In December, students decorated the lab closet door with personalized snowflakes or trees. This strategy contributed to their sense of belonging each time they came to lab. It also gave them the chance to interact and get to know their peers.
In addition, I shared stories each week of former students who struggled, overcame their circumstances and found ways to succeed! Each semester, I encourage students to reach out for help and tell them they are not alone in this journey. At KSU-EL, we all work together as a team to help our students succeed, because it takes a village to raise a nursing student!
Sara Koopman (Kent) Peace Studies
You can suggest that students whose names are sometimes mispronounced by others can help you and other classmates get it right with this resource https://cloud.name-coach.com/.
Leslie Heaphy (Stark) History
I start a new semester with a survey on google for students to fill out and tell me a bit about themselves, their hopes for my class and the semester. I also tell them they can ask me any questions they want. This let's them know a bit more about me if they want. I also ask them if there is anything they really want me to know about them, their goals etc..
Anonymous Submission (Kent)
Promptly respond to student emails and contact. When we do this, students feel heard. A simple, "Thank you for letting me know." Let's them know that they were acknowledged. Everyone is busy, but it only takes a second to make sure a student knows you saw them and they belong.
Hezekiah Seun Adewinbi (Kent) Graduate Assistant, Mathematical Sciences
Last year, I discovered that my students did not interact in or out of class. I came up with two strategies: "call a friend" and "peer-to-peer." If you fail my question, you will be offered the option to call a friend by name to answer the questions on your behalf. Some students started arriving at class early to converse with their peers. They begin forming bonds and cooperating. The second strategy requires them to solve problems in groups of two. That was accomplished by pairing low-performing students with medium-performing students and medium-performing students with high-performing students. If your companion is absent from class, you must report to me. I found out that they took friendship more seriously than just during my class. I told them to always sit alongside their companion in all my classes. I occasionally witness them discussing non-academic issues among themselves a few minutes before the start of the lecture. Toward the end of the semester, my students leave the class in groups of twos or threes. I set up a Microsoft Team Chat, but they didn't like it, so they set up a GroupMe chat instead.
Tamara Honesty (Kent), Arts
It is amazing how changing the way we say things and the impact it has. I used to say "Do you have questions?" or "Any questions?" Now, I have changed to saying "What questions do you have?" I got that tidbit from the book Gen Z Goes to College. After I started doing that one of the younger students who hadn't had me previously remarked "I like how you say 'what questions do you have' because it lets me know it is okay that I have questions and that you expect there to be questions. Changing the wording has had an enormous impact! Not only do they feel more comfortable, but I get better questions.
Kinjal Nayak (Kent) Graduate Assistant, Public Health
I've been teaching online courses since the beginning of this pandemic. I mainly teach epidemiology and biostatistics courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels in the college of public health. In my courses, I expect my students to get involved in group discussions and activities so that they can feel like they are participating. I also think it is extremely crucial for students to realize the significance of the course. This tactic helps encourage my students. And they become more attentive and creative when they understand how these courses can support them to accomplish their long-term, future career goals. From time to time, I try to develop a connection with my students by asking about their experiences and expectations, any proposals to make online education more practical and exciting, etc. Compared to traditional/face-to-face courses, in online courses, it can be difficult to get focused. This is where I think we need to instill the necessary enthusiasm so that our students can get involved and work well. Likewise, I often remind them of due dates. I also believe that group activities and projects can give a sense of teamwork when students communicate with each other.
Jay Hays (Kent) Sociology
I join my synchronous online sessions 15 minutes early and chat with students who log in early - just about the day, how their week is going, etc. The same things I do when I teach face-to-face. I will sometimes even take 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class to just check-in in such a manner. If students were stressing about a test in another class, I will ask how they did on that test in the next class. Asking athletes how their season is going; adult students about their children or school-life balance. I sometimes get students from other majors taking my sociology courses. I like to engage them in disciplinary talk, "what would psychology say about our subject matter; have you read anything in your political science classes that has a different take on this article; how might this information help you as a teacher, nurse, journalist, etc.
Daniel Dankovich (East Liverpool) Biology
I announce this on Day 1. I mandate and meet with any student that attains a letter grade of C or below on any exam. They are asked to bring in their study materials and we review those. I then review the best ways/strategies that former students have used to study and succeed in my courses. We then develop a plan that includes weekly check-ins prior to the next exam. Finally, we meet after the subsequent exam to discuss if the plan we developed worked for them. Does it need changed? What can I do better? What can they do better?
Manacy Pai (Kent) Sociology
I send out encouraging/fun announcements to students in my online classes. I do this 4 times a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays), first thing in the morning. Even students who don't do as well in class reach out to say what a difference these emails make. They share an event from their life; sometimes, share a recipe/movie/book suggestion, etc.
SAMPLE EMAIL BELOW:
It is Friday and I am in a very good mood. I still have plenty of work to finish but nevertheless, it is a Friday. And Fridays make me happy! Another thing that is making me happy is the news that McDonald's has come up with a new flavor for their chicken nuggets. Apparently, this is first time in 40 years that they are trying out a new flavor for their nuggets. Release date - September 16th! Yes, yes, fast food is not good for our health. I know! I get it and believe me -- Shelly and I are very health conscious. We eat healthy and exercise, regularly! But chicken nuggets once a month, how bad can that be? How bad can something that delicious be? Everything in moderation, as they say, eh?
Anyhow, coming back to the more mundane thing -- work 🙂. Just a very quick reminder that the deadline to finish participating in this week's discussion is 5:00pm, EST today! If you haven’t yet added your response post (i.e., your response to a classmate), please do so by the stipulated deadline.
Sounds reasonable? I sure hope so. If you have any questions/concerns -- you know how to reach me!
Have a happy Friday and a happier weekend. Be safe.
Christina Redfern (Kent) Nursing
My area of expertise is mental health and I believe creating a sense of belonging and connection is essential to promote optimal health and well-being. Many of my students struggle with their own mental health which can interfere with their sense of belonging. I try to normalize their worries and experiences as much as possible, support them, and provide check in messages throughout the semester.
Many of my students are very timid about their psych rotation and can be fearful at times about feedback from their instructors or become very worried about making mistakes when talking to patients. I like to talk about my past mistakes week one and celebrate them as we are all human and mistakes will occur throughout our practice. I try to celebrate the mistakes as opportunities to learn rather than things that should be avoided. I have noticed that by doing this, my students are relaxed in the clinical setting and actually make less mistakes. It fosters a sense of belonging as well by connecting to my students as showing them that we are all in the same boat.
Virginia Horvath (Kent) Nursing
I have been well aware of this semester as a first university term for the students in my College Writing I class. Many were glad to be here in person, and I have used every opportunity to take advantage of the small class size and in-person experience. While keeping people safe, these have been some of my strategies for fostering a sense of belonging:
1. connect students to each other through class discussion and peer sessions
2. check-ins each week to see how students are doing
Anonymous Submission (Kent)
Focusing on empowering employees and building belonging values in that space will provide the competitive edge for all student interacting staff/faculty to embody belonging in their work. Thus pouring this value into student's themselves.
Haiyan Zhu (East Liverpool) Biological Sciences
Lisa Nunn’s college belong two session’s talk reflected her passion in her work and her research. As a faculty member, I echo her attitude and her many methods in teaching. One thing I practice a lot in teaching is making myself always available to students through communication. One week before a semester starts, I send an email to inform students about the textbook and first day expectation. One day before the first day, another welcome email sends out with more information to help students understand course requirements and varies resources for college life they might need. For courses taught in in classroom/Teams, I show up earlier to chat or to answer questions. For online courses, weekly earlier Monday email would send to students to summarize last week work and remind this week tasks, also to share information which I think benefit students in their college life. I have meet students in their convenient time in evening or weekend. I always encourage students to ask, to share and to communicate with me as well as with their classmates to help each other to learn one course together and to adapt a college life together.
Anonymous Submission (Geauga)
I try to keep to a schedule, not to be tough, but as a way of having students develop habits that will help them meet external demands. On the other hand, I repeatedly give extensions to those deadlines for students have other demands.
Also, as we noted in the seminar this morning,, remote office hours help me be more accessible to students. For example, early in this afternoon's session, I saw email come in from one of my CCP students who was asking for quick feedback on revision for a draft that we will discuss on Tuesday in a small group. She's already had one such peer group meeting, but I'm glad that they seem to think I am accessible so that they would contact me for a email, or even a video chat.
Anonymous Submission (Kent)
There are several things I try to do to cultivate a sense of belonging for my students. I try to keep the language in my syllabi, announcements, and conversations success-oriented, with emphasis on encouraging a growth mindset. I also attempt to give my students advice about how to explain their problems and repeatedly reinforce that I am available to help (as are other people like the KSU Help Desk, the Academic Success Center, the Library staff, etc.) so they can feel connected in specific ways to a community of support. Additionally, I provide guidance about how to approach readings, take notes, study, and manage their time. Most importantly, I try to model positive behaviors (e.g., engaging in conversation before class, being specific with requests in e-mails, providing a professional and appropriate level of self-disclosure). It's one thing to articulate and explain requirements and expectations, but it's also important to show them consistently that I practice what I preach.
Min He (Trumbull) Mathematics
1. When communicate with students and make class announcements, I use "we and our". For example, when send out test reminder, I wrote "our midterm exam ...".
2. I encourage students to ask questions by telling them that no questions are dumb questions. Your questions will not only help your understanding on topics, but they will also help other students.
3. Build student peer groups so that they are able to connect and help each other.
Jessica Leveto (Ashtabula) Sociology
My approach to supporting a sense of student belonging has shifted over the years, but the one consistent has been authenticity and humility. I feel being authentic in my concern and care, practicing my craft with humility and understanding is central to creating space for belonging.
While similar, my approaches to creating a sense of belonging differ in online versus in-person classes. Regional campuses are all commuter campuses, and many of my students are often online. If attending in person, nearly all students are here for the course and leave quickly to deal with work or family responsibilities. My students are not living on campus and lack that residential campus culture, and they also often lack time. The unique needs of regional students put the sense of belonging mainly on the faculty to create space to build that culture in our classrooms.
Kinjal Nayak (Kent) Graduate Assistant, Public Health
I teach epidemiology and biostatistics courses with graduate and undergraduate students. In these courses, the students are asked to write a productive post about themselves at the beginning of the course, including name, major/minor, place of residence, work, personal interests, learning expectations, photos/videos, etc. Additionally, the courses offer students to engage in group activities and discussions so that they can communicate their opinions and ideas with other members of the group. I think this strategy of conducting group activities will help students in learning from their classmates and having accessibility and networking.
Loretta Aller (Kent) Nursing
One of the courses I teach is a 7 1/2 week Critical Thinking and Test Taking course. Even though students finished earlier in the semester, I send out emails of encouragement, wellness reminders, and tips of strategies we discussed in class. I remind them that they have the "tools in their toolbox" to finish the semester strong. I always end with words to remind them that we, as faculty, are here to support them throughout the nursing program - even if they aren't in a current course.
Loretta Aller (Kent) Nursing
One technique I use is on the first day of class, I hand out index cards; in classes with multiple level students, they are color-coded (yellow=sophomore, green=junior, etc). I ask them to put on the card the following:
- Other courses you are taking
- What you hope to get out of this class
- One thing you are worried about this semester
I leave those bottom two vague - it's been interesting. For the 'one thing you are worried about this semester', I've gotten everything from ""having enough food for my children"" to ""I'm scared to go to the hospital for clinical"" to ""having to repeat another nursing course"".
I also require at least one meeting, face-to-face within the first two weeks; I realize this is not possible for very large classes. That's where we talk about their goals and worries; the 'pets' question is for those who are REALLY shy or nervous...we start there. It gives me a chance to put a face with a name, for them to find my office and for me to talk with them about study skills, time management and test taking skills (all VERY relevant for nursing students in general!).
Ann Ancona (Kent) Nursing
I teach a journaling course with graduate students. This course invites students to write creatively about a variety of topics such as the benefits of journaling/writing creatively, gratitude, and appreciation of everyday experiences such as art, books, and photographs. Students have really enjoyed this course, one stated it was the BEST (student emphasis) course she has ever taken.
Students use a discussion board as well as other assignments. These areas are safe places for students to share their thoughts. The students are very supportive of each other; many share the same struggles with balancing life, school, work, and/or family obligations. Several have already commented that they are enjoying this opportunity to talk to peers.
This is my favorite class to teach. I would love to expand this to reach other colleges.
Hayley Arnold (Kent) Education, Health and Human Services - Health Sciences
I use a team-based learning approach in my courses. I assign all students to a team of 5-7 students and they work within this team throughout the semester. This way, students get to know a small group of peers in their class. This helps prevent feelings of isolation and creates connections between students.
Christina Bloebaum (Kent) Aeronautics & Engineering
In CAE, we created very nice and professional looking laminated nametags for all faculty (PT and FT), staff and students in the college and are encouraging everyone to wear them for the first month so that we can learn each others names. They are on lanyards with the college name as well as our college motto (Dare Mighty Things). I believe that learning student names, even in large classes, should be the very first priority of our instructors. In my class, I am giving extra credit to students who wear their name tag, take a picture of themselves at one of our upcoming events, and then post on social media (or email the picture if they do not participate in social platforms). Hence, the strategy overall is - learn student names! However, a strategy to enable the strategy is for units to make nice laminated nametags on branded lanyards at the start of the academic year.
Tracy Dodson (Kent) Nursing
A great approach that has worked well is small group discussion boards. This works great with smaller classes (<30). I randomly assign them to groups. They then have posts due each week. Wednesday is the initial post and then they must respond to each of their group members posts by Saturday. I have little requirements - this keeps it open and "raw". Students have this core group and I find that they do far more conversations then the simple discussion board assignment. They engage with one another and comment multiple times. There is a little bit of discourse - playful - but great to get them thinking. They then have this core group that they know very well - some have even met for lunch! As well, I have them introduce themselves as their first post and I respond to EACH one of them meaningfully after viewing their introduction slide (pictures and descriptions of their support system, pets, etc..). Students comment on how this makes them feel welcomed and supported - to know that a teacher actually does read and does care !! Then throughout the semester I may ask how their pet is or say Go Browns after a good game (or team that they are a fan of) - those constant reminders that I remembered them mean a lot to them.
Marie Gasper-Hulvat (Stark) Arts - School of Art
#1: During the 15 minutes before every synchronous class on Bb Collaborate Ultra, I share a coloring page pdf related to the week's course content. Students use the drawing and painting tools to collaboratively color together while we chat informally as we all come into the classroom. It creates a sense of community and support as we laugh and joke together out loud and in the chat before we start talking about the course material.
#2: In the 1st five minutes of class, to get everyone involved in the chat creatively, we do an emoji check-in. I always give a prompt, such as ""How are you supporting your mental health today?"", ""What is your secret superhero alter-ego?"", ""What animal is your patronus?"", ""What was your primary emotion working through this week's readings?"", or ""How are you feeling today about your progress on the final project?"""
Tammy Honesty (Kent) Arts - Theatre and Dance
I actively work to create a sense of community in the classroom by incorporating daily ice-breaker fun questions that get the students engaged with talking with one another. Additionally, I focus on creating a highly interactive and lively environment for lectures and studio classes alike. So much of theatrical design and artistry requires extreme vulnerability to be open to constructive criticism to grow. I foster an environment where the students can be brave by sharing successes as well as what they struggled to accomplish. The students embrace each other with support in critiques by verbally crafting suggestions that build their colleague's confidence while giving them positive strategies for improvement.
Bonnie Shaker (Geauga), Arts & Sciences - English
In College Writing courses, workshopping student drafts together in class is accepted pedagogy. However, publicly sharing one’s intellectual labor in a first-year course is intimidating; students can quickly conclude they are academic “insiders” or “outsiders” based on comments they receive. Over time, I have learned that the following strategies help students feel more comfortable in the writing workshop:
- • Encourage a “growth mindset.” On the first day of class, I ask students to prioritize learning over outcomes. While students often use grades to stratify their “place” in the classroom, learning is a goal all students share and can achieve.
- • Emphasize a writing community. Similarly, although all students are unique, their commonality is in being a member of our class. Communities thrive on respect, so I model how students can honor one another’s writing by acknowledging what each student does well. This approach mitigates the deficit model of learning by reinforcing that all students enter the community with some subject-matter knowledge. All students are therefore valuable contributors.
- • Disclose my own challenges as a student-writer. To affirm that none of us who teaches skills-based courses were experts as undergraduates, I bring my younger self into the classroom. Simply admitting: “You know, I didn’t really master proper subordination of ideas until graduate school” reminds students that we were once they. If we started where they are, then they, too, belong.
Loretta Aller (Kent), College of Nursing
When a student uses creativity to help themselves study or submits an exceptional assignment, I ask them for their permission to use their work as an example for future students. We use concept care mapping in Nursing Education - in a variety of ways - from creating care plans for patients (de-identified of course!), concept maps that take in all aspects of the patient such as medications, history, labs, assessment, etc, and as a study technique for course content. Sharing their work to "help" future students means a lot to them.
Muhammad Hassan Bin Afzal (Kent), Arts & Sciences - Political Science
My name is Hassan, and I am grateful for the opportunities CTL provided in the last couple of semesters. I am a Political Science Doctoral Candidate and defended my research proposal in Summer 2021. I am facilitating an in-person American Politics course this semester. At the start of each lecture, I ask my students how they are feeling today and how's their week going so far? I share my circumstances and the steps I take to maintain a healthy weekly routine. I try to humanize the classroom environment to be more inclusive.
I also practice transparent E-voting for any major decisions. For example, the midterm week is very challenging for our students (including me), particularly during this ongoing health crisis. I proposed this idea that let's do a role-play. Let's assume we are all senators, and I will present this bill that we will take one class off during the mid-term week to take care of our well-being, practice self-love, replenish and come back. Secondly, if we cannot attain a supermajority (67% vote), we shall open the floor for mutually respectful discussion and vote again. I am trying to facilitate this concept that our voices, ideas, preferences, and VOTES matter.
I also encourage teamwork in my classroom and take ownership of the learning process. When we feel included, heard, recognized, and appreciated in the learning process, the experience becomes more meaningful and encouraging. I am still learning, navigating, and exploring, and I practice the following quote ~~ "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." #MayaAngelou.
Jeanne Smith (Kent), Arts & Sciences - English
I send all students an anonymous "mid-semester reset" survey. Everything is on the table, from scheduling of assignments, balance of lesson and group work, workload, assessments, various activities we want to do more or less of, etc. I ask about the students' experience in the class. I develop a presentation based on the aggregate quantitative data, and we discuss the results and strategies for our reset. Sometimes we form small groups to brainstorm/generate different options gong forward. Sometimes I propose alternatives for anonymous voting. Sometimes we end up adjusting several course items; including the schedule; sometimes the students tell me emphatically to stay the course. Doing this survey and follow up gives the students a sense of agency, and they do engage with the work of thinking about how we want the second half of the semester to go. Doing this also helps me by making me feel better about taking risks and trying new things because we can reset, if a type of activity is not working, or needs an adjustment to work best. It's surprising when we come up with an idea collaboratively that I as the instructor had not considered as a possibility.
Tara Hudson (Kent), Education, Health and Human Services - FLA
I dedicate time at the beginning of every class for a check-in using Poll Everywhere. Responses are anonymous, but students can view what their classmates post as the responses come in (I share my screen for online classes). Questions include "What words of encouragement do you have for fellow members of our learning community?", "What do you need today?", and "Where are you finding light right now--even if it's a tiny spark?" Then we have open time for anyone who wishes to share more, whether it's good news like an engagement or job offer, elaborating on words of encouragement, commiserating about the state of the world, requesting advice, sharing books or TV shows we're loving ... whatever is on students' minds. I always clarify that what they share doesn't need to be class-related, as it's a time to create community. Sometimes I also share so students can get to know me a little better as a whole, authentic person; I don't share every time, though, as I want the space to be for students. Students have commented on course evals that they love this space I've created for them to bring their whole selves to class, and it helps them to realize they're not alone in what they're feeling or the challenges they're having.
Robin VandeZande (Kent), College of the Arts - Art
I underscore to my students that teaching and learning is a partnership. Teaching is about communicating ideas, content, and/or skills to learners. Learning is the acquisition and application of those ideas, content, and skills. The educator organizes the curriculum in a sequential and relatable manner to reach goals for specific learners. The learner has to be an active participant in receiving and applying the information in ways that shows understanding. Both the educator and learner should be in continual growth as they work toward strategies and communication that reach the other.