Creating a sense of belonging in the classroom
Arts learning helps students build a sense of belonging in the classroom by providing a safe environment where students share ideas, collaborate and are part of something bigger then themselves. It creates moments for joy and creative expression. For many children this experience shapes their world.
According to Monash University’s Dr Kelly-Ann Allen, ‘How strongly a student feels like they “belong” at their school can shape their life, well into adulthood.’ She says that experiencing a sense of belonging at school helps children build self-esteem and sociability, and is linked to increased levels of wellbeing and academic performance.1
While many schools value this sense of belonging, Allen says schools often have few opportunities to access focused interventions to effectively prioritise it. This is where arts learning can help.
The Song Room supports schools across Australia to build inclusive classroom practices and community cultures through the arts. Many of the schools we partner with have large numbers of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Through the arts, these students can express themselves and connect with each other without the barrier of communicating through English language skills.
The Song Room has partnered for many years with English Languages Schools in South Eastern Victoria to support newly arrived immigrants to access dance, visual arts and music programs. Some children at these schools have spent time in refugee camps and war affected countries. These children may have left behind family members and experience complex trauma. Their situation is often accompanied by socio-economic disadvantage. Many have missed out on any previous education and find it extremely difficult to transition into school life.
The Song Room’s Teaching Artists have been on hand to support these students to build a sense of belonging at school. This term, this has involved assisting students from Ukraine as they relocate to Australia after experiencing war in their homeland.
One of the newest Ukrainian students in The Song Room’s visual arts program is a 6-year-old child who has very recently arrived with their mother from Kyiv, leaving all their family and community behind. Although their mother spoke some English, when they arrived the child spoke almost none.
The child suffered separation anxiety and found it very distressing when their mother tried to leave the school each day. Consequently, their mother would often spend most of her day at school. The child also found it very stressful to be inside the classroom. They would resist coming in, and would find it impossible at times to be in the space for even small amounts of time. To support the child to develop a sense of safety, security and belonging in the classroom, The Song Room Teaching Artist, Emily McIntosh first worked to build a positive relationship with the child based on their interests and strengths and through an inclusive approach that valued the parent.
Emily’s aim was to provide the student with a creative experience like the rest of the class. Discovering the child liked cars, Emily created portable car-based craft activities that the child could choose to participate in alongside their classmates. She gave the child the opportunity to feel that they were a part of the activity, even on days where their trauma made it difficult to come into the room.
Emily also recognised their love of painting and set about including more painting-based activities in the classroom. By providing positive feedback and reflecting on previous class successes, Emily has built trust. Slowly, the child has been able to engage in activities for longer and comes into the classroom more regularly to see what everyone is doing and, on a good day, to participate. They have gradually found connection with their classmates. The separation anxiety for their mother has lessened.
The benefit of arts learning is affecting the entire class. The other students are incredibly welcoming and inclusive of the child. They all gently express their joy when the child joins them in the art room. The empathy and sense of comradery is building across the classroom.
Experiencing a sense of belonging at school helps children’s ability to function and adjust, and it is linked to increased levels of wellbeing and academic performance. This is vital for all children.
The Song Room work with schools across Australia to help foster this sense of belonging through all of our arts learning programs. Visit our programs page to find a program for your school. Or get in touch today.
- Kelly-Ann Allen, ‘5 ways to boost students’ sense of school belonging’, Monash University, (2019) www.monash.edu/education/teachspace/articles/5-ways-to-boost-students-sense-of-school-belonging