students engaged in discussion

Week Three
Creating (and Sustaining) a Sense of Belonging, Connectedness, and Community

The second week of class is a good time to continue connecting with students and building a sense of belonging and community in your classes. Students who feel like they belong to a classroom community are more likely to succeed in your classes. Student learning, engagement, persistence, and achievement are all tied to a solid sense of classroom connectedness. Conversely, students who feel alienated or alone tend to withdraw and their academic success can be negatively impacted.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging is outranked only by physiological needs and safety, while cognitive needs ranks fifth after esteem (Maslow, 1943). A sense of academic belonging is essential to student success, particularly for historically marginalized students, underrepresented students, and first-generation students. Creating and sustaining a sense of belonging, connectedness, and community in your class is an ongoing process throughout the semester. It may look different each semester depending on the students in your class and their particular circumstances, identities, and needs. Consider how you can not only break the ice with your students at the beginning of the semester, but also how you can deepen those connections and sustain them throughout the term.


partially completed jigsaw puzzle

Academic Belonging

This article from MIT’s Teaching + Learning Lab synthesizes research on the importance of academic belonging, provides examples of classroom and course practices to foster belonging, and outlines evidence-based interventions. 

close-up of a hand taking a library book from the shelf

Fostering a Sense of Community Belonging Among Your Students

This multi-study by Jorgenson et al. (2018) explores connectedness from a student perspective and the relationship between connectedness and student satisfaction, academic success, and retention.

male student wearing headphones and looking at laptop screen

Recommendations to Increase Student Engagement in Online Courses

These suggestions have been shared by NIU faculty and staff as highly recommended practices for promoting increased engagement in online courses specifically.

Recommended Strategies

Choose one of the following strategies to implement

Intentionally Use Students’ Names

Learn students’ names (and pronouns, if they share them with you) and use them in class. Using students’ names helps students feel more comfortable in your class and in seeking help outside of class, makes students feel more accountable to you, helps students feel valued, and increases student engagement. With a very large class, name tents can help you address students by name when it is not possible for you to remember all your students’ names, and the benefits to students outlined above remain the same.

Cultivate Growth Mindsets

With a growth mindset, students recognize learning as a process and can take control of their learning, which can lead to greater academic success. Communicate to your students that we can develop our abilities and intelligence; they aren't “fixed” and immutable. In addition, model growth mindset by intentionally soliciting feedback and suggestions from students on their learning experience (e.g., through anonymous polls, surveys, or exit tickets) and being transparent about your own efforts to improve your teaching practice.

Demonstrate Asset-Mindedness

An asset-minded teaching approach focuses on strengths (rather than deficits) and views diversity of thought as a positive asset. It emphasizes the value that each student brings to the classroom. When introducing a new topic, assess students' prior knowledge about your field by asking students to reflect on what they already know about the concept (e.g., through knowledge probes or pre-quizzes), or ask them to identify relevant, transferable skills and knowledge they bring to the conversation from different fields.

Build and Maintain Classroom Rapport

Rapport can build trust between you and your students and helps students see you as approachable. Without that trust, students may not feel comfortable attending office hours when they need help or participating fully in class. You can build rapport by sharing appropriate personal stories that relate to the content you are teaching, demonstrating your enthusiasm for your discipline, and chatting with students before and after class.

Build Interactivity into Learning Activities

Collaborative work keeps students engaged with the course content and with each other. Use think-write-pair-share, small group discussions or consider collaborative assessments throughout the semester to encourage students to interact with one another, enhance metacognitive skills, learn more deeply, and build interpersonal skills.

Next Steps

Please review the resources and select at least one of the recommended strategies to implement during the second week of the semester. Regardless of the strategy you employ, focus on creating a sense of connectedness among your students and yourself in the second week of class. Make a note to yourself about the strategy you used and the impact that it had.

Next week, we will share resources on the importance of attendance for students and using Navigate to connect with and support students. If you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, feel free to let us know at

Creative Commons License Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License with the exception of any images, unless specifically noted.

Contact Us

Center for Innovative
Teaching and Learning

Phone: 815-753-0595

Back to top