Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Dissertation


A student’s sense of belonging in the classroom makes a difference. Students who experience a feeling of belonging within the learning environment are more engaged and prepared to learn and contribute. Students who do not feel this sense of belonging in the classroom often pull away from school norms, and may separate themselves from formal education entirely. This qualitative phenomenological study explored the lived experiences of belonging for a small group of 6th grade students from a suburban, midwestern school. Experiences and intentions of three educators who shared these students were also collected and compared to the experiences and perceptions of the students. The purpose of this research was to explore how middle school students define, experience, and perceive belonging within the classroom. Through student and teacher interviews, classroom observations, artifact collection, and the keeping of a researcher’s reflective journal, several themes emerged, including teacher caring and effort in the classroom, trust between teachers and students, the role of power in the classroom, the acceptance of student differences, as well as concerns for equity. One key finding was the power of authentic connections between teachers and students, and the intentional moves made by teachers to connect with students in meaningful ways. Despite past efforts by some educators to construct communities of belonging through the implementation of purchased, explicit, social-emotional curriculum, or programming, the participants in this study seemed to value and respond more readily to simple, caring, and genuine relationships with their classroom teachers. Findings from this study are meant to aid educational leaders in creating and sustaining cultures of belonging for all students.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Educational Psychology, Foundations, and Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Timothy Gilson, Chair, Dissertation Committee

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (xii, 175 pages)