04 SES 12 D, Vulnerability, Belonging And Friendship: Three Paths To Inclusion
This paper is concerned with the importance a sense of belonging in school has as a significant predictor of dropping out and academic failure. The biggest culprits with regards to disengagement occur in secondary education, due to it being a period of biological, social, and cognitive conflict for adolescents. This is why, in the past several years, movements aimed at learning about which factors positively and negatively affect the lives of our students have emerged.
This project falls within another, broader one, titled “Innovation Networks for Educational and Social Inclusion”. Its general objectives are to learn about the barriers and support that secondary-school students encounter as well as the design and implementation of actions which may improve the situation. Specifically, in this paper, we have focused on the elements connected to academic belonging. To do so, we have used the questionnaire “What works for you? Barriers and support at school” (Porter et al., 2010) which has been answered by 324 in the second grade of secondary education at public schools in Pontevedra, Spain.
Belonging is a necessity inherent to human beings, by which we make and maintain relationships throughout our development; therefore, a sense of belonging is, according to Goodenow (1993), a need of the students to personally feel accepted, included, and supported by their social environment and which, if not met, has repercussions in terms of mental health, substance abuse, and violence (Anderman, 2002; Bond et al., 2007 and Shochet y Smith, 2014).
A sense of belonging is understood as a factor of academic engagement, which refers to the degree of commitment a student has to learning; this is reflected by the completion of activities, evaluation, and curiosity with regards to learning or relationships with other educational agents (González, 2015). Academic engagement is a multidimensional construct which encompasses behavioral, emotional, and cognitive factors (Fredicks, Blumenfeld and Paris, 2004 and Appleton, Christenson and Furlong, 2008). A sense of belonging is situated within emotional engagement (Finn, 1989), being connected with affective relationships, interest, boredom, sadness, anxiety or happiness and is conceptualized as identifying with the school.
Among the variables which play a role in the degree of belonging of school students, the most important tones are the school’s characteristics (size, configuration, or location), relations with teachers (support, conflict, or dependence), relations with classmates (friendship or rejection), class environment, curriculum, and individual needs.
 National Plan Research Project, directed by A. Parilla (University of Vigo), financed by the Spanish Ministry of Economics and Competitivity (EDU2015-68617 C4-1-R).
This work shows the results of the first phase of a research project which is being done on the sense of belonging felt by secondary-school students. The results shown by this study, of a mixed type, are connected with the first phase of the research project (quantative-phase, exploratory type), which offers a descriptive analysis of the data obtained from the questionnaire on barriers and support with regards to the sense of belonging. The sample is comprised of students engaged in Obligatory Secondary Education at Pontevedra public schools; their selection has been intentional. This way, seven schools in the city having these characteristics were invited to participate. The instrument used in this first phase of research is an online questionnaire, titled “What works for you? Barriers at support at school”, which is comprised of 46 open and closed questions. The main objective of this questionnaire is to learn about the barriers and support secondary-school students find with regards to a sense of belonging at their school. In it, questions were asked in relation to feelings at different moments and times, feelings in relation to different types of classroom work, feelings at the school, and, finally, other questions related to relations with teachers and classmates, what aspects they would change about the school, and more. In order to understand this project in depth, it is necessary to know the overall research methodological process, which consists of five phases: - First phase, exploratory. This consisted of having 324 students from all secondary schools in the city complete the questionnaire. Afterwards, a report of the results was returned to each of the schools to inform them of their situation. - Second phase, negotiation: presentation of the results to all the schools and an analysis of the reactions of school administrators. - Third phase, looking at student voices in depth: approximation of student voices: a study of the case of school interviewing 8 students who had previously completed the questionnaire to analyze the results obtained in greater detail. - Fourth phase, collaborative student inquiry: through the technique of Photovoice, all second-grade secondary-school students research the barriers and supports with regards to belonging found at their schools. - Fifth phase, collaborative deliberation. Development of mixed discussion groups, made up of teachers, students, and parents from the schools, aimed at debating the findings and proposing improvements.
The results obtained show that educational changes occur slowly. Dropout rates and school failure continue to increase, which makes it clear that action of one type or another is needed which, a priori, is evident but overlooked due to being obvious. This study points to student disengagement being a communal, and not solely an individual, responsibility. The environment in which students find themselves greatly influences their future; the fact that education has a dampening effect on these determinants makes it essential to explore in a more deliberate and intense fashion. The study makes plain that relations with teachers are crucial, since closeness, knowing each student, and actively listening to them are essential elements for a positive student-teacher relationship. The same occurs with classmates; the questionnaires point to these being essential during adolescence, due to the intensification of friendships. The need for a more participative methodology continues to be the most complained-about defect, since passivity during classroom teaching does not match with the increasing level of activity they engage in in their surroundings. Students at the participating school find the curriculum to be overly academic and disconnected from reality; they feel it does not respect learning rhythms, nor is it connected with social demands. All of the aforementioned show why there is an urgent need to develop measures which encourage students to feel they belong at their schools, both on a micro and macro level. On a macro level, it is necessary to structurally reform the system with regards to resources, curricular adaptation and care and teacher training; on a micro level, it is necessary that schools understand the importance of the issue, and work on the various factors in a comprehensive manner.
Anderman, E. (2002). School effects on psychological outcomes during adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(4), 795-809. Appleton, J. J., Christenson, S. L. y Furlong, M. J. (2008). Student engagement with school: critical conceptual and methodological issues of the construct. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 369-386. Bond, L. et al. (2007). Social and school connectedness in early secondary school as predictors of late teenage substance use, mental health, and academic outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40, 9-18. Finn, J.D. (1989). Withdrawing from school. Review of Educational Research, 59(2), 17-142. Fredicks, J., Blumenfeld, P. y Paris, A. (2004). School engagement: potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59-109. González, M.T. (2015). Los centros escolares y su contribución a paliar el desenganche y el abandono escolar.(Schools and their contribution to limiting disengagement and academic abandonment) Revista de currículum y formación del profesorado (Magazine of curriculum and teacher training), 19(3), 158-176. Goodenow, C. (1993). Classroom belonging among early adolescent students: relationships to motivation and achievement. Journal of Early Adolescence, 13(1), 21-43. Porter, J. et al. (2010). Testing of Disability Identification Tool for Schools. Research Report DFE-RR025. https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/RSG/AllPublications/Page1/DFE-RR025 pages 68. Shochet, I. y Smith, C. (2014). A prospective study investigating the links among classroom environment, school connectedness and depressive symptoms in adolescents. Psychology in the Schools, 51(5), 480-491.
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