The sense of belonging to a community, an elementary value at O Castro British International School
The philosopher Fernando Savater speaks of “true education consists not only in teaching how to think but also in learning to think about what we think about, and this reflective moment – the one that most clearly marks our evolutionary leap with respect to other species – requires us to realise that we belong to a community of thinking creatures”.
In recent years, several researchers have studied the implications of promoting a sense of belonging in schools, recognising a series of benefits for students and the school community. Today we are going to analyse the importance of this feeling, and how we foster it in our school.
A sense of belonging is a key factor, both in education and in everyday life. We all need to feel that we are part of a group (family, friends, colleagues, sports teams, music teams…), as it allows us to feel accompanied by our peers and helps us to shape our own identity. This means that human beings develop a conscious attitude towards other people, in whom they see themselves reflected by identifying with their values and customs.
It seems clear that this feeling is linked to the family environment, but how is the sense of belonging reflected within a school? According to the team of psychologists Maryam Kia-Keating and B. Heidi Ellis in their research conducted at the University of California (San Diego), it involves “the level of a student’s attachment to their school (as personal dedication), commitment (compliance with school rules and expectations), participation (academic engagement and extracurricular activities), and conviction understood as belief in its values and meaning”.
Becoming what we are, what our pupils will be, is a process of construction that the members of the community carry out based on the culture they possess, in a given social context and through committed participation, as a vehicle for the development of feelings of belonging. The school, as well as being a centre for academic training, is also an affective space where children are formed as people: a place where they find security, certainty that they are appreciated for being them. It is the basis of their future self-esteem, the foundation of their personality. In the first years of schooling and the adolescent stage, feeling part of a whole, perceiving support from teachers and parents, realising that they are valued by other pupils as well as by teachers themselves, strengthens the spirit of belonging, creating an environment suitable for the development of ideas, actions and attitudes. Without these ingredients there is no learning.
Therefore, in order to learn, it is necessary to set standards and values like cement between the bricks of a wall. These characteristic and symbolic aspects of the educational experience connect with the feeling of belonging to a community.
To belong is to be involved
One of the values of British education at O Castro British International School is tradition, such as the feeling of togetherness and respect for history and our heritage. The school is like a second family, or a place where students find the necessary support from the different actors involved in the educational process.
In this way, students can become successful people in the future with good values, cohesion, confidence and assertiveness, and education plays a very important role in all these elements. That is why in our school we encourage and promote Pastoral Care & Sense of Community activities, starting with personal care, social commitment or healthy habits. To take care of others, you have to start with yourself: isn’t it easier to start practising a sport when you do it in a group? It’s more fun, more motivating, and when one of us gets tired, the other usually pushes us on.
Being part of a whole, fundamental in education
Just as in most Spanish homes we recycle every day, don’t we want those actions that care for the planet to be part of our children’s lives? Don’t we want to educate them to leave our grandchildren a better world? These actions only work if we do them together, for the common good.
Feeling involved brings us together as a society. Why during the months of confinement caused by covid-19 did we go out to applaud at 8 p.m.? Did we sing Resist because we felt that our neighbour shared the same cry for help or despair with us? Without entering into political assessments, feeling part of a community of neighbours gives us satisfaction.
A sense of belonging in school is also the degree to which students feel respected, accepted and supported by teachers and peers. When students feel that they are part of a school community, they will actively participate in activities, defend them against all odds and promote them wherever they go.
Because of this feeling of belonging, which implies sharing values, at O Castro British International School we work every day on Corporate Social Responsibility as the set of ethical obligations and commitments that derive from the impact that our school’s activity has on the social, labour, environmental and human rights spheres. Our commitment to social, economic and environmental improvement seeks to reconcile business efficiency with these three basic principles, and to educate by setting an example. We play a very important role in the education of our students and believe it is essential to work together with families to promote an ethical and responsible conscience. It is not the same to be part of the whole, as it is to be the whole to generate change, involving ourselves in actions of solidarity and respect.
From an early age we involve students in activities that work on values such as respect for human rights and solidarity, and we promote cultural, environmental and social action, as well as volunteer projects. A school is much more than teaching subjects, we build, together with families, the adults of the future. For this reason, we involve everyone in building a friendly and aesthetic environment, with commitment and responsibility, with special respect for the rules of environmental control, trying to minimise waste and prevent pollution, as well as awareness in maximising the efficiency and productivity of all our actions. This is only possible when we do it under the same umbrella and feeling, that feeling of permanence to our own community.